Is it okay to punish or reward children with food?

Finicky Eating 5 min

Tips for helping school workers encourage children to develop a sense of taste

By DFC - PLC, Nutrition Team
Young girl who does not want to eat her sandwich
Young girl who does not want to eat her sandwich


  • The importance of words
  • What to say and do

The power of words...

Adults can sometimes manipulate children’s emotions or feelings of guilt when they don’t want to eat some foods or a certain amount.

Here are a few examples of things that adults may say:

“Do it for me. You’re seven years old—take seven more bites!”

“Eat half your sandwich and then you can have dessert!”

“Eat your veggies if you want to go play!”

Even if they are intended to encourage children to eat, they don’t help them learn to like food. 

If this is how children’s lunches are handled, do you think lunchtime is fun for them? Not likely... And for the adults? Not so much either! By doing so, are you helping children eat according to their needs? No, because you may cause them to eat more, and, in the long term, they may stop listening to their hunger and fullness cues.

So what should you do?

Encourage children to take a bite of each food in their lunch without pressure. Do not withhold dessert. It takes patience and perseverance! Some children may like a food on the first try, but son the other hand, you may have to introduce certain foods up to 15 times or even more before they accept them!

Here are a few examples of encouraging things to say:

“Try to taste a bit of everything—it all looks delicious!”

“Wow! An egg wrap! Yum, I love that! Do you know where eggs come from?” 

“Did you know that your tastes may change as you grow up? I didn't use to like mushrooms, but now I love them!”

“Congratulations! You tried a new food!”

“Way to go! You tried a bit of cauliflower, even though it’s not your favourite vegetable!”

Still won’t try it? Relax! They still saw and smelled the food—maybe even handled it—and that counts!

All foods should be treated the same way because things that are forbidden are always more attractive!



Multi level
Finicky eating