Bryan Caplan  

Do Experts Know More? A Childish Counter-Example

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I usually think that experts are more likely to be right than laymen. But Tyler's blog on "expert advice" on how to make kids eat vegetables gives experts a bad name:

1. Try many times -- fifteen or more -- to get your kids to eat their vegetables. Most parents give up too soon.

Talk about a cure worse than the disease! Few parents have the surplus energy to nag 5 times, much less 15.


2. Bribing, punishing, and celebrating when the kid eats the vegetables are all counterproductive.

Arrant nonsense. (And isn't nagging 15+ times per meal a truly inhuman punishment?) All my experience as a parent shows that the promise of dessert - and the threat of non-dessert - works wonders.

3. "Use tasty toppings."

Duh. Like dessert?

4. If the kid doesn't eat the vegetables, grab them from his plate and gobble them up yourself.

This works about 1% of the time.

5. Eat your own vegetables in great quantity and with great delight.

Again, talk about a cure worse than the disease.


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COMMENTS (11 to date)
Richard O. Hammer writes:

I doubt the premise that children should eat more vegetables than they find appetizing.

I suppose that the human appetite, evolved with much experience, knows more than most Ph.D. nutritionists. So when adults find vegetables more appetizing than children, I assume there must be some good reason for that. If it is true that vegetables are good for people, this may be more true for adults than for young, growing children, who I would expect to have a different set of nutritional needs.

Brad Hutchings writes:

Wouldn't kids respond to incentives? Why not offer the child a tax deduction to eat his vegetables? I always cleaned my plate when I was growing up. My sister, on the other hand, taught herself the concept of saving at the dinner table. She had several "accounts" in her chair, each stuffed with food saved from previous meals. Some accounts earned "interest" over time, while others were occasional raided by ants.

John writes:

My father had a very effective way to get us to eat our vegetables. He would tell us if we didn't eat the veggies we wouldn't get dessert.

One time my sister got smart and told him there was not dessert in the house. My father calmly replied you're right, and we all finished the meal. My sister, not eating her vegetables. After the dishes had been cleaned up, my father packed us all in the car and drove us to the local dairy queen. My brother and I had anything we wanted, my sister got to watch us eat it. That was the last time he had trouble getting us to eat our vegetables.

Lesson over.

Bruce G Charlton writes:

Richard Hammer has an excellent point - the reason kids don't like leaf vegetables is that they are chock full of poisons - which is also why pregnant women find them nauseating (eg cooking cabbage).

Leaves are poisonous because plants don't want them to be eaten - the same applies to seeds (eg coffee).

"4. If the kid doesn't eat the vegetables, grab them from his plate and gobble them up yourself."

This does not work, but if the veg are gobbled up by the kid's best friend, then that _does_ work.

meep writes:

I find having the vegetable on your own plate encourages kids to want to eat it.

But I'm talking about my 18-month-old and my 3.5-yr-old girls. They love eating raw onions. And cooked cauliflower (blah). And the 3.5-yr-old loves sauerkraut. They both love cooked greens. I don't know what any of this is about, because I hate all of that stuff.

In any case, we basically let them eat a bit of anything we're eating, if they want to. And it's not like we have junk food in our house, so it's going to be vegetables, meat, or bread they're eating, and vegetables are the only thing we'll let them eat as much as they want.

Brad Hutchings writes:

John, that is hilarious! We pulled a similar trick on my sister, but to get her to do the dishes. My Dad promised to take her out to get ice cream if she'd clear the table and rinse the dishes. So she did that and he walked her out to the garage freezer to get ice cream.

David writes:

I'm 20, so I'm not too far removed from these days. Here's my commentary on the "experts," mixed in with my own experience.
(1) This won't work. It only makes dinnertime unpleasant for the kid. Save your nagging power for something else.

(2) The desert promise works until the kid figures he can get away with saying he's full and then getting a snack 2 hours later out of the kitchen, especially if you make pork chops, in which case he will be full. The experts are right on celebrating though; chanting like cheerleaders because your kid ate some broccoli sounds like a bad SNL sketch.

(3) This is probably not good, because then the kid gets addicted to the topping. Honestly, how much stuff can you put ketchup on?

(4) The kid will think you're some kind of nut.

(5) Like 4 except you have to eat vegetables.

Here's what I recommend

(1) Serve the kid a lot of variety early on. He'll like something, and go with that.

(2) Tastes change as kids mature, so occasionally get them to try something new.

(3) Ask them to taste stuff. That's it.

(4) Don't make other food separate for yourself that includes vegetables your kid doesn't like; it'll ruin your credibility.

We had to eat two bites of our vegetables in order to get dessert. So I learned to swallow boiled spinach whole. I still won't touch the stuff--though I love fresh spinach in salad--and I wouldn't even try spinach pasta until I was about 30.

Fazal Majid writes:

The best way is to learn how to properly cook vegetables. Too many people overcook them, making them bitter and unappetizing.

Bill Drissel writes:

Re 4 & 5: My children were smart. From about four on they'd have laughed out loud.

Regards,
Bill

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