Spotlight on standards – Never using food as a reward or punishment
The National Quality Standard Assessment Guide for element 2.2.1 highlights that Assessors may observe educators “never using food to reward or punish children.“
Saying things such as “you need to eat more of your lunch before you can have dessert” or “you have to eat your fruit before your cake” are examples of situations where food is potentially been used as a reward. These sorts of statements are common and are often said quite innocently with the best intentions. But we do have to be careful about how we talk to children about food.
It is important for children to learn early in life to understand their appetite, to eat if they are hungry and to stop eating when they are full. The behaviours contribute to lifelong healthy eating habits. Using food as a reward encourages “non-hungry” eating and can lead to children over-eating and can affect their natural ability to regulate their appetite. This may increase the risk of a poor relationship with food and emotional eating later in life. Some studies have found an association between the regular use of food rewards and emotional overeating behaviours starting in children from just 5 years of age.
Developing children’s attitudes to food and the way they eat food is as important as the food that is eaten. We should avoid forcing children to eat if they are not hungry or do not like a particular food. Mealtimes should be a pleasant relaxed time. We can encourage children to try small amounts of food by:
- Suggesting the child nibble on the food like a rabbit or have a go at placing the food in their mouth and then politely taking it out again.
- Role modelling by trying the food with the child.
- Talking about how good the food is.
- Presenting the food with a range of other familiar healthy options that the child likes.
- Avoiding conflict or stress if the child does not try the food.
- Consistently exposing the child to the food without making a big deal about trying the food – this may include placing the food in the middle of the table on a platter or placing only a very small amount on the child’s plate.
- Avoid serving dessert regularly.
In your education and care setting, it is worthwhile reflecting on the language you use at mealtimes and ensuring you are not inadvertently using food as a reward or punishment. You can provide plenty of positive verbal and non-verbal encouragement to children to try healthy options from the menu or their lunchbox without reverting to the use of food as a reward or punishment.