Food as Reward

Food as Reward, Love and Valentine’s Day


It’s Valentine’s Day tomorrow and thoughts turn to love.  That love is often expressed as food and this Valentine’s Day consumers will spend $1.6 billion on sweets.   What’s not so sweet is the impact this has on a nation already struggling with so much diet-related disease.  How loving is it to continue expressing love with chocolate, cake and cookies when as many as one in three U.S. adults could have diabetes by 2050?  How loving is it to continue to reward children with candy and other treats when studies are showing sugar may be an addictive substance?

Of all the recommendations made for raising healthy children, none may be more widely ignored than the recommendation not to use food as a reward.  Many parents dole out M&Ms for potty training and many teachers give out lollipops for good behavior.   This sends the message that you should eat because you deserve it instead of listening to your body’s internal hunger cues.  It’s reinforced by marketing and 34 percent of food ads aimed at children are for candy and snacks.  Children learn to reward themselves with food and become adults who fix their bad day with a piece of cake or two or more. 

Not using food as a reward is foundational to children developing a healthy relationship with food.  It’s time to stop this practice in our homes, schools and communities.  This Valentine’s Day, make a choice to give true love and affection instead of a questionable substitute.  Read the following recommendations by the health community to not use food as a reward and resolve to use alternatives.  There’s no better gift we can give our children than the gift of good health.

From the Yale Medical Group:  Using food as a reward or as a punishment, however, can undermine the healthy eating habits that you’re trying to teach your children. Giving sweets, chips, or soda as a reward often leads to children’s overeating foods that are high in sugar, fat, and empty calories. Worse, it interferes with kids’ natural ability to regulate their eating, and it encourages them to eat when they’re not hungry to reward themselves.

From the Mayo Clinic : As a general rule, don’t use food as a reward or punishment.

From the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry : Do not use food as a reward.

From the American Academy of Family Physicians: Food should not be used for non-nutritive purposes such as comfort or reward. Do not provide food for comfort or as a reward.

From the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Do not use food as a reward.  When children are rewarded with sweets or snack food, they may decide that these foods are better or more valuable than healthier foods.

From the American Academy of Pediatrics:  Food should be used as nourishment, not as a reward or punishment. In the long run, food rewards or bribes usually create more problems than they solve.

10 thoughts on “Food as Reward, Love and Valentine’s Day

  1. One year, I put heart stickers on clementines. This year, I sliced apples and cut out the centers with a heart-shaped mini cookie cutter. I found it on Pinterest along with many other creative ideas and posted them here:
    Stacy at School Bites posted other good suggestions here:
    Diane Woldow has these great ideas for food and fun:

  2. Great article! For my kids Valentine’s last year I bought some Mad Libs, wrapped them up with a note that said, “You’ve got Mad Skills!” This year I did glow sticks with a note that said, “You make my heart glow!” And, let’s not forget a simple $2 bill! 🙂 My kids love money way more than food… ha ha ha!

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