Saturday, August 26, 2017

The Benefits of a Reward System - Taco Party Edition

By Scott E.
My son loves tacos. Just say “tacos” and his eyes light up. However, he only likes stripped down tacos. That is, he uses his index finger to scoop out all the cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. He prefers tacos with only the necessary ingredients, in his view: yummy taco meat and crispy shell. What’s funny is that he loves mac n cheese (he also doesn’t mind eating tomatoes). Give him a giant helping of mac n cheese and he will quickly go to town. Why does he drool over gooey mac n cheese but cringe at the thought of having cheese, among other things, on his precious tacos?
I wasn’t convinced he didn’t like the cheese – and lettuce, tomatoes – on his tacos. He clearly had no problems consuming cheese in other forms. I figured he simply needed help clearing a mental hurdle, so I plotted to get him over the hump. Rather than get mad at him for tossing aside a sizable portion of his food every time we sat down to eat our favorite Mexican dish or give in to frustration and flat out order him to eat his entire taco, I offered a reward. Sugary treats always make for great motivation, but instead of plying him with unhealthy, hyperactivity-inducing desserts, I decided to go in a different direction. He had recently started a coin collection (he likes going to the coin store almost as much as he likes his ground-beef-and-shell-only tacos). In particular, he had been on the hunt for old wheat pennies. So, I told him that if he ate at least one taco in its entirety, that I would give him a wheat penny to add to his collection. He agreed and promptly proceeded to devour his first taco as it had been prepared. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem to mind ingesting a taco replete with all the fixings. Fast forward to our next taco party and, much to my amazement, he volunteered to eat a taco – cheese, lettuce, tomato and all – in exchange for a wheat penny, just like last time. Long story short, he ended up eating all of the tacos on his plate, including the cheese, lettuce and tomato chunks. Despite his prior misgivings, this time around he did not remove any of the tasty non-meat filling and did a great job of cleaning his plate. He had turned a corner.

The moral of the story is that it may be better to offer a little enticement rather than relying on your children to “trust their taste buds” and automatically assume that they flat-out don’t like certain foods. Kids’ palates are still developing. As you know, a lot of what they eat is new and unfamiliar, particularly for our younger eaters. It takes time to grow accustomed to new foods and new combinations of tastes (like shredded cheese on a taco vs old reliable melted cheese on pasta!). The next time you encounter a little resistance at the dinner table or restaurant, use your coaxing skills and give your children a chance to broaden their mealtime horizons. You might be surprised, a little healthy motivation can sometimes work wonders.


  1. Developing good eating habits in a child is so important. Thank you for posting your little trick, I hope it works for other moms too.

  2. That is a great idea! I’ll try it! - Tiffany Nguyen