Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to grow your own nudge

By Pelle Guldborg Hansen

Credit: Patou
Children, vegetables and fruit
The last couple of years I've heard several professionals say that the key to getting kids to enjoy healthy food is having them participate in preparing dinner. The idea seems to be that by doing this it will make them more open to trying out new kinds of food and thus also - so the argument seems to go - be more positive towards preparing and eating healthy food.

To me this idea seems to be somewhat naïve. In its strongest version I take the argument to be that some sort of effect resembling the endownment effect should be established by the process of food preparation. But why on Earth should this only pertain to potatoes and not to french fries?

When I was a kid...
When I was a kid I had chickens. That meant that every morning I could eat a great tasting soft-boiled egg. We also grew potatoes in the garden... and apples, carrots, pears, plums, strawberries and much more. Oh boy, did I eat a lot of fruit, vegetables... and eggs!

Today I struggle to get my 7 year old son to eat fruit, eggs and other healthy foods. I'm part of that big army of parents repeating every night "eat your vegetables" and "taste this fruit". But despite the fact that we have access to more varities of exotic fruits than ever, it doesn't seem that kids find it easier to enjoy the taste of fruit, vegetables... and eggs.

Now, of course I have tried regulation. You have to eat so-and-so before you can watch cartoons! But for some obvious reasons this doesn't really succeed in making him enjoy his fruits and vegetables. I've also tried the "sticks and carrots" approach to the sticks of carrots. If you eat so-and-so, you'll get (or don't get) this-and-this. But that doesn't really seem to have improved my goal (i.e. making him enjoy healthy food), since it only makes it a means to his ends.

In sum, the situation that I share with an army of parents calls for a nudge. That nudge doesn't seem to be one having kids preparing their own food, but rather having them grow it. That's right. Tonight I'll say:
"Son. When I was a kid we grew our own nudges. I think it's time for you to do the same."
After all, while you can grow potatoes, you can't grow french fries. Now I just have to get find some bags of top soil and carry it to the 4th floor!

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