By Mike Pomranz
Updated September 16, 2015
Credit: © Anyka / Alamy Stock Photo

Are your kids picky eaters? Maybe they just haven’t been bribed enough. A study led by a researcher at Utah State University focused on children at six Utah elementary schools, and found that cold hard cash worked better than anything else when it came to getting kids to eat healthy foods.

Students were divided into three categories: some given cash prizes, some given the decidedly less valuable commodity of praise from their teacher, and some got stiffed entirely (which, let’s be honest, isn’t that much worse than the praise). Most of the kids said, “Show me the money!” Although none of them would get that reference.

Greg Madden, a psychology professor behind the study, seemed to stress that the idea wasn’t that you’re paying kids to eat healthy, but instead paying them to try new things that could have larger payoffs down the road. “The rewards can be used to encourage children to repeatedly try fruits and vegetables, and there is some evidence to suggest that repeatedly tasting novel foods increases their acceptability,” he told the New York Post. The most important finding, though, was that the students who received the prizes were still eating more fruits and vegetables six months after the prizes stopped.

If you’ll allow me a personal anecdote, when I was in kindergarten, I had never gone swimming until a neighbor bribed me with a few dollars (yeah, I’m cheap) to swim across her pool. Decades later, I don’t demand a cash payment every time I hop in the pool, but it did put me on a path to a lifelong enjoyment of splashing around in water. But then again, I wasn’t also a picky eater.