Children generally need encouragement to eat their recommended amounts of vegetables. So can parents strategize by offering their child a choice of vegetables, to increase the amount their children eat? According to the theory of self-determination, the provision of choice should increase a child’s feelings of autonomy and intrinsic motivation.
Dutch researchers tested more than 300 parent-child (4-6 year olds) couples as to whether providing children with choice in a restaurant setting would lead to higher vegetable liking and intake compared to no choice. Three conditions were presented over a period of weeks in a randomized fashiion
- No choice: “You are not allowed to chose, you’ll get this vegetable.
- Premeal choice: “You are allowed to choose. Point out (pictures) the vegetable you want to eat today.”
- At-meal-choice: “You are allowed to eat them both.”
The childrens vegetable preferences and parental input on their child’s vegetable likes/dislikes were assessed in advance. Following each meal situation the children and parents were questioned about the atmosphere, tension, feelings, liking, and situational reactance. The amount of food consumed was weighed after each meal.
There were no significant differences in vegetable liking and consumption between the 3 choice conditions, except in high-reactant children, who consumed significantly less in the no-choice condition. There may have been some confounding factors that influenced these results, such as the excitement of the restaurant setting, as compared to a home setting.
An interesting finding of this study is that the children felt best about the premeal choice, rather than the at-the-meal choice. For children this age, being confronted with too many choices at one time may be unpleasant and stressful.
I identify with the children who felt uncomfortable with what they perceived as too many choices. Life sometimes presents so much, that fewer choices would seem better. However, when I feel there are no choices available, it stimulates a strong sense of reactance, also.
I am so grateful that God never forces me to do anything. He gives me the power to choose, but doesn’t overwhelm me with too many options. Best of all, He gives me strength (Philippians 4:13) to act on the the right choices, even when I am feeling weak and resistant.