Skip main navigation

Restrictions, rewards and goals

Putting it all together

While it is important to actively encourage healthy eating habits, being too restrictive or putting too much pressure on children can have the opposite effect. Let’s look at the impact of restrictions and rewards and the importance of goal setting.


  • Placing excessive restrictions on particular foods can increase children’s desire for that food.
  • Studies have shown that children of parents who highly restrict food are more likely to be overweight down the track. It is thought that restriction can affect a child’s ability to recognise hunger and fullness and therefore lead to non-hungry or “mindless” eating. Similarly, hunger and fullness cues can also be affected by pressure to eat healthy foods.
  • A certain amount of restriction is of course needed to establish healthy eating habits, but it needs to be done in moderation.
  • Teach children that there are no forbidden foods; all foods can be enjoyed as part of a healthy eating pattern in the right amounts (just not every day).
  • Encourage children to eat healthy foods, but don’t put pressure on them – this can have the opposite effect! Set a good example by eating a wide variety of healthy foods yourself.


While it is tempting, it is important not to bribe children with food. Many parents – feeling they are doing the right thing – try to get their child to eat all their veggies by saying that they won’t get dessert unless they do. However, in doing this, the child will not learn to recognise when they are full. It is best to encourage children to eat until they are full, rather than asking them to eat everything on their plate.

Using food as a reward for eating healthy food or for good behaviour can also increase a child’s desire for the reward food. Children will also not develop their own motivation to eat healthy foods. Developing their motivation can be helped along by offering some non-food rewards such as praise or a sticker chart.


Making healthy lifestyle changes can be challenging when life is busy. One of the best tools to help make change easier is goal setting.

Goal setting will help you to put change on the agenda. This is because if change is not on the agenda, it is not likely to happen. Follow the SMART framework to set your goals:

Specific – what exactly do you want to achieve? Measureable – How can you measure whether you have achieved your goal? How will you know when you have achieved it? Attainable – Is his something that you are willing and able to do? Realistic – Can you realistically achieve this goal given the other priorities in your life? Time-framed – When are you going to start? When are you going to carry out the actions needed to achieve your goal? (Click to expand) (Adapted from Doran, 1981)

Example of a goal

Before applying the SMART framework: “This week we are going to eat healthier”

After applying the SMART framework: “This week we are going to increase the number of vegetables eaten at each weekday meal by one serve”

When you are planning on making a change, it is important to have a positive frame of mind. If you don’t follow the plan 100%, there is always something you can learn from this, maybe you need to make a change to your plan or put some things in place to help you to make it happen. Just don’t dwell on it, start again tomorrow and focus on what you have achieved!

Share your experience!

Choose ONE of the following experiences to share with learners in the comment section:

1- Share a SMART goal that you are currently working on with young children.


2- Share an experience of when you tried something to encourage healthy eating for a young child that did not work, and discuss where you went wrong.

This article is from the free online

Preventing Childhood Obesity: an Early Start to Healthy Living

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now