Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Why We Aren't in the "Clean Plate Club"

I told you in this post that we don't make our children clean their plates at every meal, but I realized that needed a disclaimer. Well, here it is:

I do believe that if a child asserts his or her will, a good parent must meet the challenge and make sure their will submits to Mom's or Dad's. However, call me chicken, but I have learned by hard experience not to create these situations because enough of them occur naturally. Therefore, my husband and I have chosen not to make food a battleground. Though we have had a lot of "showdowns", especially with a very strong-willed child who will remain nameless (you can narrow it down to one of three!), we have yet to fight a battle over food.

I also believe that children should be taught not to waste food. I've told my children about the "starving children who would love to have that food" just like you have. However, I have a different idea about waste, also from hard experience.

So there you have my disclaimer, now I'll tell you the "why" of it:

I am not a scientist or a doctor, but it makes good sense to me that if a child is fed good, nutritious food that they will eat what they need and stop when they are full. I also think that the amount they need varies greatly from day to day. However, there are a lot of obese children in the world. From my very unscientific observations, it seems that those children (barring medical causes, of course) aren't fed healthy foods and/or they are required to "clean their plate" at every meal. Studies have shown that unhealthy foods create cravings for more and children overeat that way. (Studies from my kitchen show that if you give a child a piece of candy, they will be asking for more in approximately 6.4 minutes.) If a child is conditioned that he must finish everything on his plate, he will eat it all whether he is full or not, therefore overeating that way. Food is "wasted" if it must be thrown in the trash can, but it is also "wasted" if a person eats more than they need for nutrition (then it turns to fat and all that other wonderful stuff--again speaking from hard experience).

So, what's a parent to do? I will tell you how it works at our house, and I would love to hear your comments on how it works in yours. I'm always looking for new ideas!

We try to eat fairly balanced meals (feel free to grade my menu on the sidebar--I know I'm not at an A plus yet!) and at regular intervals. For the most part, we let the child choose how much they think they can eat of each food. If they have food left over because they are full, we show them how to take less the next time because they can always get more and they don't want to waste it. Now, I usually don't have much to throw away (can't imagine what's going to happen when they become teenagers!). If it's a food they don't like, they have to try it but they don't have to eat more than a bite or two. Usually, they learn to like it eventually since we didn't make a big deal out of it, with a few exceptions (aren't there a few foods you don't like?). When we are not at Grandma's house :-), we don't allow pop (soda for some of you) or excessive sweets. When we have a huge stash of candy (like Easter candy....grrr), I keep it in a basket well out of reach and they have to ask for it. I try not to give them more than one or two treats a day. That way, they are usually hungry at meals. If they eat very little, I save their plate in the refrigerator and if they come asking for food, I give them the plate they didn't finish. That has happened about 2 or 3 times in the 7 years I've been a parent. That's about's not rocket science.

The other day when someone took another helping of food with the comment, "I really shouldn't eat this, but..." (can't remember who, it was probably me ), one of the kids said, "Aw! You're eating when you're not hungry....that's bad!" Now we need to work on judging others....


  1. We are not "clean plate clubbers" either. We have medical reasons why we can't be, but even before they arrived in our family we weren't big on that idea. It creates control issues, fat children, unhealthy eating practices, and so many more issues. Kids won't starve themselves if left to natural cues.

    We both grew up with parents that were "eat everything on your plate" teachers. In fact, we have the plate fairy at our house. I kid you not. If you ate everything on your plate, and were well behaved, when you picked your plate up to go put it in the sink after your meal, there might be a shiny quarter under it. I still don't know how my Mom got it there, to this day.

    My husband's Mom just made you eat everything and would eat the leftovers. I think her situation came from growing up a farmer's daughter which meant she grew up poor. So if there was food, you ate it!

    Do our kids always eat as much as we think they should? No. But they eat until they are full and then they can eat again at the next meal or healthy snack time. We feed them relatively nutritious foods, we try to keep it interesting, we make them try new foods but they don't have to like them or eat a bunch (I hate broccoli, so I see the torture behind force feeding a child food he doesn't like), and we try to teach them the "why" behind these choices. It's working very well for us, so far.

  2. This is great and this is how we do it in our house too! We haev the rule that if you don't eat dinner you can't come back asking for anything else, we do save the plate for a little while. We found that for a little while our girls would not eat much dinner and then when we getting ready to put them to bed woudl say they were hungry. We also have the rule that once you get up from the table you are done but we don't force them to eat.