Encouraging children to clean their plate may not be the best idea. In fact in this day and age it is considered an outdated notion. Yet many parents still promote the “clean plate club” because that’s how they were raised. As adults we would not eat food we didn’t like, nor would we stuff ourselves because someone put too much on our plate.
Stop for a moment and think about what this does to children. By forcing them to eat everything on their plate, whether they are hungry or not, we take away their ability to develop their own self-control around food. We routinely expect them to stuff themselves beyond what they feel comfortable eating. Using this method, how can they be sure what “full’ really means? Expecting children to clean their plates often leads to overeating later in life and into adulthood.
According to the CDC, 17% of kids (that’s 12.5 million) in the United States, between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese! Over the last 30 years obesity in the 2 to 5 year old age group has doubled. Add to this the couch potato activity level and the fascination with video games and it’s not hard to understand the inevitable results, that for the first time in history, our children are expected to have a shorter lifespan than the previous generation, mainly due to poor eating habits and lack of exercise.
Children need to be in tune with their own hunger and fullness cues in order to develop a comfortable relationship with food and avoid overeating as they grow older. Some of the ways we can help promote this is to put smaller portions on the plate or let children decide portion size by putting their own servings on their plates. Meal times should not be a test of wills between parents and children. Once the food is on their plates children should decide how much of it they feel comfortable eating.
The best thing we can do as parents is to model healthy eating by exposing them to a wide range of healthy food and reasonable portions. Aside from providing healthy food for meals and snacks, we must take ourselves out of the equation, and let children start to make their own decisions about what foods they prefer and how much they want to eat. Keep in mind that parents are still in control because they provide the food their children will select from. Think of it as subtly steering your children in a healthy direction.