Kids eat right.

Keep Kids Out of the Clean Plate Club

By Jill Weisenberger, MS, RDN, CDE, FAND
Child with plate of vegetables

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"Finish your plate before you can be excused from the table."

"No dessert until all of your dinner is in your belly."

Are you inviting your kids into the Clean Plate Club? What seems like nurturing and concern may actually be an invitation to an eventual problematic relationship with food. Parents and other caregivers often equate feeding a child with love. Thus, it's very satisfying for the adult when the child consumes a large meal. Other times, parents force food onto their children because they are concerned about proper nutrition and growth.

Dangers of the Clean Plate Club

Forcing kids to overeat teaches them to ignore their bodies' signals that they've had enough. This can set them up for a lifetime of eating when not hungry.

An article published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics highlights more examples. This research found that parental pressure to eat fruits and vegetables backfires. In fact, it discourages kids from eating produce. Taking a more relaxed attitude helps children learn about their internal hunger and fullness cues and taste preferences.

Happiness at the Dinner Table

Follow these times to promote fun and healthy meal times:

  • Divide responsibilities. Provide a variety of tasty and nutritious foods for your children. Leave it up to your kids to determine how much to eat.
  • Plan and prepare meals together. Little kids can bring food from the refrigerator or pantry. Teens can help with slicing vegetables and monitoring food on the stove. Everyone in the family can request favorite vegetables, entrées and sides.
  • Lead by example. If parents and caregivers are good role models for healthy eating, children follow suit.
  • Encourage — don't force — a taste of everything. Cheer the family on as everyone tries each food and talks about which one they like the most.

Let children of every age listen and respond to their own cues of hunger and fullness. If you worry that your child isn't consuming a proper balance of food, check in with your child's healthcare provider. Ask for a referral to a registered dietitian nutritionist.