The Clean Plate Club: Is it Helpful or Hurtful for Kids?

No dessert until you clean your plate!”

Remember hearing that as a kid? Though your parents probably meant well when they told you that, there’s a lot of problems with teaching kids to eat everything on their plate.

Parents want to make sure their kids get enough nutrition and have plenty to eat, but are they accidentally teaching kids to overeat when they invite them to the Clean Plate Club?

Here are some reasons that you might want to reconsider telling your child to eat every bite.

Why the Clean Plate Club May Not Be a Good Thing

It can potentially teach kids to overeat. 

Telling kids to clean their plates at every meal can teach them to eat even if their bodies are telling them they’re full. This can lead to a lifetime of overeating!

It can cause kids to gain weight, among other health problems. 

Overeating can eventually lead to obesity, which increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Yikes!

Forcing kids to eat healthy foods can backfire. 

This can make them avoid fruits and vegetables even more! Kids prefer to have some control over their meals.

It’s more expensive. 

Think about it – you can always save what you don’t eat for another meal, which can save you some grocery money. Saving money is still a good thing, right?

It can take the fun out of eating. 

The Clean Plate Club can unintentionally teach kids to mindlessly eat what’s in front of them, which can keep them from focusing on how good everything tastes.

That doesn’t sound too good, does it? In reality, it’s okay if your child doesn’t eat every bite of their meal.

Being more relaxed instead of forcing kids to clean their plates can help them learn what types of food they prefer, along with how to tell when they’re full.

For these reasons, it’s a good idea to try and avoid the Clean Plate Club. Here are some tips on how to leave the club for good.

How to Avoid the Clean Plate Club

Be a good role model for your kids. 

If you eat healthier meals, your kids will be more likely to do the same. Don’t feel pressured to clean your plate, and try to eat a balanced, nutritious meal. 

Teach your kids to try different things. 

Giving children a variety of healthy foods to sample can help them learn what they like and don’t like. The Clean Plate Club tends to force kids to eat things they don’t like, which can backfire.

Let your children help you plan meals. 

Though sometimes they might have some interesting and funny requests, asking your kids what they want can help you plan healthy meals for them.

If their ideas aren’t so great, you don’t have to follow through with them, but be sure to tell them why. Still, you might be surprised by what they say – in a good way.

Let your kids eat until they’re full. 

Children have great hunger cues that tell them when they’re full, and these cues end up fading away somewhat as we grow up.

Encouraging your children to eat until they’re full can help them stay in tune with these cues.

Don’t be afraid of wasting food. 

Did your kids not finish their meal? Box it up and plan for them to eat the rest later. This is especially important for when you and your family go to restaurants that serve large portions.

Also, think about this: if you’re eating more than your body needs, isn’t that also wasting food?

Teach your kids the difference between what they want and what they need. 

If their stomach’s growling, it means their body needs food. If they’re looking at a slice of cake and thinking about how good it tastes, but they’re not hungry, that’s a want and not a need.

Teach your children to eat slowly and savor their every bite. 

When children eat slowly, they not only focus on the different flavors of their food, but they also don’t need to eat as much to feel full.

Teach your kids to appreciate their food while also helping them keep from overeating. 

Think about portions when you’re in charge of a meal.

When you’re serving a meal, think about how much of it your family can eat before getting full.

Look at how much your child eats off of their plate. This will help you know how much to serve them next time. 

No more guilt! 

“Children around the world are starving, so clean your plate!” Does that sound familiar?

Even though it’s true that many children don’t get enough to eat, using this fact to make children clean their plate can lead to feelings of guilt if they don’t.

Unfortunately, this can lead to overeating. Try donating to a charity that supports hungry children instead.

Find other ways to show your love for your children. 

If parents use food as a reward or a way to say “I love you,” kids may end up overeating because they associate food with love.

There’s a lot of different ways to show that you care, such as high fives, hugs, and encouraging words – just don’t let food be the only way that you show your love.

The Clean Plate Club Should Stay in the Past

The Clean Plate Club was a program initially started during World War I due to America’s food shortage at the time. But nowadays it’s no longer relevant – we’ve got plenty of food to go around, and our portions have gotten much bigger since then.

Even so, the mentality of ‘clean your plate’ persists to this day, and that needs to change.

Eating everything on your plate can be a hard habit to break, but by taking it one step at a time, you and your child can be on your way to leaving the Clean Plate Club once and for all.

Let your kids listen to their bodies, and if you’re worried that they’re not getting enough nutrition, talk to their doctor for advice.