Telling kids to “clean your plates” could be counterproductive

By Shayna Brouker • Published: July 10th, 2013
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Did your parents always tell you to “clean your plate”? Do you still hold true to that habit or have the tables turned and you now tell your kids the same thing? Turns out up to two-thirds of parents still encourage kids — even teens — to clear their plates, even if they are overweight. At the same rate, two-thirds of kids in the United States are overweight or obese.

The study of more than 2,000 teens and 3,000 parents, published in the journal Pediatrics, looked at the way parents relate to their kids around food. They found that many unnecessarily pressure their kids to eat, even when they say they’re not hungry. But along with obesity rates, portion and plate sizes have risen too, so eating everything on a steak platter-sized dinner plate is overdoing it. And like with most mandates from parents, teens tend to take the rebellious route. So parents’ best efforts to steer their kids in a healthy direction often backfire.

Moms and dads should lead by example, instead. Model healthy eating habits by choosing proper portions, picking nutritious fare and paying attention to when you’re satiated. You can’t always control how your kids eat, but you can control what’s for dinner in your household. Try to host more meals at home and bring wholesome food to the table. Then allow kids to dish their own plates and stop eating when they’re full.

Keep healthy foods in your house so you only have to say “no” once to the carton of cookies, not every day. Reward healthy habits with treats like a movie night or a D-V-D, not ice cream. The key to keeping a teen on the right track is nonjudgmental, non-coercive coaching. With the right approach you can keep your kids on the right path to a healthy weight.