Should I Clean My Plate Every Meal?

The Danger of the Clean-Plate Club

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A routine part of mealtimes for many families may actually be harming your kids. A new study has found that urging your kids to join the "clean plate club" by finishing all the food on their plates can prevent them from learning healthy eating habits.

Related: Are Parents to Blame For Childhood Obesity?

"In the 1950s, cleaning your plate meant something different," Katie Loth, a registered dietician and research assistant at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis and was the lead author on the study, told HealthDay. "Portion sizes have gotten bigger over time, and if you encourage kids to rely on environmental indicators, like how much food is on their plates or the time of day, they'll lose the ability to rely on internal cues to know whether they're hungry or full."

Read on to learn more about the dangers of the clean-plate club.

The study will be published in the May issue of the journal Pediatrics; the results were released online on Monday. It used data from 2,200 teenagers (average age: 14.4 years) and almost 3,500 parents that had been gathered from two population-based studies in Minnesota in 2009 and 2010.

Teenagers were asked about their food intake, and parents were asked if they ever pressured their kids to eat. According to Loth's study, as many as two-thirds of parents insisted that their teenagers clean their plates, even if their kids are already overweight. The parents used what Loth calls "controlling food behaviors" to pressure children to eat more because they felt that children should eat even if they say they aren't hungry, and that not eating was like wasting food. Fathers were more likely to pressure their children to eat, the researchers found, and adolescent boys were more likely to be forced to clean their plates than adolescent girls.

"I was surprised at some of the parent behaviors, like feeling that their children should clean their plates and not waste food," Loth said. With childhood obesity rates on the rise, they could be setting their kids up for a lifetime of weight-related health problems.

"Parents need to allow their children to have freedom when eating," Loth said. "Parents can control the types of foods that are on the table, and you can bring lots of healthy food to the table. Then let your child choose how much they want to eat. Let them regulate their own intake."

— Lylah M. Alphonse

Elsewhere on Shine:
Childhood Obesity: Should the Law Be Allowed to Step In?
High BMI? What It Means For Your Child and What You Can Do About It
Using the Scientific Method to Get Your Kids to Eat Their Veggies

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