Is “Clean Your Plate” A Recipe For Obesity?

There have been many suggestions that the parental practice of saying “clean your plate” – something many of us heard as kids – is part of the reason why so many kids develop the eating habits that lead to obesity. The reason? There are actually two – parents may be putting too much of the wrong kind of foods on the plate, and as kids get older they tend to eat what they are given (especially when encouraged to do so). Then throw in the typical promise of dessert if the plate gets cleaned, and you can see why it’s easy for kids to start overeating on a regular basis. 

So … how should parents rectify this pattern? I posed the question to registered dietitian Karen Avila – and founder of Healthy Karen - and we came up with these tips:

Help kids learn their own signals of when they are getting full – so don’t try to arbitrarily push kids to clean their plate.

Fill up their plate with the proper balance of food types and do encourage them to eat the balanced selection that is nutrient rich – and make sure they aren’t saving vegetables for last. Check out for lots of good advice and concrete tips on what the plate should look like.

Avoid all those unhealthy snacks before dinner time so that they will have an appropriate appetite that will make it easier for them to eat the composition of foods that should be on their plate.

So the big point really is that kids should be encouraged to eat the proper amounts of the right kinds of food. Working with your child to figure out the exact amounts that satisfy them and their nutritional goals is really the strategy – so instead of cleaning their plate (and being rewarded with more food) you will be teaching them to get in the habit of properly feeding their bodies.

Also check out these 5 healthy eating tips for more detailed information from Karen!

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  1. by Kim

    On January 30, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    My rule is try everything, even if they don`t finish it. If they don`t like it, I try to find a more tasty way to prepare it next time. The result so far is few things my kids wont eat at all, and a 2 year old that turns up cookies in favor of an apple.

  2. [...] Is “clean your plate” a recipe for obesity ( [...]

  3. by Around the Web… | Celebs FootprintsCelebs Footprints

    On February 4, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    [...] Does the “clean your plate” rule lead to obesity? – [...]

  4. by S

    On February 4, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    in our house since i was little its been eat your meat first then work on the other things on your plate and restrictions on drink intake before and during the meal because that just fills you up. still to this day i sometimes eat my meal without even bothering with a drink, unlike my fiancee who could guzzle down two glasses of pop before dinner. he always bugs me to drink if we go out to a restaurant but i know that if i do then i will become full sooner.

  5. by Around the Web… |

    On February 4, 2013 at 8:22 pm

    [...] Does the “clean your plate” rule lead to obesity? – [...]

  6. by robin kushner

    On February 5, 2013 at 8:57 am

    This article hits the nail on the head! By the time we are adults, many of us have lost the ability to listen to our body’s cues when it comes to hunger and feeling full. We have spent so many years eating unmindfully that we are no longer in tune with our own bodies.

    Starting kids off on the right foot about what to eat and respecting their feelings of hunger and fullness will encourage them to grow into healthier adults.