After eating a little bit of turkey and some broccoli, Audrey asks to get up from the table. Valerie wants out of the high chair too. Even though the kids (especially Valerie) didn't seem to eat much, there was no talk of one more bite from either parent -- let alone the request for the kids to clean their plate. "The girls ate well at breakfast and lunch," Jennifer says. "Besides," Dr. Wansink chimes in, "that discussion can be damaging. You'd think that children whose parents insist they clean their plate wouldn't serve themselves as much if they had the chance. But recent pediatric research found that these kids actually take and eat 31 percent more food than children whose parents don't have that rule. It can pack on so much extra weight."
"Do you let the girls eat fast food?" I ask, already knowing that McDonald's is one of Dr. Wansink's favorite spots for breakfast. (The first time I came to visit, he took me there for a fruit-and-yogurt parfait -- his usual pick.) "We go for lunch or dinner once in a while, but we're very careful about what they have," he says. "They get a hamburger instead of the chicken nuggets because it has less fat and more iron; plus they'll have apple slices rather than french fries." At full service restaurants, the couple says they usually bypass the fried food-laden, veggie-vacant kids' menu and order an appetizer for the children or let them split an adult entree.
I could pick the Wansinks' brains for another couple of hours -- not to mention keep eating this awesome dinner. But it's getting to be the kids' bedtime and I don't want to overstay my welcome. When I head back into the living room to say good night to the girls, I notice that Audrey's enormous water cup is at least half empty. I thought she must have spilled some. "What happened to your water?" I ask her. "I drank it," she says. "It's good."
Originally published in the October 2009 issue of Parents magazine.