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Healthy Living

No More "Clean Plate Club"

Some new advice allows us to do less, not more. Turns out, 2013 research finds that controlling parenting styles may hinder children’s healthy eating habits. New data published find that not only are controlling, food-related parenting practices common, they aren’t helping teens maintain a healthy weight.

In the Pediatrics study
, researchers found that parents often encourage teens of healthy weight to finish all of their food, providing pressure to eat, while parents of overweight teens ban some foods and encourage restriction. Neither practice is proven to improve teens’ habits or their health.

We really want our children to self-regulate their energy intake (food), and mounting evidence reports that controlling habits hinder this essential skill.

Four Golden Eating Rules

  1. Divide responsibilities. Parents have the job of purchasing and serving healthy food. Infants, children, and teens have to choose what and how much to eat of the food that’s offered. Every parent knows that you can’t force a child to eat; the best thing to do is stop trying. Let mealtime be about feeding your body. If your children don’t eat much, wait until the next meal to offer food. Children eat for themselves, not for their parents. Turn the TV off and let children feel their fullness when it arrives.
  2. Eat when your body is hungry. Stop when your body is full. Infants do this naturally when breastfeeding and starting solids. We have to do our best to maintain that natural habit throughout toddlerhood to the teen years. This skill of responding to natural hunger and normal cues of satiety can be a huge asset for children for their entire lives. Do your best to stop engineering how much your children eat and let them learn to feel necessities.
  3. Don’t make children “clean the plate.” There’s absolutely no reason to provide pressure for children with normal development and health to eat. Don’t reward children for finishing their dinner with more food (ie, dessert), as children will often eat past their fullness. New research also finds that using smaller plates can help control portion sizes and ultimately will reduce the number of calories eaten. The benefit: it will also trigger less need to ask them to clean their plate; they’ll do so naturally on a smaller plate.
  4. Eat together. The most potent education we give our children comes from our modeling habits and behaviors we think are most important. Eat together with children at meals from infancy until they leave home. Make a goal for at least one meal a day, and it doesn’t need to be dinner. There’s no reason to cook special food for your children. Involve them in any part of meal preparation you can, eat the same foods, and share your love of eating.


Additional Information:

Wendy Sue Swanson, MD, MBE, FAAP
Last Updated
Mama Doc Medicine: Finding Calm and Confidence in Parenting, Child Health, and Work-Life Balance (Copyright © 2014 Wendy Sue Swanson)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
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