I’ve never thought that children should be required to eat. In our over-indulged, obese society, it seems like kids should be taught to follow their appetites rather than scarfing Big Macs at every opportunity. So I offer small portions of food and let the kids decide how much to eat.

At least, that’s what I used to do.

Now I’m leaning towards the Clean Plate philosophy. Why? Because how much my children eat has nothing to do with their appetites. It has to do with how closely the food on their plates resembles pizza and chicken nuggets. And how much junk food they can scam.

Sometimes after school they claim to be famished… positively weak-kneed with hunger, and in dire need of graham crackers/goldfish/Ritz crackers/pretzels/etc. I allow them a snack, and lo and behold, when dinner time arrives, they can eat no more than a bite.

You might think that if they don’t get a snack they will eat more dinner. Not so. A non-preferred entrée always gets the same response: “HOW MUCH OF THIS (said with a withering look of disgust at the plate) DO I HAVE TO EAT TO GET DESSERT?”

(Note: I am not a bad cook. I’m a perfectly serviceable cook, and almost never serve the family anything that is truly inedible. I’m sure my dear husband will back me up. Won’t you honey? Honey??)

And so we negotiate. 3 bites of meat, 6 bites of vegetables. Ok, you don’t like broccoli, you can just eat the carrots. You’re smaller, so you can eat 2 bites of meat and 4 bites of vegetables. And then they argue, or claim to have already eaten 2 bites, so only one more is required. It’s enough to make Betty Crocker spin in her grave.

That’s why I’m considering joining the Mothers of the Clean Plate. MCPs simply splat some food on Junior’s plate, and Junior is not allowed to leave the table, eat dessert, pass Go or collect 200 dollars until every morsel has been consumed. No negotiation. No debate.

Who’s in?


30 thoughts on “

  1. No snacks after 4pm (3pm in the summer) and serve dinner a little later. No high carb snacks offered (ie: crackers) a small amount of fruit (fructose kills an appetite like any other sugar), cheese or some other healthier carb/protein combo. There is no dessert. There is no negotiation. “Eat until your tummy is not hungry, then sit here and keep us company.”
    Not nearly as entertaining or funny, but I think it sets up a good food attitude. The answer is all in the grocery shopping… cart!

  2. Have you thought of perhaps letting them serve themselves (so long as its reasonable) and then follow through with the clean plate theory?
    Who knows, Kids are enough to drive us all to drink *grin*
    Take care,S

  3. living in a southasian society, our concept is to definately clean our plates, regardless how much is in there. thats why our elders are so fat.

  4. Unless there’s some reason they can’t have it (allergies, etc.), try just a glass of milk after school.  It’s got plenty of protein and carbs to keep them going for a few hours.  If they complain about still being hungry, you’ll know you’re not denying them anything they need–only something they want that’s not necessary or healthy. 
    I also know that when I was overweight as a child (and this was the 70’s, so you might take the advice with a grain of salt), my pediatrician told my mother to stop serving dessert, claiming that the “sweet fix” after every meal was a bad habit to get into even in addition to an otherwise healthy diet.  He said “eat your veggies or no dessert” was a bad way of thinking about food in general.  He said that since human beings are still basically animals at heart, they’ll eat what you put in front of them only if there are no other choices, and when I think about that statement now, it makes sense to me. 
    Our cat, for instance, begs for table food.  He’s not annoying about it.  He just sits there quietly and waits for something to fall or for us to give him something.  We never give him more than a bite or two and then only once or twice a week(The exception is canned peas.  He loves peas, and he’s an indoor cat.  I figure he needs a little vegetable matter because if he were outside he’d get it on his own.  I always give him a whole spoonful of peas.  And he recognizes the can and will cry and beg for those.)  Now, even though he only occasionally gets a few measly bites of table food, he won’t eat his own dinner out of his bowl until after we’ve eaten and I’ve put the dishes in the sink.  It’s like clockwork.  The disappearance of the plates is his signal to eat his dinner.  He doesn’t want to “spoil his appetite” for table treats by filling up on his own healthy food.  I think kids are much the same way.  I know I was…

  5. ITA with TheBentley regarding desserts. 
    My kids are so picky and difficult during dinner that I don’t even know why I bother to cook.  They’re all old enough to make themselves a sandwich or a bowl of cereal if they don’t like what I’m serving, so that is what they do and then my husband and I are stuck with huge amounts of leftovers.  I have seriously considered putting a padlock on the cupboard that contains crackers and cookies and leaving only fruits and vegetables and other healthy things out where the kids can get them.

  6. Ah, yes, the lovely Mealtime Negotiations.  My stepdaughter, being a daddy’s girl, is a pro at that sort of thing.  And my husband coddles her, as all daddies of Daddy’s Girls do…
    I, on the other hand, am rather stern when it comes to negotiating ANYthing, mealtimes particularly.  She starts to say, “Do I have to eat all — ” and I cut her off with, “JUST.  EAT.”
    It works.

  7. I did that a few times with my daughter, and I don’t know how helpful it was.  She didn’t fill up on a lot f snacks; she was jsut extremely skinny when she was little.  She says she remembers that, though – we were taliking about it the last time she was home (she is 19 now!) so I guess it made an impression!   I know one of the things that worked with her was to give things cute names, like telling her broccoli was little trees, and also calling certain items, “restaurant” foods. We  might have a sweet of some kind, later, – if we were hungry.  So it was less of a “reward” for cleaning the plate.  I think all that is harder to control when you have more than one kid, though!

  8. When I was growing up my mom had an open refrigerator policy, meaning my sisters and I could snack whenever we wanted, but we were required to clean our plates at dinner. No negotiations, sit there till it’s cleaned. She would make exceptions for things like liver ro spinach and require only a few bites (although even as a kid I like both of those items). Neither of my sisters nor I ever have had any weight or food issues as adults so it must have worked.

  9. Eh, clean plate = too hard.  You have to threaten and beg and cajole and hang around waiting for them to finish.  Today I made my kids eat cashews and dried apricots for snack.  They bitched to high heaven but at least if they refuse the meatloaf and peas and corn I made for dinner, I know it’s not because they filled up on junk.  My kids are on a very restricted, medically required diet, and in some ways, it’s been a real blessing.  Not much fast food in the world that doesn’t contain dairy, wheat or soy.  They wouldn’t know a good piece of pizza if it walked up and joined them for naptime.

  10. I have no problem getting my son to eat, he’s a horse.  My daughter will eat most of what she is given but will bitch and moan that it looks disgusting.  I told my son to have salad tonight and he said no way salad is disgusting then asked if he could have more french fries.  I said ya right after you eat salad and he ate 2 bowls!  I don’t get it.  LOL.  If they are asking for snacks after school I offer apples etc and they say gross no I don’t want that.  I reply then I guess you aren’t hungry afterall.  If they eat the fruit I don’t mind giving another type of snack, but never has a snack interfered with their appetite at dinner LOL.  Sometimes I think they eat too well (good? – not sure the proper term)

  11. I wish I was strong enough to wage that war. 🙂
    Although, the poor man’s grocery budget has solved some of this for us.  I buy meals and produce –mostly because otherwise, I’ll be paying Walmart a million dollars a month to feed six.  They consume the snacks SO fast and generally fill up on them instead of real food.  At my Mom’s they eat less at meal time, because they’re always carrying around dixie cups of goldfish or Captain Crunch cereal.

  12. One thing I remember working when they were little was not telling them how many bites or sips or whatever. Instead I had them guess how many bites were left. And then they’d eat them to see if they were right. When they got bored, we introduced the concepts of big and little bites so they might guess “5 rabbit bites and 1 big elephant bite!” Of course, they could manipulate this so they could win–and they thought I was too stupid to figure that out! I just let them go on winning, silly me!

  13. I have two teens, one I gave birth to, the other, her best friend, who sneaked into my heart. How do you convince them that PopTarts are not good breakfast? I’d love to join in. Those years were simpler. *sigh*

  14. Every time I start worrying about my children’s nutrition, I think about my brother, who ate nothing but junk for the first 19 or so years of his life.  Come to think of it, he might still eat nothing but junk.  (He is a bachelor.)  He’s 6’2″, got a perfect SAT score, and he’s a cancer survivor in fine physical condition.  And that’s when I shrug and think, “Whatever.”  However, I still rue the day I allowed the demon Goldfish to touch my firstborn’s lips.  It’s the heroin of crackers.

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