Avoiding the Clean Plate Club – 4 Tips for Healthy Eating

Healthy Eating Tips for KidsEncouraging our kids to listen their own hunger and fullness cues helps them develop healthy eating habits for life. Some of us grew up as members of the “Clean Plate Club”, which allows the amount of food on the plate to determine when we are full. This can teach kids to ignore their inner cues, which in turn may lead to eating too much, and can set habits that last long into adulthood.

Here are four of my favorite tips for encouraging healthy eating habits in kids by avoiding the clean plate club

Allow kids to serve themselves

  • This definitely takes practice and a lot of self-control as you watch your two-year-old shakily scoop a towering pile of highly pigmented beets onto the plate (will it make it, or end up splattered on the table staining everything within a 2 foot radius?). Letting kids serve themselves helps build their confidence and practice figuring out how to estimate the amount of food they need to feel full. Help them learn to start with a small portion and take more if they are still hungry.

Don’t force kids to finish everything on the plate

  • Encourage kids to eat slowly and finish only what they want at that meal. They may not eat much at one meal, but over the course of a few days kids usually eat a balanced diet.

Don’t offer a reward for finishing the meal such as dessert

  • This teaches kids to ignore the full feeling and also encourages the idea that healthy foods do not taste good and sweets are more desirable.

Fill your kitchen with healthy options

  • Some parents choose to have a snack drawer as kids get older. Fill the drawer with nutrient dense foods, such as dried fruits and vegetables, seeds, nuts and whole grain crackers. A designated area in the refrigerator may contain items such as fruit, cut-up vegetables, yogurt and cheese sticks.

As caregivers, our job is to offer a variety of healthy foods and encourage our kids to learn how to read their own hunger and fullness cues by allowing them to determine how much they eat. These skills help them develop a healthy relationship with food for life.