Forcing a child to clear their plate could lead them to overeating.

A study by the University of Nebraska warns the ‘clean plate’ policy often followed at many childcare centres can be dangerous and potentially fuelling overeating, reports Daily Mail.

Previous research suggests that when kids experience controlling feeding practices, they can lose their ability to follow their own hunger cues and to stop eating when they’re full.

Over time, children forced to clean their plates at every meal may gravitate toward sugary foods and snacks and run the risk of becoming overweight or obese.

In a recent survey, however, some daycare workers mistakenly believed a clean plate club approach would encourage kids to develop a healthy appetite, researchers report in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, September 17.

‘This study also found that childcare providers use controlling feeding practices because of fear of parents’ negative reaction if they find that their child did not eat,’ said lead study author Dipti Dev, a child health behavior specialist at the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.

‘Childcare providers should avoid controlling feeding practices such as avoiding giving food as reward, encouraging but not pressuring children to eat their food and avoiding to praise children for cleaning their plates,’ Dev added.

 We asked our mums what they thought was best Clean plate vs Full tummy

It seems parents today are leaning towards not forcing children to eat as long as they have tried to eat a bit of everything offered. Compared to in the past when children were always forced to stay at the dinner table until their plate was clean.  (Now I know why my FIL always glares at me when I leave things on my plate!)

One mum wrote, “When they are full BUT they can’t ask for icecream, yogurt or any snacks if they say they are full. My 4yo is like “I’m full” 10 mins later “can I have a yogurt or icecream” I’m like “finish your dinner and we will talk about it”

Another said, “I don’t force them to eat it all. They do however need to eat the majority of vegetables or salad if they expect to get anything for dessert when we have it.”

“I don’t eat my whole plate when I’m hungry so why would I force my children? I serve nutritional meals that we all enjoy and when we’re full we stop eating”, wrote another.

“I don’t agree with forcing but if they get hungry later there is fruit only.”

“I don’t force them to finish but they need to make a decent attempt at eating. If they say they are full than no more food.”

“I leave it on the table. They don’t have to eat it but they don’t get anything else. If they finish their plates (I put proper amounts that err on too small vs too big) and are hungry then the fridge is theirs.”

“I have no problems with my boys eating. I’ve never put restrictions on meals and snacks…They eat me out of house and home. I don’t think they’ve ever refused anything I’ve put in front of them. If kids are hungry they will eat. I wouldn’t be too worried about it…”

“Mine have to put it in the fridge and if hungry later, get it out and eat it. Normally the phrase “it’s a long time till breakfast” works a treat.”

“I used to have to sit at the table at school (in England we had cooked ‘dinners’ (lunches)) until I finished. I remember watching the dinner ladies clearing up. Missed out on a lot of playtime. We should eat until we are satisfied not feeling full.”


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  • I grew up with this, and you can overeat as feel bad about wasting food. I think a good balance is making less food for the plate as our portions are too big.


  • ‘in a recent survey’…. Which survey? Which COUNTRY


  • which childcare centres enforce this policy? You are linking to US research and a UK based newspaper. I have never heard of childcare centres in AUSTRALIA doing this.


  • Unless they are full, I don’t always finish everything


  • I can tend to make them eat all what’s on their plate, usually I have hardly given them anything to begin with! But I also do the whole, “ won’t get dessert if you don’t finish” thing and my son tends to eventual eat it all because he still wants to eat dessert.
    He usually doesn’t want to eat his dinner due to fussiness rather than being full!
    If he was truely full I wouldn’t make him eat it, which some nights I do let him off!


  • I only made sure that my children tried everything on their plate. If they were hungry they’d eat everything they liked


  • Whilst we were raised to eat everything on our plate, I now understand that’s not necessarily the best or right thing. My son was a grazer so we understood he might not want to eat everything on his plate. We would reduce what was on his plate, or allow him to serve up his own food.


  • My kids use to complain that they were “staving” and wanted something to eat ,”now” right before tea. But then could finish their tea lol
    Our rule is, if you are too full to eat tea then no sweets (if there is something for sweets) they would be quick to finish or there have been times where they don’t won’t sweets because they are actually full


  • It’s a bit silly trying to force them to eat if they aren’t hungry.


  • You just turn kids into fussy eaters and make food about control if you do that. Every dietitian and speech pathologist recommends that the parents choose what goes on the plate but the kids can choose how much they eat.


  • As long as they eat enough we don’t force our kids to eat everything on their plates, a bit different to when I was growing up, I had to eat everything or couldn’t leave the table, I would fall asleep at the table a lot when I was a kid.


  • We had to eat everything on our plate before we left the table. We were always told that once we left the table we couldn’t come back for more to eat. I think this is a more sensible way of eating


  • I don’t believe in force feeding but moreso keeping an eye on them eating nutritionally well.


  • I definitely believe the way we were forced to eat everything on our plates came from the depression era of previous generations (everything was scarce and important, so no waste), but has led to us eating way more than we need. I noticed immediately that my kids have their own limits and I believe that’s natural. Just one more cultural expectation forced on us, that is not natural. I do not force my kids to eat everything on their plates. I put less out for them, to reduce waste and they can ask for more if they’re still feeling hungry.


  • It depends what is on the plate, and what they like and dislike. As an adult there are some things I like and some I don’t. Kids are the same. I do believe it is good to encourage children to at least try a variety of food, especially when it comes to fruit and vegetables. I’d rather they have something healthy that they like, than force them to eat something healthy that they don’t like.


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