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.

To understand how daycare providers think about feeding kids, Dev and colleagues conducted in-depth face-to-face interviews with 18 women at centers for children aged two to five years old.

All of the participants had at least some education beyond high school, and eight of them had college degrees.

They were 42 years old on average, and had typically been working as a daycare teacher for around 12 years.

Some of these teachers said they used controlling feeding practices because they found them effective, particularly with picky eaters and stubborn children.

Plus, food or sweets make good rewards for tasks throughout the day, like using the toilet. Some providers said they thought toilet training would be a lot harder without the candy reward.

Even some providers who said they didn’t use controlling feeding practices actually described advocating the clean plate club or repeatedly encouraging kids to taste everything on their plate.

When daycare providers avoided this type of feeding, it was often because they believed it would be ineffective or because they wanted children to learn to regulate their own food intake.

Some teachers also said they were aware of research linking controlling feeding practices to an increased risk of childhood obesity and avoided it for that reason.

In certain instances, they might instead try to encourage kids to eat more or sample more items by letting them touch, smell and play with food – all techniques that can turn eating into an exploration that kids enjoy.

The study is small, and doesn’t prove that daycare feeding policies cause obesity or lead kids to have bad eating habits.

But the results still suggest parents should ask how child care providers approach mealtimes when they are choosing where to send their child, said Nancy Zucker, an eating disorders researcher at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who wasn’t involved in the study.

‘Given that early childhood is a pivotal developmental stage for the emergence of healthy habits, altering daycare culture around meals is critical,’ Zucker said by email.

‘I think parents should consider communicating to daycare centers that they are trusting of their child’s hunger signals so whatever food amount the child is able to consume is adequate from their perspective,’ Zucker added.

Do you make your children stay at the table until their plate is empty?

Share your comments below.

Image shutterstock


  • Totally agree. Kids tend to come with built in stop eating signs. Emptying a plate encourages them to ignore these

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  • If you don’t put too much on the plate in the first instance it can’t be that bad.

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  • Makes sense, but sometimes you just know that your child is pulling your leg!

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  • Parents should decide what is put on the plate but it is up to the child on how much they eat. Encouraging tasting of food should be gently done but it’s not worth dying in a ditch over.

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  • I’ve definetly become less strict with the kids clearing their plates. As long as they try everything in their plate and know the they can’t start snacking right after dinner then they can until their full.

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  • We always asked them to try a bit of everything on their plate – it didn’t matter if something was left over, so long as they tried it to get a taste.


    • It is important for kids to try out all types of food.

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  • We were always told we couldn’t leave the table until our plate was empty. We now allow our son to finish when he’s done with his food. He grazes throughout the day and tends to be hungriest after school, so often he doesn’t eat all of his dinner. I’m okay with that now.

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  • I always made my boys at least try what was on their plate and if they didn’t like it they were allowed to have a sandwich. If they ate all their meal they were sometimes offered a treat. If they weren’t hungry we never made them sit until finished.

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  • We are not that strict but it is important they eat a healthy amount.

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  • When l was young our plate had to be clean also!

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  • My dad insisted on us clearing our plates. One time my sister refused and was served the same plate of dinner the next night.

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  • We use bowls full of vegetables, fruits and other foods and everyone has to take a serving from each bowl. Everyone eats a good meal and there is no waste.

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  • Yes I prefer to serve a small or average size too.
    My kids don’t have to finish their plates, but most of the time they do. I do encourage them to try new foods or eat part/most of their veggies though, which they do without a problem.

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  • It is better to give a child a small or average size meal for the age and developmental stage. If you put too much on their plates you can frighten them off eating. If they go to daycare ask how much they have eaten during the day and what they had for lunch. You may be encouraging them to eat the same thing at night that they had for lunch. The staff record what they have eaten during the day. Their lunch and how much fruit they have eaten for morning and afternoon snacks.

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  • I think portion control might be more important.

    Reply

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