I grew up the same way you did. We ate what was for dinner until our plates were clean. I don’t recall being allowed to argue or protest this rule. We sat as a family and ate what dinner. If we didn’t finish it, we ate it cold.
I have my own reasons for not enforcing the “clean plate” rule. First, I will share with you a link from Healthy Children.org – No More “Clean Plate Club”. The information on this page is compiled by experts – I am not a nutritionist, doctor or pediatrician. The reasons cited by Healthy Children include teaching portion control, eating until you feel full and stopping and learning about healthy food choices.
Here is my rationale. For ten years I worked at a children’s treatment center. We served clients with all kinds of needs. What I learned from working in multi-disciplinary team is that there are many children out there whose parents are helping them to eat, every bite at every meal, every day, because they can not do it for themselves.
Children who are being fed by g-tubes or can only lick a smooth texture from a stick. There are so many children and parents for whom feeding is a major issue, that I just CHOOSE to appreciate that my kids eat.
When I say they eat, that doesn’t mean they clean their plates or don’t require some encouragement to try new foods. I mean, I have two children with the manual dexterity and oral capability to pick up their food, chew and swallow independently. We take for granted that not all kids can just sit and eat a handful of goldfish to keep them busy.
I don’t battle with my kids to finish their plates, because I know they can eat again later, with ease. I do encourage trying new foods. I do serve them what the adults are eating. There are still routines and guidelines to mealtime. I just parent from the side of being grateful and try to remain positive.
When it comes to mealtimes, here are the things I do:
- serve on a smaller plate and a smaller portion, they can always ask for more
- pick your battles, one of my kids likes crunchy uncooked veggies, it is easy to set them aside while prepping dinner
- try one bite of something new
- if you find something you don’t like on your plate, set it aside
- you don’t get a different choice for dinner
- talk about different families have different rules, be respectful of that in other people’s homes (for example when eating with our grandparents, we try to clean our plates, because that is their rule, this is a situation where serving less comes in very handy)
- encourage with positive words, try not to nag or threaten
- celebrate a clean plate, a new food tried and a full belly
Over at Bre McKay.com, she lists 6 ways to get your kids to eat anything. Her point about if you don’t put it on their plate, they can’t try it, is bang on. It takes at least ten times of trying a new food before kids might decide to like something. Just offer a piece of something, make it small, so the bite can be quick and you won’t waste too much food.
My other piece of parenting gold is watch your language. Not your swear words, but your phrasing. AVOID do you, could and would. Asking “Do you want” gives your children a choice. Instead use a comment “try a carrot”. Give a simple direct instruction “one bite of chicken”.
I also find it helpful to identify things I don’t really like, but eat anyway. Like broccoli. I don’t really love cooked broccoli, but I eat it, because it is good for me.
PS. It’s Friday night so all mealtime rules go out the window. Relax and unwind, it’s the weekend!