Making kids clean their plates could lead to eating disorders
Leading registered dietitian and family nutrition expert Maryann Jacobsen says demanding that children clean their plates at meal times could lead to negative eating habits in the long run.
Citing a study from the University of Minnesota, Jacobsen notes that young adults who use hunger and fullness to guide eating tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) and a reduced rate of disordered eating habits than children who are encouraged to eat more than they want by parents.
"The girls were also less likely to diet and binge-eat," Jacobsen wrote in the New York Times.
Regulation is learned early
By the time children are adults, eating practices – like cleaning a plate just because there is still food on it – tend to overrule physical hunger cues, Jacobsen says. Being full, she explains, is something that these children don't necessarily learn to identify properly.
"With all the negotiations at the table, children lose sight of their internal signals of hunger and fullness," she said.
The University of Minnesota study also found that children who were allowed to eat based on their own hunger cues grew up to become adults who dieted less than their peers. The findings are especially concerning given that another study published in the journal Pediatrics found that half of all parents expect adolescent children to clean their plates at meal times – even if the children express that they're already full.
Pushing can backfire
Not only will forcing children to finish food potentially set them up for disordered eating habits later in life, but being overly aggressive about getting children to eat healthy could actually make them prefer sweets and junk food even more, Jacobsen says.
There's nothing wrong with wanting children to learn healthy eating habits, she concludes, but parents should remember that we no longer live in a time when food is scarce. Children are born with the ability to regulate food intake without parental control.
"It’s time to say good riddance to the clean-your-plate club and other practices like it. A 'happy plate' is one in front of a child who’s permitted to listen to her body, not our out-of-date 'rules.'"
Jacobsen is the co-author of the new book "Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters From High Chair to High School."
Source: New York Times