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Clean Plate Club? [moved from General Topics]

When the heat goes up, my appetite goes down.

While at lunch with a group today, I only ate half a sandwich because I wasn't that hungry. One woman playfully taunted me by saying something like, "oh, no clean plate club for you today!" I politely laughed, but didn't get it. Later, someone explained that the "Clean Plate Club" is when you eat all the food on your plate, then get to have dessert or some other reward. Appearantly lots of parents used that strategy to get their kids to eat (and maybe still do?).

This is kind of a foreign concept to me. When I was a kid I was a good eater, but I was never forced to "clean my plate." Doesn't this lead to kids developing lifelong food issues, and using guilt as a motivation/discipline tool? When I was a kid, if I was only hungry enough to eat half a sandwich, the other half was simply wrapped and put in the refrigerator and either I or someone else would eat it if they got hungry. I've always thought I was lucky to not have food issues or body image issues like so many girls and women in America, but perhaps I was just raised with healthier attitudes about food....

Anyone else experience this "clean plate" phenomenon? I'm very curious about this.

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  1. Although I did not grow up in a "clean plate club" house, my husband did. I think because there were 2 boys and they were fed very healthy food, the clean plate club took on a slightly different meaning. Neither one of them have real food issues. I can imagine how it could harm others.

    They also offered "no thank you" portions of foods you didn't want to eat (a small taste, just to try). A little hokey, but it seemed to work for them.

    We never encourage the clean plate club with our kids. Teaching kids to make good food choices is a better approach in my opinion.

    1 Reply
    1. re: chocolate chick

      This is much less disturbing than the description of I was given by a woman at lunch today. She is very overweight and eats all of her food very quickly. She doesn't seem to know how to say "no, thank you," when food is offered to her. She seems satisfied only when she can "clean" her plate, and is overly apologetic when she doesn't finish a portion. In her case, the "clean plate club" did more to reinforce bad food choices than encouraging good ones.

      I like your description of the "no, thank you" portion. Hokey, yes, but clever.

    2. Well, there's clearly a difference between a parent who is trying to get his/her young child to eat enough, and a person who doesn't know to stop eating when full.

      1. I've never heard of a "clean plate club" (until now), but my parents told me when I was growing up that, "there are kids starving in Africa" and I needed to clean my plate of every morsel.

        I have food issues, but no body image issues (gotta love what I can't change). Specific food issue is only making/plating what I can eat. I don't buy extra dairy or produce; I'd rather go to the market every other day than shop a weeks's worth of groceries. I also don't make extra food unless I'm planning on leftovers for the following day. Essentially, nothing goes to waste; hubby doesn't understand this concept.

        1 Reply
        1. re: OCAnn

          i understand it, and i afree with your philosophy completely

        2. My mom used to bring up the "clean plate club" but in jest and never forced us to finish if we could not eat anymore.
          I went to a Catholic school where the sisters would force you to eat what was on your plate at lunch time. (because of the starving children in China...) I remember some kids crying or getting sick. I wanted to send the food to China.
          I have a friend who, when her sons were young, made them stay at the table until they finished everything in front of them. They both now have eating and weight problems. I vowed that I would not do this and my children ate what they could and I would just take away the leftovers, never making a big deal about it. They are both healthy adults with good eating habits.

          1. I grew up with this "phenomenon." In my case, I believe it was born of two ideas. Firstly, my parents were children during the great depression and this instilled in them the "waste not, want not" attitude. Secondly, they firmly believed in eating a balanced diet.

            By the way, to this day, I feel guilty when not "cleaning" my plate.

            1. I grew up with parents who had grown up during a war in their country and a severe food shortage during one time. My parents instilled in us kids an ethical/moral value that it was wrong to waste food. It wasn't heavy handed, it was just "there". Finish your bowl of rice was a common utterance.

              We're all grown up now and don't have any food/body image issues. Also I think part of the reason I'm so open to all foods and I don't hate any foods is because my parents brought me up in a way that encouraged me to appreciate all foods and any foods, and to eat up whatever I can and pack up whatever I can't. So I don't think anything they did in this sense is wrong.

              1. I agree with posters who understand that the "clean plate club" idea derives from a time when food was expensive and scarce, and having enough to eat was a privilege that, if not appreciated, actually deprived others (although exactly how this occurred outside the family unit is not quite clear to me; within, it's easy to see--if I take it and waste it, that means that it is unavailable to you). The idea of throwing away good food has always bothered me, not just because it also bothered my parents, but because I knew (and know) that I am lucky to have food in a world where many do not.

                1. I think my parents tried to forcefeed me when I was a child but failed. I was a skinny kid in a time when healthy was synonymous with plump.

                  As an adult I feel guilty about wasted food so I seldom take more than I think I can eat, and I finish everything unless it's truly horrible. I don't have eating disorders or issues related to food. And I certainly don't blame my parents for my eating habits, I've been grown up a long time now.

                  1. Nowadays, most parenting experts discourage the "clean plate club" way of thinking. Kids need to learn to listen to their appetites and decide on their own when they are sated and, if forced to eat everything in front of them, they could become an overeater later in life. And, the thinking also goes, that using dessert as a reward for finishing dinner, teaches kids that there are "good" foods (sweets) and "bad" foods (the undoubtedly healthier stuff they are being forced to eat). I think there are prob'ly lots of adults who use sweets as a reward for themselves these days. I know I do.

                    Another issue is that too often parents can misjudge how much a child is capable of eating (and how much the child really needs to eat) and really overload little Johnny's plate. And to expect a clean plate....

                    Sorry to go on and on, but with childhood obesity and eating disorders so prevalent these days it's an issue I worry about with my kids.

                    1. I grew up in a houshold with depression era/WWII rationing values and we had a similar requirement for getting dessert. It wasn't really about waste, though, it was simply a way to get us to eat our vegetables.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: Gary Soup

                        Yes, exactly so! And there was *always* dessert of some sort. Now I crave the vegetables (though never, ever frozen brussels sprouts) and never think of dessert.

                        1. re: Gary Soup

                          Yes, you can't skip your vegetables and load up on dessert, you have to eat your dinner first, then you can have dessert if you still have room.

                          1. re: babette feasts

                            "how can you have any pudding if you don't eat your meat!!"

                            a little pink floyd reference never hurt anyone...

                        2. I was fortunate not to grow up in a "clean plate" environment - my parents' rule was that you had to have three bites of everything on your plate - presumably so that you would taste it, and with the idea that the first bite might not be entirely indicative of whether or not you liked it. There were certainly times when there were several children sitting at the table after the adults were done, pending completion of said three bites. My sister was particularly inventive when it came to places to hide her three bites, including sneaking it back into the serving dish on the table ....

                          To follow up on another poster's comment - I notice that some of my friends serve their children adult sized portions, which strikes me as a mistake.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: MMRuth

                            I think the three bites idea is excellent. It might encourage kids to try unfamiliar foods knowing they wouldn't have to finish a whole serving. I'm baffled by people, kids and adults, who refuse to take a bite of something new.

                            1. re: cheryl_h

                              The "eat everything on your plate" had another side benefit for me (which I can see from my old fart perspective now). I always put away the vegetables first so I could enjoy the rest of the meal without them staring at me from the plate, and therefore tasted them when I was hungriest. Because of that I may like veggies more or, more likely, dislike them less than I otherwise would. As Socrates said, the best sauce for food is hunger.

                          2. Well, in my house, the "clean your plate" ethos was not totalitarian but it was exhortive in the sense that (1) your mother worked very hard preparing this meal and you should be grateful because other people are not lucky to have full meals all the time, and (2) you will need to learn the skill to not ever show a hostess that you find food she prepared displeasing in any way. Food was served in even age-appropriate portions, with seconds available upon invitation. Everyone had to learn to eat things they did not like, as our parents regaled us with tales of their childhood foods they did not impose on us (boiled [fill in fish, meat and vegetables of anti-choice], mackeral mackeral mackeral, and leberspaeztle (liver dumplings, et cet.) The hard things for me to down were cold pickled beets/red cabbage. And the one time my mother gave us a complete pass at the dinner she prepared was when she conconcted a casserole with a huge mess of kale from our beloved Bavarian neighbor in early fall -- the kale had not been sweetened by frost yet and was so bitter even my mother couldn't stomach eat. I cannot remember what we did instead.

                            But we did eat dinner together at table every night without fail, no excuses if you lived under that roof, unless you were engaged to be married or near enough to that. I do not understand how families function without eating at least one meal a day together; it's really unfathomable to me.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Karl S

                              The family eating dinner together every night -- there are countless benefits for all!

                            2. My dad had this rule with me and my sisters. Whenever we left food on our plates at the dinner table, he would always remind us of how he never had enough to eat growing up as the 7th child of 10 during war-time. So we always "cleaned our plates," and then during middle school I even worked my way up to finishing a second portion also. I was always very active, so it didn't catch up to me until I went to college. I continued the practice of cleaning my plate during the first year, and then TA-DA I finished my first year of college 10 pounds heavier.

                              It was the mentality of feeling like a little girl again being scolded by her father. To this day, I still feel guilty about leaving food on my plate and have a hard time letting it go, but I know that it MUST be done, or else daddy will have one fat grown up daughter.

                              1. The really thin people I've known, healthy but thin, all had one habit. They would "save some for later." I have seen them cut an apple or donut in half, wrap half, and say "I'll eat that later." I doubt if they ever did.

                                1. My father grew up with rationing and pretty much made us eat everything on our plates. This was rarely a problem except for the fat cap from roast beef. Cold flaccid beef fat is truly revolting. After berating us for not eating ours he would then tell us stories of how he used to hide his behind the refrigerator at boarding school.. go figure. My grandmother also told us stories of people eating nothing but carrots all winter because that's all they had, and of people coming to the kitchen door to ask for food, this during the 1930's. The latter really impressed upon me how important food is and that it should be respected.
                                  I have no eating problems and will leave food I find unpalatable AFTER having taken a few bites. I think the "three bites" rule is a great idea, encouraging kids to try new things and preparing them for dinner at the bosses house where the food may taste like a$$ but you'd better choke some down anyhow.
                                  Besides the above I think that the portion size in many restaurants is often obscene. One place I worked used to serve 250g portions of meat plus massive starch sides and cream sauces. To finish a portion like that is unhealthy and illadvised. The people that did manage to finish these portions rarely looked healthy.

                                  1. this reminds of me when i was a kid. when i was in elementary and middle school there was always a lunch proctor that would stand by the garbage cans to be sure you weren't making a mess when throwing out your trash. they would also inspect your plate/tray to be sure you ate enough (which meant just about everything). if they felt there was too much on your plate they sent you back to your seat to finish it, even if you said you were full. i was a very good eater as a child, but sometimes the portions the lunch lady would slop on were just too much for me. especially when it was gross overcooked spaghetti with crappy canned tomato sauce day. i know the intention was to make sure us growing kids were getting enough nutrition, which i appreciate because i know lots of kids (and adults for that matter) who would rather do anything else besides eat food. but i wonder now, with the increase in childhood obesity, if schools still force kids to clean their plates? and if those same kids have different rules at home, will it give kids mixed messages about their respect of food and how they should eat?