The Clean Plate Club

Were you restricted?
Image source: Microsoft
When you were growing up did your parents make you clean off everything on your plate?  If you are a parent, do you require this of your own children?  Do you think it is it wise to have children eating everything off their plates to ensure that they are getting the calories and nourishment that their bodies need?

And what about restricting ‘junk food’?  Is this always a good rule of thumb to follow?  Does this parental tactic actually work or can the strategy actually backfire?

In a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, Campbell, Crawford and Ball noted that the family food environment had a significant impact on children’s dietary habits and could be linked to children’s’ weight. Pressure to consume food or specific foods was positively associated with increased consumption of non-nutritious foods and over eating.

In addition, Puhl and Schwartz noted that childhood rules like “If you are good you can have a cookie” have a long lasting impact on eating behaviors.  It was also concluded that such tactics might result in binge eating behaviors.

Take a look at this video entitled “Obesity Begins at Home” from Scientific American Frontiers and hosted by Alan Alda.  The video addresses some tactics that parents use that can backfire on them and help contribute to the weight issues we face today.  After watching the video, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic and whether or not your parents made you have to be a member of the clean plate club and/or restricted your food choices.  Also, what are your thoughts about reversing this trend to encourage kids to overeat and make poor food choices?


Campbell, K. J., Crawford, D. A., & Ball, K. (2006). Family food environment and dietary behaviors likely to promote fatness in 5–6 year-old children. International Journal of Obesity, 30(8), 1272-1280.

Puhl, R. M., & Schwartz, M. B. (2003). If you are good you can have a cookie: How memories of childhood food rules link to adult eating behaviors. Eating Behaviors, 4(3), 283-293. DOI:

Obesity Begins at home [Video file]. Retrieved from


  1. Your blog focuses on a very timely subject, childhood obesity. Bringing awareness to disease, unhealthy conditions, and habits is always the first approach to promoting change. However, what can be done for those who will not listen and take heed. Does this become a government needed intervention? Researchers Gollust, Niederdeppe, and Barry (2013) brought this idea to light, and stated in their study on childhood obesity the serious societal problems warranting government action. Long-term consequences to childhood obesity lead to 70-85% of obese children becoming obese adults (Phillips, 2012).
    The government has created initiatives as Change4life and Healthy Towns in hopes of raising awareness. Research has also identified aims for preventive programs to address diet and physical activity, emphasize positive behavior changes, involve family and peer groups, design age appropriate materials directed at gender differences, socioeconomic status and ethnicity (Phillips, 2012). Interventions should be directed to encourage overweight children to “grow into” their weight, instead of dieting.

    Gollust, S. E., Niederdeppe, J., & Barry, C. L. (2013). Framing the consequences of childhood obesity to increase public support for obesity prevention policy. American Journal of Public Health, 103(11), e96-102. Retrieved from
    Phillips, F. (2012). Facing up to childhood obesity. Practice Nursing, 42. Retrieved from

    1. Thanks for your insights Dina!
      I for one am not sure how well government intervention might go over… People tend to dislike being told what they can or cannot eat or drink even if it is for their own good! The soda controversy in New York City is a great example.

      But perhaps the government can intervene in other ways. For one, perhaps we should have an agricultural policy that supports a more wholesome diet instead of the one that we have right now that encourages a cheap and nutritiously poor one. Or perhaps the USDA can encourage schools to go beyond the dietary requirements that they currently have. By that I mean instead of just focusing on the calories and the sodium, fat and sugar of the foods that they serve perhaps they can focus on meals being nutrient dense. Right now schools are serving doughnuts and pop-tarts. Sure, they are made with 100% whole grain, contain real fruit, are low fat and low sodium but they are still doughnuts and pop-tarts! The problem with that is options for those types of foods made in a more healthy way just don’t exist in the real world. So what schools unwittingly do is to condition students to want those types of junk foods when they are not in school. And what is available is only the non-nutritious kind. So why not condition them to want veggies and fruit and less processed foods instead? Local governments can also help the crisis we are facing by creating physical environments that support good health.
      Those of course are just my humble opinions but I think that we must create an environment that living healthily is the main option as opposed to the one we have right now!

  2. I really appreciate your thoughts on this Orville...I agree that government needs to be educational and encouraging rather than coercive. I do think that their should be restrictions on the addition of added sugars into foods, especially high fructose corn syrup. I also agree with encouraging (or insisting?) that schools provide healthy options rather than doughnuts and pop tarts. I visited a school cafeteria during the course of my work not too long ago, and was dismayed to see that they offered high caffeine energy drinks in the cafeteria!
    -Stacey Jo

    1. Thanks Stacey! I am very passionate about the fact that we need to live in an environment that is conducive to health. Like most dietitians I get teased as being the ‘food police’, but to be honest I think that all foods can fit into a healthy diet. I often tell my students that a Twinkie is not going to kill them (unless they choke on it of course!), but if all they eat are Twinkies then they will have some health issues..
      It does disturb me about the energy drinks kids are consuming though. Can you imagine the sleep disruptions caused or the subsequent emotional problems from the increased consumption of highly caffeinated beverages they might be facing?? Holy cow! People need to wake up! And I don’t mean through over-caffeination/stimulation Red Bulls!!

  3. Orville
    Great info. I grew up in the clean the plate generation and still find myself doing so even today. I have to make a conscious effort to not do so, however, the effort comes with guilt as a dessert! We have to learn to stop eating when we feel full, not when our plate is empty.
    Great post.

    1. Thanks for your feedback Naren! You are not the only one that can relate to the concept of the clean plate club! In fact, it is one of my most popular topics I discuss with my students. The nice thing is if you are smart about portion control you can still enjoy dessert without over-indulging!