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Old 05-21-2010, 03:46 PM   #1
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Default kids and finishing what's on their plate

So this is an offshoot to two other threads - the one about kids and diets and the one about discarding food. Together, they made me think about the message I send to my son on this issue (he's almost 6). I try to distinguish between the healthy food that makes us big and strong and the treats we get to enjoy but just some of the time. And if he asks for a treat before he's finished his meal, one line I find myself saying a lot is that if his tummy is too full for chicken, apple, cheese, etc, then it must be too full for a cookie, etc.

So even though I'm not sure I've ever specifically told him to clean his plate, that kind of ends up being the result - he'll quickly wolf down whatever is left of his meal and say he's eaten the healthy food and can he have a treat now.

In my case, my concerns with my son are a little different than some because at least as of now, his weight "problem" is that he's underweight (but not dangerously so). So I'm fairly free handed with treats - as long as he's eaten the healthy meal and gotten sufficient nutrients, he can use the extra calories in the treats (and no, I don't consider fruit a treat for him, that's a standard part of his meal). But I definitely don't want to be sending the "clean your plate" message either, because I know that can be detrimental to weight loss/maintaining a healthy weight. I can't assume he will stay underweight forever so I want to try to help build good habits for him.

Just curious about what others think and do in this regard?
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Old 05-21-2010, 03:53 PM   #2
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I think that "If you are hungry, eat healthy stuff" is a perfectly appropriate message to be teaching to kids, and it's not the same thing as "clean your plate" at all. If my kids are *genuinely* not hungry, I don't make them eat. But if they are *hungry*, then they need to eat something healthy before they get to eat treats.

"Clean your plate" is, generally speaking, only a problem when the stuff that's on the plate is too much, or calorie-dense and nutrition-light. None of us really got fat because we ate every morsel of the broccoli on our plates every night, right?
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Old 05-21-2010, 04:25 PM   #3
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None of us really got fat because we ate every morsel of the broccoli on our plates every night, right?
Lol! Ain't that the truth!

I agree, though -that you are sending him a good message. You are telling him if he is still hungry, he should eat more healthy stuff then he can have a treat.
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Old 05-21-2010, 04:47 PM   #4
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For us, I do things a little different. Both SO and I are overweight, and our son is slightly underweight for his height (he is taller than his age group, so I guess it evens out? lol). We just ask that he eats enough. Not all, just enough of each thing on his plate, and then if he wants to supplement with sweets, it's fine with me! I was deprived of sweets and treats, seconds, etc. as a kid- and I feel like that had a lot to do with why I started hiding food and gaining weight around that time. I was made to feel embarrassed by the fact that I just wanted a little more- because really, I would have loved an extra half serving of veggies to feel satisfied, but when I asked I was told that I needed to eat less because I was already chubby. I would sneak around and hide slices of cheese, twinkies... Really anything small that I could shove in my pocket and hide in my room for later. I was honestly hungry and I wish someone would have listened to me.

SO's situation was a little different. He was never deprived of food, but was expected to finish every single last bite and wasn't allowed to leave the table until his task was completed. His eyes were bigger than his stomach a lot, and he'd give himself huge portions and not be able to finish. Over time, he got used to the routine of stuffing himself at meals and it became commonplace. His father was a baker and there were always sweets around that "needed to be eaten soon before they turned" and since he had such a large appetite (grew into it over time, no doubt!) they were pushed on him so they wouldn't be wasted. Still to this day he will sit there and eat an entire pan of brownies, whether he wants them or not, so I won't throw them out.

So, I put a lot of thought into our food situation. I have a step sister who is naturally very thin. Her mother did what we are doing, and I see how well it worked out for their family. Sometimes, I want something sweet. Sometimes, I like to save room in my diet for that treat. I think that normal, healthy people eat this way. My son loves veggies (loooooooooooooves them!) and will eat an entire plate full for dinner every night (another thing we planned carefully and thankfully, went our way!). If once or twice a week he'd rather have just chips for lunch, or eat three bites of macaroni and supplement with 4 cookies, I let him. He needs to learn to read his own body and regulate that intake now.

I don't deprive him of anything (except for maybe candy after 7pm and soda only once or so a week) and it's working well, so far.
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Old 05-21-2010, 04:52 PM   #5
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That's kind of what we do. They have to at least try everything on their plate and eat a reasonable amount - maybe a few bites - of each for me to be satisfied that they had a decent dinner and therefore can have dessert. If they refuse to eat dinner and just want a cookie that doesn't fly, but I am also not rewiring them to clean their plate if they are genuinely full, either. My family did the clean plate club thing and always served me HUGE portions (ori served myself huge portions) and I ate it all - I didn't listen to my hunger cues, I just ate what was in front on me. That was MY biggest contributing factor to my weight issues and one I am not eager to repeat with my kids.

They have to eat some of everything, and can't have more, say, pasta, before their broccoli is gone... If they wants seconds of something they have to have finished their first serving of everything. Same with dessert... It is what we eat as a treat after a good dinner. If they cant eat a good dinner, they have no room for dessert
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Old 05-21-2010, 04:53 PM   #6
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My daughter is underweight also (age 4). She also has some eating issues (sensory) and gags on some textures.

Anyway, I give her the food on her plate at meals. If she eats a reasonable amount (like at least half of something substantial) then I let her have a treat later. Our rules are: no sugar/sweets until afternoon (no donuts for breakfast or anything like that), and the afternoon snack has to be nutritious, like whole grain crackers & cheese or hummus, or nuts & raisins, etc.

I never make her clean her plate and I never, EVER tell her she HAS to eat something she really dislikes. Ever. I do remind her to try new things, and also tell her how our tastes change so we should try things several times and we might begin to like it later.
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Old 05-21-2010, 05:07 PM   #7
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My youngest son is 14, and slightly chubby. I dont say that as the doting mother, that is pretty much exactly what he is. He was a bit heavier about 6 months ago, but is hitting a growth spurt, and I see his stomach shrinking almost daily as his height increases.
He used to pretty much hate all vegetables and fruits. In fact, when he was about 3, if I put veggies on his plate, he would just point at them and say "oops", like I had made a mistake in putting a non food item onto his plate. Yeah..it was cute.

Anyway, I always made him eat some vegetables, and as he has grown older, I have slowly increased the "some" that I put onto his plate. Now, he is okay with most vegetables, and has no problem eating what I put on his plate, which is now a normal serving. It just took slow increases and time to teach him to, if not totally love them, to see them as something that really was food.

he still has no use for fruit at all, which I will never understand. How can one NOT like a nice juicy apple?
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Old 05-21-2010, 07:25 PM   #8
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I am of the clean your plate generation (as in my sisters and I had more than one go round where we literally slept at the table all night - usually stuffed cabbage night - because we had to finish what was on our plate) I never have that problem with my son though. He is big for his age - but not overweight. Just BIG. He is 4'1 and weights 81lbs. He just turned 8 years old last month.

I try to keep the junk to a minimum. He knows that on school nights his after dinner snack has to be healthy (Smartpop 100cal popcorn/string cheese/fruit/Skinny fudge bar) so he usually digs into my treat stuff And on the weekends he can have something like a honey bun, or ice cream etc
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Old 05-21-2010, 10:36 PM   #9
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I was raised in a 'clean your plate' house... We weren't allowed to have dessert if we didn't eat all of our food that we were served. We weren't allowed to leave the dinner table if we didn't finish all of our food. It took me years (I'm not exaggerating) to break myself of that habit. BUT, I do think that portions have a lot to do with it now that I *know* what a healthy portion is. We didn't have any say in how much of what went on our plates, but we had to eat it all. If I could go back in time and change that (convince my mom to change I should say), I believe I would have not gotten so large. So I think that since your son is old enough to say how hungry he is, maybe make no mention of "treats" and have him tell you how much food he wants. Obviously, he'll *have* to have some veggies, etc. But maybe being able to choose how much potato, chicken, corn, etc he wants he'll have a better idea of how much he should be eating of the 'healthy' stuff vs how much he can eat of the 'treats'.
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Old 05-22-2010, 06:16 AM   #10
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When I was growing up we didn't get treats after meals. It wouldn't have occurred to us to ask for them, because it wasn't part of the deal. On the rare evenings when we would have dessert after dinner, it was often an hour after dinner, not right after we were finished with the meal.

This didn't stop me from becoming fat, obviously--but I do wonder why a treat has to be included. I'm a little concerned about a kid eating everything on his plate so he can get a treat. Seems like the wrong motivation to me. What would happen if you just said, "No treats this time"?

Also, if he is eating fruit with his meal, why isn't that a "treat"?

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Old 05-22-2010, 11:05 AM   #11
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thanks for the interesting comments.

I give my son a lot of control of how much goes on his plate, and I think that is part of my issue because I find it annoying to waste food. So if he asks for 2 of something (waffles, piece of cheese, etc), I do expect him to eat 2. I try to get him to take 1 and then have a second afterwards if he wants, but a lot of the time, he insists he's really hungry and wants 2, but then still doesn't finish the first. So I may be able to work on that more by being a bit more stringent about limiting the portions up front, even if he thinks he wants more. He can always have more but I have to remember that sometimes, his eyes are bigger than his stomach. It's definitely a work in progress because he can be a bit erratic with his appetite due to some meds he's on. There are times where he eats more than I do and other times, where he eats a very small amount but I can't always predict, and I guess neither can he!

As for fruit not being a treat - he loves fruit, always has. And he's not a good veggie eater at all, so it's even more important that he eats a good amount of fruit. One of his favorite meals is a bowl of cottage cheese and strawberries.

But even though they are less nutritious calories, he does need the calories he gets from an ice cream sandwich or a cookie or two with a glass of milk. He's almost 6, about 3'10" and weighs 40.5 lbs. That's a BMI of 13.5 and makes him clinically underweight (although he's had a lower BMI before - his weight is actually almost into the healthy range for his age and height now). His pediatrician and I have discussed his eating and she's in agreement that as long as his basic nutritional needs are met, these extra calories are important too. Sure, it would be great if I could get him to eat that extra 150-200 calories completely from larger quantities of regular foods, but it's just not that realistic.
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Old 05-22-2010, 11:24 AM   #12
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This didn't stop me from becoming fat, obviously--but I do wonder why a treat has to be included. I'm a little concerned about a kid eating everything on his plate so he can get a treat. Seems like the wrong motivation to me. What would happen if you just said, "No treats this time"?
I agree with this. We very rarely have dessert, and when we do it's a fairly big event. Either making the dessert before dinner or daddy taking everyone out for ice cream. We never have "treats" in the house. I think, at this moment, the extent of our "treat" food is a a small container of wafers for the baby and a few bars of extra-dark chocolate.

Maybe it's extreme, but I just can't raise my kids the way I was raised. Breakfast always had (and still does, when my kids sleep over at grandma's) something sweet, be it pancakes or waffles topped with whipped cream, donuts, pastries or fruit in syrup. My grandma spoiled me (and now spoils my kids) with the "after lunch mini-dessert." "Just enough to whet their whistle" is her line.

And dinner...dear lord. Every dinner was followed by dessert. Ice cream, cake, cookies - sometimes all three. I developed a habit of eating real food to get the sweet stuff. That carried over into adulthood and...well...yeah.
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Old 05-22-2010, 11:33 AM   #13
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He's almost 6, about 3'10" and weighs 40.5 lbs. That's a BMI of 13.5 and makes him clinically underweight (although he's had a lower BMI before - his weight is actually almost into the healthy range for his age and height now). His pediatrician and I have discussed his eating and she's in agreement that as long as his basic nutritional needs are met, these extra calories are important too. Sure, it would be great if I could get him to eat that extra 150-200 calories completely from larger quantities of regular foods, but it's just not that realistic.
Not to spam the thread, but I wanted to comment on this, too.

My second daughter is 5 1/2. I don't remember the exact numbers, but she's always fallen in the 75th to 85th percentile for height and the 40th to 50th for weight. Our former pediatrician did the same thing - she basically said to give her as many calories as she would take in a hope that she gained weight. I ignored this, and it caused a few problems with the ped. (As an aside, this was the same pediatrician who once told me my oldest daughter was overweight because she was in the 90th percentile for weight...while being in the 95th for height, a fact the ped willfully ignored.)

Our new ped put the kaibosh on this. She took one look at my daughter and said, "That's just how she is." She's a very strong believer in the differences in body composition and that some people are just naturally skinny (or heavy). In the long run, sneaking in extra calories isn't going to help her. So we feed her when she's hungry and don't try to get "extra" calories in. Why put the strain on her metabolism?

I'm not saying that you're doing something wrong. If your son eats it, he's probably hungry. But after the discussion I had with our new ped, I'd strongly suggest against trying to "sneak in" extra calories just to get him to "gain." He probably doesn't need to, and will probably end up being like my husband (6'4" and 145 pounds, I hate him!).
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Old 05-22-2010, 12:03 PM   #14
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My DD is 6 and about 40 lbs, her doc doesn't say anything. She's just built lean. I was built that way at her age as well, then I hit puberty, PCOS, and overweight/obesity.

She eats like a horse when in a growth spurt and she eats like a bird when she isn't.

I'm trying to preserve her innate sense of "I'm full" because really she can only tell that.

But to discourage the "fake full" just so she can get a treat... we break it up. Treats don't come after dinner. Dessert is not usual, and when it is offered, it comes later closer to bath/bed time.

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Old 05-22-2010, 01:36 PM   #15
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I agree with this. We very rarely have dessert, and when we do it's a fairly big event. Either making the dessert before dinner or daddy taking everyone out for ice cream.
Second this.
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