Consequences of Belonging to the "Clean Plate Club"
How does encouraging a child to "clean" his or her plate influence eating behavior away from home? Parents who insist that their child clean his or her plate may be asserting excess control that could backfire if it inhibits the development of their child's self– control around food. If this is true, children who have been conditioned to clean their plate may end up requesting more food when excess controls do not exist, such as when they are away from home.
We surveyed 63 pre–school aged children and their primary meal providers, who were all mothers. The mothers were asked to rate the extent to which they agreed or disagreed with the statement, "I tell my child to clean their plate." The children were randomly given either a 16–oz or 32–oz cereal bowl and were asked to indicate how much of a given, kid–friendly cereal they wanted to eat for a morning snack. An experimenter poured 3 g of cereal into the cup and asked the child if that was enough or if he or she wanted more. Once the child had indicated that their bowl contained enough cereal, the bowl was weighed. The BMI's of both children and mothers were recorded.
Children who were given the larger bowls requested more than twice the amount of cereal than those with the smaller ones. Gender and BMI did not have an effect on the amount of cereal the child chose. The children who were told to clean their plates requested significantly more cereal. This effect was stronger in boys than in girls. We conclude that preschool–aged children who are told to clean their plates are more likely to request larger portions of food when away from home, which confirms our notion that the modeling influence of a parent can play a significant role in eating behaviors. Parents and physicians should keep this effect in mind when counseling families regarding obesity.