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“Clean Your Plate” and Other Time-Honored Admonitions to Avoid at the Table

“Clean Your Plate” and Other Time-Honored Admonitions to Avoid at the Table

by Red Pill Mama · 1 comment

in Character,Nutrition+Food

I received a great printout from the AAP (The American Academy of Pediatrics) at my pediatrician’s office, entitled “Feeding Kids Right Isn’t Always Easy: Tips for Preventing Food Hassles.”  Aside from laying out six common childhood eating challenges (“Food Jags,” “Food Strikes,” etc.) and ways to deal with them, the printout contains some information that definitely goes against conventional wisdom (which is why I like it, of course — and want to share it with you).

(To read about the six common eating challenges, click here.  Unfortunately, much of the great info on the sheet is not available online — that I could find, anyway — so I’ll summarize it for you here, with my usual fair share of editorializing.)

First off, I love this: what the AAP describes as our role as parents in our kids’ eating process: “While parents are the best judges of what children should eat and when, children are the best judges of how much they should eat.”  While I do agree that there is a fine line between letting your child inspect their navel through the entirety of dinnertime and not letting them leave the table until they’ve eaten everything on their plate, there is a happy medium here, certainly.  Navel-gazing shows a complete disrespect for the food prepared (and the food preparer), though I suppose if you allowed it once (and allowed no food until the next mealtime) you might nip that in the bud.  But the “Clean your plate” thing — I’m sure we all heard that from our own parents, but when you think about it, wow!  Insisting that your child eat perhaps more than s/he desires or is able to eat sets up a really bad habit that can lead to so many dire consequences later – eating out of guilt or obligation and obesity, to name just two.  How many of us (as adults) eat more than we need to (or should) because we have this compunction to clean our plates?  How many of us would have benefited from reinforcement of the fact that when we’ve had enough to eat, it’s time to stop?

Americans have so many food issues: anorexia, bulimia, overeating, binge eating, high rate of obesity, fast food addiction, ect.  Other countries with strong food cultures (like Italy and France) just don’t deal with these things as much as we do – their food culture is primarily characterized by companionship and joy, whereas Americans eat with speed, guilt, remorse, distraction and — I’d imagine most puzzling to Europeans — solitude.  The AAP writes: “Happy encounters with food at any age help set the stage for sensible eating habits throughout life.  Handling food and eating situations positively encourages healthful food choices.”  It just makes common sense to keep the whole experience positive, doesn’t it?

I’m sure I’m not the only parent who has experienced stress and uncertainty about things going on at the table, the most common one probably being our child’s unwillingness to eat healthful foods, or to try new foods.  The AAP gently encourages us to “keep the big picture in mind.”  Food jags, fear of new foods and other behaviors we parents might consider odd and troubling are often simply part of normal development, and as long as we make mealtime a positive experience, offer a variety of nutritious foods, and set a good example, “over time a child will get everything needed to develop and grow normally.”

But wow, that “setting a good example” part – that’s tough, and takes a lot of thought and discipline on the part of we parents.  Are we distracted by the television, the Blackberry or the twittering of our cell phones, or are we fully engaged with our mealtime companions?  Do we skip our vegetables, or eat them with relish and exclaim how delicious they are?  Do we overeat to the point of moaning, groaning and unbuttoning our jeans, or subtly put our fork down and push our plate away with a few bites remaining?  ”Kids are too smart to heed the old saying ‘Do as I say, not as I do’,” writes the AAP.  As always, what we do in front of our kids is their ultimate lesson.  ”Plenty of food variety and a relaxed, happy atmosphere at mealtime are the ‘ingredients’ for a well-fed child.”

So Red Pill Parents, here’s your tableside mantra: “Mealtime is about way more than food.”  And don’t even think about saying, “No dessert until you eat your vegetables”!

Bon Appetit, and many thanks to the AAP for this great info.

Red Pill Mama

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Red Pill Mama February 26, 2010 at 9:21 am

And another time-honored admonition to avoid?: “Hurry up!”

Read more in this New York Times story:

REALLY?: The Claim: To Cut Calories, Eat Slowly
Can stopping to savor every bite help you lose weight?

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