My husband and I were sitting at our dinner table many years ago, trying to get our young daughter to eat all of her peas so she would have a ”clean” plate.
We tried coaxing then scolding, but she wouldn’t finish eating the peas. Everyone at the table was frustrated.
And then, it dawned on both of us. … She doesn’t have to finish eating her peas. And, suddenly, everyone at the table was relaxed and happier.
During my childhood I had adopted this notion you were supposed to eat everything on your plate.
I remember having to sit at the table until I had eaten most of my slice of pumpkin pie. I hated pumpkin pie. Love it now, but not then. But that was more a lesson of ‘if you put it on your plate, you need to eat it’ or that I should try new things. Not sure which.
Then, there was the time in kindergarten when I had to stay in the cafeteria and finish my meal and miss recess. I tried to tell the teacher I didn’t want to eat — I think it was chicken fried steak — but she was very stern and insisted I finish. She left a classmate to guard me to make sure I finished.
A few bites more, and I was vomiting in the trash can. See, I really didn’t want to eat it.
But, fast-forward, and we know now that forcing kids to eat everything on their plates isn’t necessarily a good idea. And, truly, the starving children in another country are not going to benefit or suffer more or less if your child leaves half of her sandwich from lunch every once in a while.
As grownups we hear “portion control,” so we need to make sure we’re not forcing our children to eat if they’re full. Maybe, in the future, they won’t have as many problems with controlling what they eat.
March is National Nutrition Month, and in connection with that, Fresh Healthy Eating, a San Diego-based company, offered these helpful tips for parents:
- Limit snacks. Children who fill up on a lot of calories from snacks eat less at meal times, and usually the snacks are not all that nutritious. Limit calories that come from snacking, and offer snacks that are healthy, such as a sliced apple with peanut butter, or vegetables they can dip into hummus.
- Eat more fruits and veggies. Fruits and vegetables offer a lot of vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants. In addition to including some in snacking, aim to make fruits and vegetables half of their plate at mealtime.
- Watch the sugar. Added sugars fill kids up with empty calories. Pay attention to the amount of sugar that is in food and how much they are consuming.
- Avoid the clean plate club. Many parents try to get their children to clean their plate by eating all the food on it. Problem is, children are in tune with their body cues and tend to eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full. When parents make them eat everything on their plate, they teach them to ignore their hunger cues, which can potentially lead to obesity problems later on. Ideally, parents should start with small amounts of food on the plate, so it’s not so overwhelming.
- Model healthy eating. One of the most important tools in getting kids to eat healthily is to model that behavior. Children who have parents who eat healthily tend to grow up eating in a more healthy way themselves.
By the way, peas are now one of my daughter’s favorite vegetables.