Habits of Healthy Eaters: Quit the Clean Plate Club

By , SparkPeople Blogger
Was your household one that enforced the "Clean Plate Club"? Did you know that could be hurting your weight-loss efforts?

Our parents might have had good intentions, but teaching us that we had to eat everything on our plates was not a helpful lesson. When we only stop eating when our plate is empty, our brains never learn to judge when we're actually full.

It takes your brain 20 minutes to get the signal from your stomach that you're full.
Slow down, and follow the "Mind Your Manners" healthy eating strategies.

Here are some additional tips to reverse the Clean Plate Club mentality.
  • Serve smaller portions, and recognize proper portions. Parents, especially those who grew up during the Depression, remember what it's like to not have enough food. Enforcing a clean plate was less about overeating than it was about not wasting food.
  • Save your leftovers. Eyes bigger than your stomach? Put that second half of your baked sweet potato and the remainder of your chicken breast in the fridge for tomorrow's lunch.
    • Add a small green salad and some yogurt or milk and you've got a meal.
    • Add leftover vegetables to soups or scramble them with an egg for a quick lunch or snack.
    • Top salads with leftover meat or seafood, or turn extra chicken breasts into a light(er) chicken salad.

  • Divide and conquer. If you're eating at a restaurant, where portions far exceed what you should be eating, immediately divide your meal in half (or thirds at some restaurants). Ask for a box or politely move half of your meal to the far side of your plate. Eat only the portion you've doled out for yourself, and save the rest. Don't be tempted to nibble on the remaining food.

Did you grow up in a clean plate house? Do you enforce that rule? Will you change your habit?

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I belong to the clean plate club and will continue to hold membership in it. I do not believe good food should go to waste. I am disciplined well enough to know what my body can eat and only take what I know I will eat. I pretty much patronize many of the same restaurants, so I often ask for a take-home container when I order a regular meal. Report
I'm from the generation that was taught "waste not, want not" and "there are starving children all over the world that would love to have your food". I used to offer to send the food to them but my parents thought I was kidding. Anyway, it is SO HARD for me to leave anything on the plate so I use small plates to try to get away from that mindset. When I go to a restaurant now, I go with the idea of bringing home 1/4 to 1/2 of whatever I get for a later meal. It's been working well. Report
In an effort to control portion sizes at home, we only use the salad plates from either either our china or everyday place settings. If we clean our plates, I'm not so worried that we ate too much.
At restaurants, my husband and I never order more than one entree for the two of us. It automatically cuts our portion size in half, and many times the two of us can't even finish the one entree. The only extra item we might order is a side salad or two side salads if one isn't included with the entree. If we aren't dining out together, we'll only order a side salad and an appetizer or cup of soup.
Some of our friends have thought it was because we were watching our wallets and not because we are watching our waists. The best part is that our new ordering style has helped our waists to get smaller and our wallets to stay fatter. Report
Definitely had the clean plate rule but have learned to let this go. I've also gotten pretty good at splitting the portions in restaurants. If I don't have a bread plate, I ask for one and put my 'extra' on there to be boxed up as a 2nd meal or when I really don't want it, I ask for it to be cleared. I also try to remember to tell the waitperson upfront what I don't want up - no bun or no rice please, although I have gotten some funny arrangements when I ask for no bun when ordering a burger or sandwich! Report
This is SO my issue. Cleaning our plates was important, not just because of the starving children around the world, but also because it made mom feel good if we like what she cooked for us - or so I believed. To this day I have a hard time saying, no thanks, even if I don't like a food. I feel terribly guilty and afraid I've hurt the cook's (my husband's) feelings. When I ask him about it, he doesn't seem to feel any way about it, but I'm so conditioned I can't really believe him! Report
Growing up, I did need to clean my plate. As an adult, I do not make my children clean their plates. If they are full, then I am good with that. Maybe I got that way with my kids because of the way I was required to clean my plate. Report
As the eldest of three, and the puniest at birth, I was enroled into that club very early in life and if I din't eat everything then vitamins were given me to help my appetite. I must admit I was awfully skinny and I remember my mum would open the fridge and show me all the goodies she'd cooked and baked and would admonish me with 'do eat!' I remember being encouraged to have second helpings. It became a difficult habit to shake. I'm the only one of my siblings who is fat. Waste not, want not was the saying.

I believe it is criminal to waste food but I do not impose food on my children - they learnt early to choose how much they can manage nor do I encourage them to excess because I know how difficult it is to get out of bad eating habits. I'm retraining myself to eat according to portion and not to fancy or at random and ignoring that little voice inside that keeps calling for more, well it's hard but I try and occupy myself with other things and it quietens. Report
My parents always to take what we thought we could eat, that we could always have more if we wanted it. I must have often gone back fore more, because I always had a weight problem.

Since joining ww over 5 yrs ago, I have been ok, and since I measure my portions before putting them on my plate, I don't think I have a problem with this. I've become a pretty good judge of what id a healthy portion.

When I eat out, I often ask for a container to be brought with my meal, and that helps with the clean plate club also. Report
actually my Grandma always told us that if you leave something on your plate you wont get fat.

My dad told me that when he would eat those hostess pies he would just leave the corners (the part without the filling). He said my uncle wouldn't even leave the crappy parts and funny enough... he's fat.

The idea is really not to feel obliged to eat everything in front of you and to only eat what you really like. It may not work all the time but it's a good habit Report
At our house when I was a child you did not get dessert unless you finished your meal. We could do our own portions but of course we could not do heavy on potatoes and meat and light on veggies. My mother was imbarresed twice by making an issue out of eating vegetables so she finally realized there were some that I did not like and would make me sick if I ate them and she found other ways to get me to eat them. We now use smaller plates and smaller portions. My problem is not the clean plate, it is second helpings, junk food and not enough activity. Since I have cut out the junk food and started moving again I feel much better and I still clean my plate. Old habits die hard but if you are eating the right portions of healthy food you can clean your plate without packing on the weight. Report
Most of you brought so many memories of the time I sat at the table with all my family and what we were told. I see that many of us heard the story about the starving children in Africa or in other places. The one about the water, that one was a big one, if we drank water we will get full and would not finis our plate.

I'm in my 60's and for the last 30 years I had forced at the beginning, and after I got used I drink water with my food, also thanks to SP, I have learned more and more about drinking my water and how it helps me not to eat as much. I love water now, I drink my 8 glasses every day ans sometime even more.

W8Falnoff, I'm sure you can do it, I started drinking my water at a later age, so yes you can do it. Try putting a slice of lemon or orange just to give a little flavor. Report
I have started leaving something on my plate, especially if I don't fix it myself. At home I eat on a smaller plate. Report
this was one of the hardest habits to break- drummed into my head from Childhood, I couldn't stand to see the waste! So instead? I always use a small plate, & only allow a 1/2 cup per portion- then if I'm not safisfied & I'm still within my caloric range- I'll have seconds. Report
I have seen India and Africa listed, but at our house it was children are starving in China so clean your plate! The big difference was my mom didn't OVER COOK so a clean plate actually meant REAL portions of food. One Chicken cut up served all 6 of us. A couple of side dishes or salad and always a piece of cake for desert. When I got older and piled on the food on a plate, the 'clean your plate' became something entirely different!!

We had the clean your plate rule growing up. Both parents worked and didn't believe in waste. I don't make my daughter do this. This rule is a huge area of contention between my hubbie and I. He was raised on a farm family and this rule was more strictly enforced. He is constantly putting meat on her plate and she will not eat it. I get irritated and feed it to the dog. She is not a meat eater and I am not forcing her to eat it. That way of thinking is what got me overweight before I was even in middle school. It was a tough habit to break but now I measure my food so I know I am getting the right amount. Report
Thank you for this article. My parents served portions that not only were too large, or healthy...but they also made me finish my plate. I stopped the cycle on this with my kids. And I am doing the same for myself. Report
I had two parents that lived through the depression times and I was always taught to clean my plate! Well, I still do that but first I put less on my plate to begin with so I don't feel guilty about eating everything on my plate. It's all about portion control and not about leaving food on the plate. Report
Cleaning my plate is a serious problem for me. When I was growing up my family had little money, and it would be criminal to waste anything. I often ate foods I hated because it was all we had. Losing this habit is extremely hard for me. Report
I do use my leftover meats to top my salads. I don't usually think of the chicken salad as much. Good idea!! Report
Oh Boy, not only did I belong to "Clean Plate Club" I belonged to the "Nothing to Drink until your Plate is Clean Club"

In my house growing up, we were not allowed to have any drinks on the table, dad always said we needed to eat the food and not fill up on liquid...there are starving children in the world and you are not going to waste any food at our table..

I still to this day have trouble drinking while I am eating a meal, I can have a full glass of water at the start of my meal, and it will still be full when I am done, I have tried several times to break this habit, but I always fall back into that pattern..I just don't know how to break it...I think after 18 years of being told not to drink while eating, my subconsious just will not let me move past that... Report
I was always taught to clean my plate, there are starving children in Africa. I don't force my children to clean there plates, but I have had to break myself from cleaning up there plates. It's a hard habit to break, to not waste food and money. When we go out to eat, and I'm done, I throw my napkin over my plate. Report
I'm the youngest of 9 children and we had to eat everything on our plates because I am also from a single-parent family. We had to also ration some of what we ate. It was really interesting (to say the least)! Report
I grew up in a large household. I recall that we would all load our plates as fast as we could so that we would make sure to get a "good" portion before the food was gone. We ate quickly and therefore, I think we often ate too much. We always had some type of homemade dessert after dinner, and on weekends we would have dessert after lunch too! We were a hard-working farm family. Worked hard, and we ate big meals. Unfortunately, as all of us siblings moved into professional, white collar positions, we continued our love for eating and desserts, and lost much of our opportunities for burning calories. We have all had to learn to rethink our eating habits and adjust them to our current lifestyles. I am committed to eatting slower, smaller portions, and am no longer a member of the clean plate club. Report
Having six brothers; this was not a problem. If i didn't get served early on, there was just enough for my serving. And I always had a brother coaxing for my dessert if we had any. We also had the clean plate system with our four boys. But they served themselves and usually didn't take more than they could eat. In both homes budget was a concern, but in both situations, we had high carbohydrate diets to fill the tummys. So I am trying to replace much of the carbs with veggies.
Actually I am enjoying veggies as a replacement. Report
Of course the answer is to take less food originally, so you aren't wasting it. That didn't work in my m-i-l's house since she served everybody huge portions! I would protest and remove my kids' plates and take most of the food back to the kitchen.

In my home growing up, I was a puny eater and would hear about the starving children in India. However, as long as I ate some, I was OK, because we had dogs to eat the rest. Report
You have to eat a little of everything on the table. Which means for the wee ones, a teaspoon off each plate or bowl that is served (dessert excepted: no one has to eat any dessert). Seconds are the diner's choice, but if you put it on your plate, you are expected to finish it. As a result my children and now my grandchildren will try anything without turning their nose up. They eat a well-rounded diet and are adventurous in their willingness to try something new when at a restaurant or as a visitor. Report
I didn't grow up under that rule, and neither do we enforce it - as long as eating is healthy. Report
We didn't have the rule of a clean plate. I had 4 brothers who loved food. I wolfed down my meal in fear I might loose it. As a teenager I made my own meals. Usually something that was fried. We really didn't do desserts, but my husbands family did, so we started that when we got married. This carried on till 6 months ago when my husband had a mild heart attack. So we don't do dessert that often now. It's a start. Report
Oh yes the clean plate club, in my house it was also clean or sit there unitl it is, no matter what was on the plates. If you sat long enough, you could be excused but whatever was left you got for the next meal until you ate it. I literaly had to force myself to eat fried eggs at breakfast because they were even nastier at lunch. I never followed that bad habit into adulthood. Eat slowly, try a bite and if you don't like it ok don't eat it. Our dogs and cats over the years loved it when the kids didn't like something. Report
I don't remember my parents telling me to clean my plate but somehow I've followed that message into adulthood. At home (which is where I eat 85% of my meals) I serve the family with our lunch size plates. That seems to work pretty well. Now when I look at "normal" sized plates the amount of food looks like way too much. Report
I also was raised "clean plate" but learned from my husband about small portions. Report
I did grow up in a household with the "clean your plate" mentality. My siblings and I were also allowed to eat as much as we wanted, so eating wasn't about nourishing our bodies. I indulged in everthing unhealthy because I would finish eating when I felt I would burst. Chocolate, cakes, chips, soda, etc...
I have two children, and I do not allow them to indulge. They can have those things, but in moderation. If they want to have a cookie, there is a limit of how much they are allowed to eat. I want my children to enjoy the different kinds of foods, snacks, and such, but I want them know they don't have to feel full before they stop eating. Report
I was always taught that every plate and every serving bowl had to empty before anyone could leave the table. The best way I got around that was getting pets! Left over salads go to our rabbits and left over meat and potatoes go to our dog as a special treat. Otherwise I save it all up and make a casserole or soup at the end of the week. I've also learned to measure portions before starting to cook to limit the leftovers. Report
I grew up in a family that could not leave the table until your plate was empty. For someone like me who dislikes so many foods (I guess that makes me picky) it was difficult. I would take my milk and swallow anything (like onions) whole with a sip of milk. There was no way we could just push things aside just because we didn't like it. Being raise in a rural setting, we were all big kids and a lot of that had to do with bread, starches and lots of food we were expected to eat.

This has been a big challenge for me to overcome. I feel guilty if I don't finish everything I have on my plate so I used to push myself to eat it. Now, I just say NO. If my husband dishes up our dinner and it is too much, I just put it away for lunch or another meal. This is something he doesn't understand and thinks I am trying to starve myself. I have been trying to educate him about portion sizes and how we tend to eat too much. It is a uphill battle but it will be worth it if we can change. Report
I grew up in a family that we had to eat a little of everything that was on the table & yes, we had to clean our plate. I know that has hurt me because I do have a hard time leaving food on my plate, I feel that it is wasteful. At home it isn't bad because I start with small helpings then I don't put myself in that situation, but when I go out to eat there have been many times that I am so full & will keep eating to clean my plate. I tell my kids when they are full just back away & don't eat any more, but I am also bad about if I did put too much on one of our plates I feel that someone has to eat it, I will aske them all if they want it then it takes all I can do if the answer is no to throw it away or refrigerate it. In the last month or so I have been very careful at home to only cook enough for everyone to have 1 portion of everything. We are all getting there Report
It is easier to have a "clean" plate, if you are measuring up serving portions, rather than just guessing at what a serving size is. If I finish my meal, and I am still hungry, then I have a cup of tea. If I am still hungry after I have the tea, then I will have something else to eat - typically a piece of fruit for dessert. Report
I grew up with a "finish what's on your plate or you don't get dessert" house. I have tried to learn to put less on my plate, because I still tend to finish whatever is in front of me. However with our DD, we definitely do not say say this, and we try very hard to avoid the "dessert as reward" mistake. Report
No one in my house ever told me to clean my plate. I was a fat kid, my mom probably would have loved it if I DIDN"T clean my plate. Report
Yep - I am one of those lifetime members of the "Clean your Plate" club. I am learning that it is no longer necessary to do this. It was difficult when I first started just eating until I felt full instead of eating until the plate was clean. Slowing down is key for me. I have a tendency to overeat when I am in a hurry.

Great article! Report
after years of being told to clean my plate I finally got in the habit of 1 using a kids plate and 2 only putting half a serving on the plate. I can always go get more and this way I do not waste food Report
Today I went to our Ecumenical Women's Tea, and the dessert serving was much larger than I would normally eat. So I ate half of it. No big deal.

I use a salad plate at home. It does help. Report
We were always told to clean our plates because the kids and other countries were starving. Never could figure out how an extra mouthful helped those kids. My parents grew up in the depression, were first generation immigrents and survived WWII with rationing and little money. I always cleaned my kids plate when they didn't eat everything and now I measure it all out and eat only that amount. I can eat leftovers so I try not to waste what the kids don't eat. I've learned at a restaurant to cut it in half or split a meal. I'm still learning portion control but SP sure has helped me. Report
I love this article. What an eye opener. Report
When I was a kid my elders would always remind me about the starving people in Africa. I really hated peas...which for some reason Mom loved to cook almost every night. So one day I asked her for the address of the starving people in Africa so I could mail them my peas!
I often also had to go without dessert. My mom would set the timer and if I didn't clear my plate within that time I would not get my treats. I had already been sitting there for an hour dreading those veggies before she would set that timer. One day I just told her not to bother setting the timer and that I would rather not have my treat than eat those peas. Of course sometimes I would sneak a stash of goodies up in my room and hide them for nights like this. To this day I hate veggies.
Also, it is hard for me to look at a large plate of food. When I see a large amount of anything on a plate I feel very overwhelmed to eat.
See what the "clean your plate" and forcing kids to eat things they don't like can do to a child. Don't get me wrong I know Mom meant well and I love her dearly...she was young when she had me and probably grew up with my grandparents doing the same thing. Report
My mother used the same method. In fact, she even told my brother if he didnt eat what was on his plate for dinner..he was getting it for breakfast!! He still has eating problems today. I let my children try something once..only a bite and I let them take only what they are willing to eat. If their eyes are bigger than their tummies..I let them understand about waste but NEVER force them to eat. Report
I now put only a little on my plate and use small plates to prevent over eating. Report
I believe my mother is the President of that club!! Or as we call her, "Food Nazi",, I remember my sister shoving her peas into her straw after sitting for 5 hours at the table,, she told mom she hated peas,, mom caught her and made her suck them out and eat them,,
My mom used to fake us out by saving a bone from round steak,, then insert it into the middle of (gag) beef liver, knowing that none of us kids could stand it.. just because SHE liked things, we had to eat them!!
There are very few foods tha I do not like, but squash and sweet potatoes are on the top of the list , right up there with any seafood.
Every Sunday we went to Grandma's house for dinner. She was an excellent cook, but always made these huge baked sweet potatoes.. My mother warned us on the trip to Grandma's, that no matter what she served, we had to eat it so we would not hurt her feelings. Being a little kid,I thought long and hard about this, so when that enormous spud appeared on my plate, I decided to eat it right away and get it over with, gag it down, then enjoy the rest of my meal. Unfortunately for me, Grandma was the most generous, sweet person on earth, so she would jump up and run to her old stove and whip out another gigantic spud, telling me that I could have HERS!!! The withering look that mom gave me, told me that a beating was mine, if I did not eat that one too!! To this day, I would rather eat a dirty diaper than smell a yam!! Very abusive mom and loving Grandma, who, BTW, to her dying day,never found out what these meals did to her little SKINNY BONES granddaughter!! I was very thin until I got my tonsils out,, DO NOT FORCE KIDS TO EAT ANYTHING!!!
I was raised by my grandma and she told me to eat every thing in your dish. There are kids who would love the food because they are starving, so hurry and eat all your food in your plate.his is a hard habit to break now that i'm in my 60's. Report
I was initiated to this club a long time ago. We have purchased smaller plates and let everyone dish their own plates. We set a timeline for dinner, everyone has to stay at the table for at least 20 minutes. We make sure to turn off the tv while we eat, and talk to each other, it is amazing how full you get when dinner is spread over a longer time. Everyone eats slower because they cannot rush off to do whatever. When we go out to eat, my husband and I always split a dinner. Report
Last time I ate with my mom, I realized where the "clean the plate" habit had come from for me... even though she was stuffed she ate everything on her plate, the same as I always had before... thank God now I realize all I have to do is save it for the next day... I love to use the "divide and conquer" technique. Report