The 'Clean Plate Club' is evil and I refuse to be a member

Aug 31, 2015 at 10:34 p.m. ET
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Ever tried any of these on your kids? "Just one more mouthful!" "You can have dessert when you've finished your vegetables." Or the famous Clean Plate Club. How did that work for you? If you're among the millions of parents whose kids don't belong to the Clean Plate Club and don't eat all their veggies, take heart.

While these words may have peppered your own childhood, there are some very positive reasons why the Clean Plate Club is no longer considered the best way to teach your children to eat healthfully. I could show you a myriad of studies — all demonstrating that forcing your children to eat serves only to get the plate pushed further away, or in the extreme can lead to obesity.

Don't we already know that shouting and demanding is no way to entice people to do things? You know what they say. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make children eat broccoli.

Which leads me to my second point. Why do we want our kids to eat all their broccoli, so that when they are full up we can let them overeat on dessert? What are we trying to teach them? That you can eat chocolate, as long as you eat a tree of broccoli first? That you should eat even when you don't feel hungry?

In the past, these techniques may have been thought to work. In which case society would have been left with a legacy of healthy eating adults. That is clearly not the case. Yes, you may have survived childhood and grown into an adult who eats "grown-up food," but do you eat healthfully? Do you overeat?

Chances are, that if you live in the developed world, the answer is "yes," you do overeat. We have been trained as a nation to eat what is put in front of us. More often than not, that's junk food. The statistics speak for themselves. In the USA more than one third of adults are obese and nearly 20 percent of children have weight problems. So much for the benefits of the Clean Plate Club.

Nowadays, parents find themselves in a conundrum. They lead busy lives, juggling family life with work life. We want it all. We want to work hard, to earn lots and have time to connect with our children. We forget that a fundamental part of that is feeding our children. We know they ought to eat good food, they ought to eat something green. That's what all the books say, right? But we don't know how to go about it. We have shifted from a society that revolves around the dinner table to a life led speeding from one play date to the next. Food is something that comes in little packets that we use as bribery to keep them quiet in between appointments.

No wonder so many of them aren't keen on their veggies. They're brimming with the type of artificial calories that glow.

So how can you get your kids to enjoy their veggies? Is it even possible, given our hectic lives? Yes, it's remarkably easy when you know how.

My guess, if you're like most people, is that we're looking at a case of "too much junk and not enough veggies." That's an easy one to solve. Cut the junk, give them veggies. Let them know they don't have to eat anything they don't want to. Just make sure you don't give them junk instead.

"But they don't eat the veggies!" you wail. They will. They don't have to eat all their veggies all the time, but if you give them healthy food throughout the day, they will eat some of it, even if it's only the bits they like. That's fine. It's a start. They don't have to eat broccoli at dinner time if they've been eating well the rest of the day. If they've been filling up on healthy food all day and they aren't hungry for dinner, let them not eat.

Teach them good habits and learn to trust them, and we will grow a national of healthy eaters who will enjoy all the long-term health benefits of a healthy diet.