Why Telling Kids To ‘Clean Your Plate’ Can Be Harmful


Ethan Quant. Photo: Shawn Hanna/Tribune Staff

Health coach Ethan Quant, CEO of Elite Wellness Solutions, has succeeded in his weight loss journey and now wants to share his methods with the Bahamas in an effort to foster a culture of wellness and conquer the obesity epidemic.

As we are all home more due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to encourage parents to use this as an opportunity to teach their children healthy habits.

Growing up, I remember that my mother always used to warn that I had to eat all the food off my plate. Since she worked so hard to provide for me and my siblings, the notion of leaving food on the plate was unconscionable. I am sure that a lot of you can relate. In fact, this isn’t even just a Bahamian custom. I dare to say that this is common around the world, particularly in families with few resources to waste. It is a broad expectation for children to clean their plates.

While this practice of parents telling their children to clean their plates may be rooted in good intentions, it actually causes more damage than good. Mainly, it is the basis of developing of an unhealthy relationship with food, simply because children are forced to eat when they don’t want to. We know that on a physical level this can cause the child to start to ignore their body’s natural cues for hunger and fullness. This can result in mindless eating that is, as we know, a major contributing factor to obesity in children and adults.

The thing is, when I had my daughter found myself saying the same things. I was essentially enforcing the same bad habits that contributed to my own unhealthy relationship with food. It wasn’t until I started my health, wellness and fitness journey that I began the very difficult process of retraining my body and my mind to listen to its cues for hunger and fullness.

Fortunately, it was a lot easier for my young daughter. This is why it’s important for parents to make a conscious effort to ensure that their children develop habits and behaviours that are consistent with living a healthy lifestyle. One major way to do this is for the parents themselves to be living a healthy lifestyle.

I hear from parents often that it’s hard to get their children to eat healthy. I can appreciate how difficult it can be, especially when eating healthy was not an initial focus. However, just because it’s difficult doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Below are just a couple of tips that you can start to use to help your kids develop healthy habits and behaviours. These tips may also be beneficial for you as well.

• Develop healthy habits like eating vegetables and fruits, using cues of hunger and fullness, and physical activity.

Kids at this age are watching their parents intently so they will naturally pick up the habits and behaviours that the parents have - good and bad. Avoid things like eating all the food on the plate, using food as an incentive or threat, eating dessert and watching TV while you eat. If your kids see you doing these things they will most likely end up adopting the same bad behaviours and habits.

• Engage children in food preparation from the beginning to end

Kids are more likely to eat what they help grow and prepare. It gives them a sense of pride and accomplishment.

• Decrease access and exposure to unhealthy options and screen time

Limiting access to unhealthy food options is very important at this time. In other words, don’t keep junk food in the house, as kids are more likely to grab that which is easily accessible. Also, limit screen time to encourage increased physical activity. This might mean to encourage children to play outside or take the dog for a walk.

Of course, there are a lot more tips and strategies that you can use but these are a good place to start.

If you need help navigating any aspect of your health wellness and fitness journey feel free to reach out to me directly. Always remember, at the end of the day you have the power to be successful in health, in fitness, and in life.

• You can contact Ethan Quant at ethan@elite-wellnesssolutions.com or on Instagram at @ethanquant.


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