Your Plate: Do You Clean It or Not?


A common discussion around the dinner table growing up may have been to clean or not clean your plate. We all have behaviors suggested or encouraged by those that care for us. Many times our caregiver has the best of intentions and makes suggestions from their own experiences. Were you part of the ‘clean your plate’ club growing up?

Why is cleaning your plate such a hot topic to many folks? A few ideas support this suggestion. First food is expensive and we shouldn’t waste it. Second, there are many people that don’t have enough food on a daily basis and it is socially irresponsible not to use what is available. What about the common “you can’t have any dessert if you don’t clean your plate?” Pink Floyd said it best “You can’t have any pudding if you don’t eat your meat.”

With food more available than it was even 10 years go, cleaning your plate is less of a focus. A newer focus in the nutrition world is portion control and encouraging smaller portions due to high rates of obesity in the US and around the world. This isn’t always the easy route when serving kids, teen or even adults – who can be very particular.

Some cultures believe that leaving food on the plate is polite or shows restraint, other cultures believe that if you leave food on the plate, you dislike it, which is also considered an insult. This can be a sensitive subject for families, new parents, and blended families, mostly because food can be a very personal and costly subject. We all come from somewhere, with different styles of raising. As a dietitian and a mother I can say that this topic has caused stress in my world many times, so what should we do about it?

With no intent to debate the rights and wrongs of those with strong stances on cleaning or not cleaning your plate, here are some tips to help control portions, reduce overeating and help the possible dinner table riot!

  1. Watch serving sizes: Avoid serving a large quantity of food. This will help with the ‘clean your plate’ battle. Let people serve themselves. Provide some small spoons and plates if over portioning is an issue for young and mature eaters.
  2. myplate_greenUse the MyPlate: This method helps create balance by making your plate one-half fruits and vegetables plus a lean protein and whole grains and/or carbohydrates. 
  3. Picky Eaters: Help picky eaters make balanced decisions throughout the day instead of focusing on one meal. Kids usually eat when they are hungry and sometimes before a meal is ready. Give times and reminders when meals will be eaten. I am not a short order cook in my home. If my son doesn’t like what I have prepared then he can make a sandwich or a smoothie. However, we still sit down together and eat/drink, which helps meal time communication.
  4. Plan together: Let everyone be involved in mealtime menu planning. My son and husband get to pick a meal a week and we collaborate on the rest as a team.
  5. Use Smaller Plates: Eating off smaller sized plates such as a 10” instead of a 12”plate can be beneficial for smaller controlled portions yet plenty of food if you fill the plate for larger appetites.
  6. Avoid Table War Zones/Negative Conversations at Meal Time: Discussing topics such as bills, grades, curfews and other negative subjects should be avoided at meal time. This type of talk can make mealtime dreaded for all involved. Keep mealtime upbeat and tackle negative talks after meals.
  7. Forcing food: Encouraging people/children to eat, force feeding, or food bribery is discouraged.
  8. Non-eaters: Make every bite count. If someone is turned off by food or has a chronic illness, eating can be a real chore. Be sensitive and understanding. Make every bite count. Encourage those with lower food intake to select higher calorie choices such as full-fat yogurt, bagels and cream cheese, or butter and sauces to make foods more palatable. Putting cream, half-and-half or milk in sauces and potatoes can ramp up the calories if needed. When this is a need in my home I make super milk. This is a good tool for supporting weight gain without all the added fat.
    • Super Milk Recipe: 1/3 cup powdered milk to 8oz of milk of your preference. Powdered milk is made from low fat milk which is a good tool to add calories and protein but not double the fat. Taste and texture stays the same!
    •  Go to Smoothie: 1 container of low-fat Greek yogurt (5.3oz container of Dannon 80cal), 1 cup frozen strawberries (microwaved for 30sec), 8oz. fat-free milk or Super Milk, and small squeeze of honey. Place ingredients in a blender and pulse until well blended.

Campus Tips: Try smoothies, lower calorie choices from salad bars, lean proteins or a pre-portioned Grab-n-Go meal. Portions can be large anywhere we go on and off campus. Keep portions in check with the MYPLATE method on and off campus. For nutritional facts please visit .

Hospitality Dietitian | Mindy Diller, MS, RDN, LD |


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