Are You a Member of the Clean Plate Club?


How many of us were told as children, “Clean your plate. There are starving children in ____.”  Fill in the blank with the starving children in  poor country de jour. 

I think maybe a lot of us.

The clean plate club has its origins in the Great Depression and the two World Wars of that same period.

Julie Matthews in an article at the iparenting website writes:

Matthews offers some insight into the “Clean Plate Club” with a bit of food history. In August of 1917, Congress passed the Food and Fuel Control Act. Its purpose was to help America avoid food shortages during the war and to curtail importation of food as much as possible. President Woodrow Wilson made Herbert Hoover the head of the U.S. Food Administration, which was charged with implementing the act. 

Hoover took a number of measures to regulate all aspects of the food supply in America, but he also relied heavily on the American sense of volunteerism and patriotism. The idea was to conserve food by eating less, self-rationing scarce foods such as flour and sugar and by focusing on eating what you took, so it didn’t go to waste. School children signed pledges that said: “At table I’ll not leave a scrap of food upon my plate. And I’ll not eat between meals, but for supper time I’ll wait.”

Although the Food Administration was terminated after WWI, the idea of a clean plate as virtuous persisted. Then came the Depression and World War II, so food rationing and shortages remained a national issue. [Emphasis mine]

In today’s clean plate world many parents use begging, guilt, tricks, scare tactics, humor, and out right bribery to get children to eat everything on their plate.

When I was a baby – and here I have to rely on the stories my parents told me because at the time I slept more than I ate. So I really don’t remember any of this. A situation, by the way, that has reversed itself as I have aged, as I eat more than I sleep these days. But I digress. The story goes that my mother told the doctor at one of my regular exams that I was not drinking a full 8 ounce bottle of milk like the books said I should and that no matter how hard she tried, I just would not finish it.

The doctor asked my mother if I was crying in between bottles. No. Was I sleeping OK?  Yes. So the doctor said well, she is gaining weight, she is healthy, she responds to stimuli. If she was hungry you would know it because she would be waking up and crying. Try giving her only 4 ounces.

Problem solved. It worked. I was just a small eater.

My doctor was wise and my parents heeded his advice. There were no food wars in our house. They put a little food on my plate and if I wanted more I asked. If I didn’t like something they would encourage me to try it. And I usually obliged. I remember I did not particularly like peas. But I ate one. And then two. And then I went to mixing them in with my mashed potatoes and gravy. And sometimes I did leave a bite or two on my plate. There was no rule that I had to clean my plate. It was encouraged. The rule was don’t take more than you can eat. Which was a boon to my two brothers as they ate everything in sight, and so because of me they could eat more. 

Now recent research from Cornell University shows this is the best approach when dealing with children. Pushing children to clean their plates may backfire and can lead to children over eating and then to obesity.

Telling preschoolers to “clean” their plate can backfire, resulting in the children asking for larger portions when they are away from home, concludes a new Cornell study.

“We found that the more insistent parents were to tell their 4-year-olds to clean their plates, the more likely the kids — especially boys — were to request larger portions of sweetened cereal for a snack at day care,” says Brian Wansink, Cornell’s John S. Dyson Professor of Marketing. “These consequences of belonging to what we call ‘the clean plate club’ have implications for how much children eat and their potential for overeating.”


“Parents who insist children clean their plate may be asserting excess control, and they could unknowingly be inhibiting the development of the child’s self-control around food,” says Wansink……


He suggests that physicians who counsel families with potential obesity issues or parents who want to avoid unwanted consequences of a clean-your-plate approach use an alternative approach: “Provide moderate portions, encourage children to at least try all foods, and then let them determine whether they want additional servings. 

Hunger should dictate how much a child eats. Cleaning the plate puts the emphasis on quantity and not on what the child is actually experiencing in his or her own body.

I have to wonder how the ‘clean plate’ syndrome fits into the fact that today’s restaurants serve ever and ever larger portions of food, and fast food restaurants push super sized foods, with increasing rates of obesity.

Certainly food for thought.

Featured Recipe:   Salmon Salad For Two

Next week at this time the autumn equinox will have occurred, officially heralding the beginning of fall.  Fall is a lovely season. The weather is mild. The leaves turn gorgeous hues of red and orange and yellow.

But this glorious season is tinged with a bit of sadness for me because it also means the end of the season for fresh wild caught salmon. I purchased the last of the fresh wild salmon this week.

The recipe I share today is one for a special joyous occasion such as an anniversary, graduation, celebrating a new job. Actually, it is just a salmon salad. It is the presentation that makes this special.

This is what you will need for 2 people:

½ pound fresh wild salmon

Olive oil

Various greens such as leaf or curly lettuce and endive

Various crudités or raw vegetables (leftovers in your fridge???)

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Salt & pepper to taste

Here is what you do: 

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. With your hands rub the olive oil on both sides of the salmon fillet. Add some salt and pepper.

Place the salmon on the baking sheet and place in a 375 degree oven for 10-20 minutes or until the salmon flakes easily. Salmon will be slightly opaque in the thickest part of the fillet. But it will be done.

While the salmon is cooking clean your greens and cut and slice your crudités, such as carrots, celery, zucchini, cherry tomatoes. I had some asparagus in the fridge, so I used that too. If you want, add some green and/or balck olives too. What ever floats your boat.

When cooked through remove the  salmon from the oven, let it cool completely……………..

………………..then break the salmon into medium sized pieces.

Now assemble your salad. Use something fancy like  large martini glasses or pretty dessert bowls to serve your salad.

Start with some salad greens. Use what you want, like, and can afford. I wanted leaf lettuce and curly endive. But the store did not have curly endive today so I went with Frisée. Frisée is just a fancy French word for a curly lettuce. 

Add some of the salmon pieces next. Reserve some pieces of salmon to put on top.

Next start adding your raw vegetables. Be creative. Make it look artistic.

I also added a slice of avocado. But since they brown so quickly I added those last.

Make a simple lemon vinaigrette dressing of lemon juice, olive oil, and some salt and pepper. You can fancy the dressing up more by adding some garlic, Dijon mustard or chives if you like. Again, make what you like and/or have on hand. I like just the lemon juice and olive oil as it brings out the flavor of the salmon yet does not compete with it either.

Pour the dressing over the salad. Add the reserved salmon to the salad. Serve with a simple soup, bread and butter. Add a little candle light, some soft music and you have your self a feast fit for a king and queen.

Bon Appetit!!!!


½ pound fresh wild salmon               $8.05

Olive oil                                           $0.05

Salt and pepper

Various greens:

Leaf lettuce                                      $0.33

Frisée                                              $0.50             

Various Crudités:

1 carrot                                           $0.13

1 stalk celery                                   $0.10

¼ zucchini1/4 avocado                     $0.45

Tomatoes                                        $0.50

4 Stalks asparagus                           $0.25

1-2 tablespoons olive oil                   $0.48

3 Tablespoons olive oil                     $0.35                         

Salt & pepper to taste

 Total cost for 2 people = $11.09
Cost per person = $5.55

Expensive? Yes. But a celebration at a nice restaurant would cost far more!!!!

Quote of the Day: Winter is an etching, spring a watercolor, summer an oil painting and autumn a mosaic of them all.    ~~~~Stanley Horowitz

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2 comments to Are You a Member of the Clean Plate Club?

  • I remember childhood eating. My country du jour was China. What I don’t remember is something I read at Wikipedia (there’s a whole entry on food waste, starting with the political arguments over how to define waste). From the late 19th century to the mid-20th, many towns had two refuse collections – one for “garbage” and one for “trash.” The garbage was steamed to disinfect it and fed to pigs. Evidently, this idea is being reconsidered today in some areas of the country –the collecting part, that is. Not the pigs.

    When I lived in the country and had a big vegetable garden, cooking scraps (not leftovers, which got eaten, but carrot tops and banana peels) went on a compost heap.

    I just read an article in New Scientist that says more energy is wasted by discarding perfectly edible food (in the US) than is extracted from coastal oil and gas reserves. 25% of food is wasted annually. Dairy and vegetables are the biggest culprits.

  • When I was young, the children in Africa were starving and somehow cleaning my plate in order to get dessert helped them. totally wacky

    When I had my son, I did what my mother did, clean your plate, get dessert. He was a round little fellow.

    Then I had my daughter 5 years later. I consciously chose to break that pattern and let her eat whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted it. She ate healthy food, in moderate portions and all these years later, she’s still the same. She’s a perfect size 8 and has never ever thought about her weight.

    My son and I have to watch what we eat. I have gotten to the point where I don’t feel I have to clean my plate. The food’s just fine going to feed the fish or the chickens next door.