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'Clean your plate' is an old rule that parents might reconsider


What can I do about my grandchildren's eating habits? They came for the holidays. At mealtime, they heaped their plates high with food and couldn't finish it. What a waste. Then they took dessert!

Holiday meals should be a time of joy for you and your family. We hope what we have to say will brighten yours in the future. As children, many of us joined the "clean plate club." We were encouraged or admonished to eat everything we took. If we succeeded, we often were rewarded with, of all things, something else to eat -- dessert!

We learned to stop eating when our dish was empty, not when our body was satisfied. If hunger prompts us to take too much food, feeling obligated to eat it all is a ticket to overeating and becoming overweight.

Children are often quite hungry before families actually sit down to holiday meals, and then they are tempted by an abundance of the family's best recipes. It's little wonder they take a lot. We actually think it's great that your grandchildren know how to stop eating. It may even be taken as a compliment that they save room for your desserts.

On the other hand, we understand why you would prefer not to see usable food go down the garbage disposal. Why don't you make a change in how holiday meals are served at your house? Rather than passing serving dishes, let an honored member of the family -- perhaps grandmother or grandfather -- fill the plates at the head of the table after all are seated. That person can assure everyone that plenty of "seconds" will be available but put modest portions on each plate. You'll have more leftovers and fewer frustrations.

Dr. Wilson is director of general pediatrics at Johns Hopkins Children's Center; Dr. Joffe is director of adolescent medicine.

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