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Clean Plate Club

I recently took my now 4-year-old son, Dotchie, to the doctor for his well-visit. The doctor was new to us. She also wasn’t familiar with my credentials, even after I told her. So, when we came to the “how is his diet” question, my reply “we have a feeding intervention in place” didn’t seem to resonate with her. She shared with me that if I present a food item 10 times, and try to get him to eat it 10 times, he will likely be successful with eating that food. “It is like 10 is the magic number.” Being a learning scientist with feeding clients, and being a mom who has tried many strategies and tactics, I was a bit disappointed and surprised at the advice.

Dotchie (3yo) with his line up of greek yogurts.

I wondered how many other moms who don’t have my experience or knowledge about feeding and motivation tried to get their kid to eat a food 10 times by mere presentation? How many of them were unsuccessful? I’d say quite a few.

Here are some tips for your kid to be a part of the “clean plate club”.

  • One new food at a time. Don’t try to have your child eat an entire plate of 5 new foods. That is a bit too ambitious and could be visually intimidating to the little learner. Not to mention that plate could wind up on the ground! Pick one food that maybe he tried before or was previously in his diet but no longer shows up. This will help set you both up for success!

  • Consider texture. For example, if your child is anti-mushy food like potatoes and apple sauce, tackle these down the road. Start with a texture that your child tends to eat more often.

  • Little bites are ok. When first starting out, a little bite, even if it is a mere flake of food, is a success. As your child contacts “good things” for eating that morsel, he/she may independently eat larger bites independently.

  • Throw a party. When your child takes a bite, do cartwheels, high-fives, sing songs, give tickles, look amazed like she solved the quadratic formula – even if it was for a morsel. When we do this for Dotchie, he thinks we are hysterical. What is even better is that he then pops in another bite just to see us acting goofy.

  • Give up what a meal looks like. What if you interspersed some dessert bites between dinner bites? To help increase motivation to bite a food that isn’t desirable, create a contingency: 1 bite of veggie, 1 bite of cookie, and repeat. You can even play with sizes at the beginning. Dotchie likes Lucky Charms marshmallows. We had to start with 3 marshmallows following his one tiny bite of chicken. As he was successful, we were able to fade out that ratio to 2 big bites of chicken results in 1 marshmallow. Eventually, you can get to the place of “You can have dessert after you eat all of your ___.”

  • Make it into a game. I was successful at having one of my clients eat baby carrots by having a crunch competition. She and I were trying to see who could make the loudest “crunch” when we bit into the carrot. Personally, I remember my father got me to eat eggs by leaving the table and saying “Now, when I come back, I better not see any bites out of this egg!” You better believe I took a bite just to see him act astonished when he returned.

Once you get your child to freely take bites from a variety of foods in all food groups, consider the time it takes to finish enough food for satiety. My daughter, Squish, started Kindergarten this year. She has 15 min to eat lunch. Crazy, right? The first week, she came home with a half eaten lunch simply due to time restraints (and maybe not being thrilled about the carrots). I have 4-year-old clients who take 1 hour to eat about half the quantity to fill them up. Being Kindergarten ready with respect to eating means that you can eat in a timely manner.

Creating good eating habits early on creates good eaters later in life. Just like many other behaviors, it is often easier to tackle these issues when your children are little and easily motivated. Hopefully these tips can help foster good eaters in your home. Please note that these are tips and not formal interventions. Sometimes, tips are all that you need. However, if you are struggling with feeding and want professional consulting or intervention, please give us a call!


Disclaimer: The nature of the The Learning Consultants blog is for informational purposes only to highlight evidence-based strategies that have been proven to be effective with a limited population in a limited environment. These strategies may not be applicable to all individuals in all settings. Individualism based upon biological, historical and environmental factors must be considered before implementation. Therefore, please consult with an educational, developmental, or behavioral professional before taking action. Untrained individuals using these strategies do so at their own risk.

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