Happy Plate Method: Alternatives Ways to Build Positive Childhood Eating Habits
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Happy Plate Method: Alternatives Ways to Build Positive Childhood Eating Habits

Written by Ana Reisdorf, MS, RD on July 24, 2023


The “Happy Plate Method” also called the “Clean Plate Club” is probably the way many of us were taught to eat as children. The rule was that you eat everything on your plate, no matter what. When your plate is clean it’s considered to be “happy”, and only then you can leave the table or get dessert.

While this method of forcing children to eat vegetables and other healthier foods was common practice in the past, newer methods may be more effective. The happy plate method can encourage power struggles, teaches children to ignore natural hunger cues, and may create other issues around food.

Instead of setting strict rules around mealtime, there are several alternative ways to help your child build healthy eating habits. Teaching kids about healthy food now can help set them up for a lifetime of better choices and an improved relationship with food.

Building a Positive Relationship with Food

Helping your child develop a positive relationship with food should involve the whole family. Here are some tips to get started.

Stay positive

It's easy for mealtime to turn into a power struggle. To keep things positive make meals a family affair. Eating meals together allows you to model healthy eating behaviors. Start by showing your child how much you are enjoying your food. Let them see you be excited to try new foods and cuisines and maybe the excitement will rub off. If they start whining or complaining, ignore the negative behavior and change the subject to something more positive.

Start with veggies

Vegetables are usually the most challenging food for kids to eat. They have more sensitive taste buds than adults, particularly for bitter foods. Start with vegetables as an appetizer and always offer them as seconds. Children tend to like raw or crunchy vegetables more than cooked or mushy ones. Dipping veggies in ranch, hummus, or another yummy dip can help encourage them to eat more.

Let your kids serve themselves

Serve meals family style so everyone is able to serve what and how much they want. Offer at least one item that the child enjoys, so they can make a choice of what they want to put on their plate. Let them decide how much they will eat, so they will learn to listen to their body's hunger cues during meal times.

Get your kids involved

Meal planning and prepping should be a family affair. Let your child choose what they will eat for dinner from a selection of a few healthy options. Grocery shop together and allow them to pick the veggies for the week. When you get home, involve them in meal prepping as well. When they are engaged in the meal planning process they are more likely to enjoy what is on their plates.

Meal Prep Ideas for Picky Eaters

If you are struggling with a picky eater, what are some things you can serve them that they might enjoy? Here are some of our meal prep ideas for picky eaters:

Make it a pizza night

Even picky eaters typically like pizza. A pizza night is a great way to sneak in some veggies (at least in the tomato sauce) and let your kids feel in control of what is on their plate. Mini Pizza Bagels are a great way to encourage kids to try new toppings. Play a game to see who can make the most colorful mini pizza by adding as many veggies, cheeses, or meats as possible. Our Chomps Pepperoni Seasoned Turkey Sticks make great “mini pepperonis” for your bagel pizzas.

Snack or picnic dinners

Kids like to pick what they eat and a picnic-style dinner can help them feel more in control. Grab a muffin pan and fill each hole with a different type of fruit, veggie, cracker, cheese, or their favorite Chomps flavor. This is a colorful way to encourage your child to eat a variety of foods while having fun!

Nacho night

Like pizza, nachos are a great way to sneak in veggies and protein. Let your child choose what they want on their nachos. Get creative with the toppings. Offer shredded cheese, beans, tomatoes, olives, sour cream, guacamole, and peppers. This Sheet Pan Nacho recipe uses our Chomps sticks as a protein source along with other delicious ingredients.

Dipping cups

Think outside the box (or plate) when it comes to serving veggies. These Crudite and Ranch Cups are an alternative way to serve veggies in a yummy dip in a more creative way. Start with your kid’s favorite crunchy veggies and toss in some cheese or Chomplings into the cup to add some color and protein. While ranch is typically a kid favorite, other dips like hummus, guacamole, or mild salsa are good options as well.

Deconstructed salad bowls

To give your child more control, try a deconstructed salad or burrito bowl. To start, chop up all of the ingredients and allow your child to select what will go in the bowl. Cheeseburger Salad is a yummy way to serve the healthiest ingredients of a cheeseburger as a salad instead.

Burrito bowls are another alternative. This Whole30 Burrito Bowl does not include rice and beans, but they could be added as a high-fiber ingredient.

Need more ideas? We have some healthy lunch options for when you need to pack lunch for a picky eater.

Laying the foundation for healthy eating and a balanced relationship with food starts in childhood. While it can be frustrating to deal with a picky eater, don’t give up! Stay positive and continue to encourage them to try new foods. Some children take longer than others to develop their palate, so keep offering a variety of foods and encouraging them to explore.

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