Plenty of previous research suggests that when kids experience
controlling feeding practices, they can lose their ability to follow
their own hunger cues and to stop eating when they’re full. Over
time, children forced to clean their plates at every meal may
gravitate toward sugary foods and snacks and run the risk of
becoming overweight or obese.
In a recent survey, however, some daycare workers mistakenly
believed a clean plate club approach would encourage kids to develop
a healthy appetite, researchers report in the Journal of the Academy
of Nutrition and Dietetics, September 17.
“This study also found that childcare providers use controlling
feeding practices because of fear of parents’ negative reaction if
they find that their child did not eat,” said lead study author
Dipti Dev, a child health behavior specialist at the University of
Nebraska in Lincoln.
“Childcare providers should avoid controlling feeding practices such
as avoiding giving food as reward, encouraging but not pressuring
children to eat their food and avoiding to praise children for
cleaning their plates,” Dev added by email.
To understand how daycare providers think about feeding kids, Dev
and colleagues conducted in-depth face-to-face interviews with 18
women at centers for children aged 2 to 5 years old.
All of the participants had at least some education beyond high
school, and eight of them had college degrees. They were 42 years
old on average, and had typically been working as a daycare teacher
for around 12 years.
Some of these teachers said they used controlling feeding practices
because they found them effective, particularly with picky eaters
and stubborn children.
Plus, food or sweets make good rewards for tasks throughout the day,
like using the toilet. Some providers said they thought toilet
training would be a lot harder without the candy reward.
Even some providers who said they didn’t use controlling feeding
practices actually described advocating the clean plate club or
repeatedly encouraging kids to taste everything on their plate.
When daycare providers avoided this type of feeding, it was often
because they believed it would be ineffective or because they wanted
children to learn to regulate their own food intake.
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Some teachers also said they were aware of research linking
controlling feeding practices to an increased risk of childhood
obesity and avoided it for that reason.
In certain instances, they might instead try to encourage kids to
eat more or sample more items by letting them touch, smell and play
with food – all techniques that can turn eating into an exploration
that kids enjoy.
The study is small, and doesn’t prove that daycare feeding policies
cause obesity or lead kids to have bad eating habits.
But the results still suggest parents should ask how child care
providers approach mealtimes when they are choosing where to send
their child, said Nancy Zucker, an eating disorders researcher at
Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who wasn’t involved in
“Given that early childhood is a pivotal developmental stage for the
emergence of healthy habits, altering daycare culture around meals
is critical,” Zucker said by email.
“I think parents should consider communicating to daycare centers
that they are trusting of their child's hunger signals so whatever
food amount the child is able to consume is adequate from their
perspective,” Zucker added.
J Acad Nutr Diet 2016.
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