Cornell University professor Brian Wansink suggests the reason why adults belong to the “Clean Plate Club” is simple:  “If you put it on your plate, it’s going into your stomach.”

Wansink and co-author Katherine Abowd Johnson analyzed 1179 diners and concluded that we’re a Clean Plate Planet. Although diners were analyzed in 7 developed countries, the US, Canada, France, Taiwan, Korea, Finland, and the Netherlands, the results were nearly identical. If we serve it, we’ll eat it regardless of gender or nationality. “Part of why we finish most of what we serve is because we are aware enough to know how much we’ll want in the first place,” says Johnson.


The average adult eats 92% of the food they put on their plate. Kids are different:  they leave more than one-third of the food they put on their plate uneaten:

The finding did not hold true with children. Analysis of 326 participants under 18 years old, showed that the average child eats only about 60% of what he or she serves. “This might be because kids are less certain about whether they will like a particular food,” says Wansink. “Regardless, this is good news for parents who are frustrated that their kids don’t clean their plate. It appears few of them do.”


Wansink says parents are making a mistake by keeping their children at the table until they clean their plates:

“It’s natural, for them to make some mistakes and take a food they don’t like or to serve too much…”

“What’s less natural is for them to be forced to eat their ‘mistakes’ by their parents.”


Even adults — many of whom were picky eaters as children themselves — can learn to be more mindful when serving food:

Wansink says that these findings, published in the International Journal of Obesity, can positively impact an individual’s eating behavior, “Just knowing that you’re likely to consume almost all of what you serve yourself can help you be more mindful of appropriate portion size.” Next time you grab that serving spoon, think to yourself, “How much do I want to eat?” and serve accordingly.


Strategies on how to deal with your own picky eater on The PediaBlog here.


(Image: Cornell University Food and Brand Lab)