The Legend of the “Happy Plate”


Once upon a dinnertime, our family of six sat down for a healthy, well-balanced dinner. The menu included pork chop (protein), au gratin potatoes (carbohydrate) and a vegetable medley of broccoli, carrots, and cauliflower. We blessed the food and started our dinner table quiz game. Everyone except our youngest son focused on eating their dinner. He did not want to eat one piece of broccoli. He fussed. He pushed it around his plate like a race car track. He made excuses.

Finally, he took a bite. He chewed slowly. He took a drink of water. He chewed even slower. He was in the spotlight as we all watched with anticipation for the swallow. VOMIT! A green watery mix exited his mouth and splashed on the dinner table. We all gasped with disbelief, confusion, and concern.

His dad asked, “Son, what happened?”

He responded, “I threw up because I wanted a happy plate so bad.” 

I immediately dropped my face in my hands. My happy plate rule had never resulted in a broccoli crime scene on the dinner table.  

Our dinner table quickly became a courtroom to determine if our youngest son was throw up innocent due to a gag reflex or spit out guilty due to a concoction of nastiness (broccoli + water). The verdict remains divided. However, this dinner table drama confirmed that the happy plate rule is powerful, memorable and effective in getting our kids to eat their meals at mealtimes. 

One of our family rules regarding eating habits is called the happy plate. Your kids must eat everything on their plate to earn the reward of a snack or treat before the next meal or bedtime. If the plate is empty, the plate is happy! If someone is struggling to make a happy plate, we do allow an extra five minutes for our kids to sit at the table to make it happen while the rest of the family does dishes. 

The happy plate sets clear expectations for what they need to fuel their bodies. For littles, obviously, you determine their portion size. For bigs, the kids serve themselves and you check their portion sizes. Your kids learn what makes a balanced meal and how to have portion control with their servings. It also eliminates wasted food that is not eaten. 

The happy plate eliminates the negotiation tactics at the table. I hate whining. I really hate whining the one time a day that everyone is together with a focus on each other. After you set the rule and hold your ground, the negotiations will stop. You put the power of choice in their hands. Your dinner table will be full of engaging, fun conversation rather than a battle of the wills. (Please note, I am not responsible for any antics that your kids may try. I do want to hear your stories.)

The happy plate provides daily opportunities to praise your kids. All of our kids now say proudly, “I made a happy plate”. You can recognize it. You can praise. Your kids feel empowered to make the choice and rewarded when they do the right thing. If you have picky eaters, this is a great way to encourage at least a few bites and celebrate when they make the happy plate. 

Setting healthy eating habits with our kids paves the way for healthy eating habits when they are adults. May the legend of the happy plate live happily ever after in your home!


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