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The clean plate club

The waitress at a lunch counter commented on why a customer didn't finish eating the crust on the toast. The customer replied that the crust of the bread was the closest to the aluminum pan that most bakers still use commercially and contained all the fats and toxins used so the bread wouldn't stick to the sides of the pan, then added, a comment about the waitress acting like an overbearing mother who didn't 'allow' the very elderly customer to eat what she paid for and leave the crust which she couldn't chew anyway without a snide, rather punitive comment. Was the waitress a member of the clean plate club? You may wish to check out the abstract of a new study, "The clean plate club: about 92% of self-served food is eaten," published online July 22, 2014 in the International Journal of Obesity.

The Clean Plate Club: Food portion size eaten research.
Photo by Ethan Miller

If you’re a member of the Clean Plate Club – you eat pretty much everything you put on your plate – you’re not alone! A new Cornell University study shows that the average adult eats 92% of whatever he or she puts on his/her plate. “If you put it on your plate, it’s going into your stomach,” says Brian Wansink Ph.D., author of the forthcoming book, Slim by Design, Professor of Marketing and Director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab.

Wansink and co-author Katherine Abowd Johnson analyzed 1179 diners and concluded that we’re a Clean Plate Planet. Although diners were analyzed in 8 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, accordng to the July 22, 2014 news release, "The 92 percent clean plate club."

If you eat very small portions, or use a very small plate, it's okay to clean your tiny plate, but size is relative

The finding did not hold true with children. Analysis of 326 participants under 18 years old, showed that the average child eats only 59% of what he or she serves. “This might be because kids are less certain about whether they will like a particular food,” says Wansink in the news release. “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 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.

So many eating behavior studies outside of nutrition measure food selection, but not intake. If you've wondered how researchers extrapolate how much may have been eaten in such studies, a study like this one can help others better understand eating behavior with a goal to developing better solutions to overeating.