Clean Plate

June 2nd, 2019 by Kate Coughlan

As a child I remember going to my grandparents and the rule of thumb was you had to have a clean plate in order to get dessert. My grandma’s favorite phrase was “you need to be able to turn your plate over, if you want dessert.” 

It is so ingrained in many of us that leaving food on your plate is wrong, in fact it’s a monstrosity. My mom used the old adage that children are starving in Africa, to which I responded, “then send it to them.” This did not go over well!

On a serious note, hunger is real.  It’s evident in many third world countries and surprisingly in our country as well. But is this the reason we push ourselves to eat all the food on our plates despite the fact that we are full?

The idea of cleaning your plate, so to speak, has different driving forces for adults and kids. In my childhood, a clean plate was easy when it came to pizza! Almost too easy.  However, as a kid there were two main reasons why I did not want to finish my plate:

1.) I filled up on junk food or snacks or

2.) I did not like the food that was on my plate. 

Either way, at my grandparents’ house I forged ahead and finished that plate as I wanted the reward … dessert!  It is ironic I was able to eat that dessert despite the fact that I was “full”.  As adults we typically finish our plates as we tend to be the decision makers of what we will eat and tend to eat what we can tolerate. We also recognize the cost of food and what it takes to purchase that food. But for some, including my husband ad I, finishing our plate is a habit.  A habit that has been ingrained in us for over 35 years.

So how can you break the habit? How can you reconcile it?

Here are my tips (although sometimes I don’t take my own advice)

1. Plan your meals. 

Knowing what you want for the meal is vital and allows you to cook concisely. Hence you can scale down on the main entrée as well as the sides. 

2. Small portions

Fill your plate with small portions, especially your starches.  After you eat all the small portions, if you are still hungry you can always take a little more.  The less on your plate the less you eat!

3. Split a meal

Splitting a meal is great!  At restaurants my husband and I never did this because as a former waitress I felt we were being cheap. Now, we will split meals especially if the protein in that meal is between 10-14 ounces.  We do this at home as well. When we eat red meat, we often buy 10-14 ounces as that is how they are cut at the store and we share it. Luckily, we like our meat cooked to the same temperature.  We also, on occasion do this with fish although I am a bit pickier with my fish.

4. Leftovers

When did the word leftover become taboo?  It is fine to have leftovers.  The leftovers can be used for sides with other meals or in some cases as a complete meal.    

5. Throw it away

It is okay to throw food away. I repeat, it is okay to through food away. Think of the alternative, eating food despite being full, so that it doesn’t get wasted.  We must accept that we can throw food way, because the alternative might be more costly in the long run. It is the choice between wasting the food and wasting your body. Especially since you have the first four tips to ensure that it doesn’t come to this.

I have learned to take less portions and once I am full, I am done (although I do slip on foods like pizza).  However, my concern now is that my husband feels that he needs to eat my scraps so to speak. If I leave extra protein on my plate, he feels the need to eat it.  So my next task is to work on him accepting that it just needs to be thrown away or eaten at a later date!

Of course, with children it’s a thin line. When having foods such as pizza, a favorite of most kids as well as mine, they will usually clean the plate with no issues even if they are full. So start with only one piece of pizza on the plate rather than placing three pieces on the plate. If they finish off the first piece and are still hungry offer a healthy side.  More often than not, kids will not feel the need to finish off their plates. For example, they may claim they are full, but is the child “full” because he or she has eaten all the “good, tasty” stuff and leaves only the vegetables?  If so, think about points 1 and 2 above. Planning meals with all major food groups in the correct proportions will help! In fact, this is something I have seen and many parents do it.  At holiday get-togethers, often times parents will tell the child to finish the veggies before having another piece of bread. 

Another issue that children may face for not wanting to finish their plate is they spent their time snacking on everything “fun” before dinner and now they are truly full. There is no way that broccoli is going down? So here, there is the issue of why they can’t eat their food even when they should be hungry – but that’s a topic for another day.

Please check back to read about our ideas on how to help kids be more willing to make healthier choices. Also stay connected with us: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest



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