A lot of people have probably gone through this situation: As a child, they would not be able to finish their meal. “I’m full,” they would have said. Despite the food still left on their plate: The half-eaten chicken, the mashed potatoes they made sculptures with instead of devouring, and the green beans they were loath to touch but they had to eat a few bites of it anyway because their mother told them they need to eat their vegetables. Well, eating your vegetables is NOT bad advice from a parent. In fact, it’s GOOD for kids to eat their vegetables! I tell my kids to eat their vegetables all the time. (It’s an ongoing battle.)
I don’t have a problem with that sort of parental instruction. But what I do have a problem with is the reply that most kids get and have gotten whenever they try to leave the table when there is still food on their plate: “Clean your plate.” This is usually followed with, “There are starving kids in Africa who have nothing to eat” or “Most kids don’t get to eat that food.” I had this happen a lot, especially since I grew up in a family of seven kids and one working parent. We really struggled, especially with food. And my mom always told us we had to eat ALL of our food. We were not allowed to leave the table unless we cleaned our plates. My grandmother, who lived through the Great Depression, always heaped food on us too, and she always encouraged us to eat every bite. (Heck, she fed anybody who came through her door. God bless her.)
The reason why I have a problem with this kind of instruction is because it’s one way a lot of people end up packing on extra pounds. A lot of the meals that people eat are not portion-controlled and restaurants are KNOWN for heaping too much food onto plates when they serve an order.
This is certainly one way I have put on extra weight. I was skinny in my early twenties but, yes, I have put on weight since then. I recently made changes to my diet and it has made me take a good hard look at the foods we’re all eating, how much we eat and eating habits that keep us from losing weight (like eating in front of the TV, eating when we are bored, etc.).
But there are many times when I will have my mother looming over my shoulder in some form and reminding me of something or another (like “say thank you even if you hate the gift” or something like that). And one thing she said to me as a child that sticks with me? “Clean your plate.” But the problem is, sometimes I can’t clean my plate! And I don’t think we should have to, either.
Ever since I made these diet changes, I have noticed my appetite grow smaller. I just can’t eat the same size or amount of foods that I used to. (Something I am happy about!!) Like today, for example. I started out as eating a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. Three quarters into that sandwich, hubby wanted to split his ginormous-sized Greek salad with me. I happily accepted, because I love to eat salad and also because I never had Greek salad before so I wanted to try it. What was left of my sandwich was soon forgotten as I dug into that salad, but I soon noticed that I was full. (One of my new eating habits is to pay attention to when I am full and stop eating.) Ordinarily, I would force myself to finish eating the sandwich (the salad did not go to waste because hubby ate the rest of it), but I no longer force myself to keep eating a meal if I am full. And I really didn’t think the world would end if I didn’t clean my plate. (It didn’t.) I did feel a tinge of guilt as I threw away what was left of the sandwich and if my mother were alive to see it, she might’ve been upset. But I think she would have understood why I just can’t continue to clean my plate at every meal.
No, I’m not doing that anymore. And I don’t make my kids do that, either. (I WANT them to stop eating when they are full! Or no longer hungry.) I really don’t think it is a healthy eating habit to force ourselves to eat when we are full. Sure, I see the reason why so many parents tell their kids to clean their plates at mealtime, but is it really a good idea to force our kids to keep eating when they are filled to bursting? I think that the better thing to teach them is to listen to their bodies and to stop eating when they feel full. Otherwise, it’s an invitation for extra pounds weighed up at the scale.
If we can’t clean our plate, it can mean a variety of things. It might mean we don’t like the food. It might mean that something came up and we can’t finish eating. Or, you know, it might also mean that we are full. There’s always that possibility. With me, as long as my kids took a few bites of the IMPORTANT food that is on their plate (the main course), I’m okay with them excusing themselves because they are full. And I think some other parents should try to be okay with that too.