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Generation “Clean your plate”

Category: Uncategorized
29 September 2010, Comments: 0

A common theme around portion control emerged during my last seminar. The complaints were “I need to learn portion control. I eat everything on my plate”. I got to thinking where did this idea of “clean your plate” come from. I’m sure all of you, as do I, remember being a kid sitting at the dinner table being told something to the effect of “Eat everything on that plate. Don’t waste food, or else. There are starving kids in land X”. I didn’t even know where these other countries were at the time and I definitely didn’t want to find out about the “or else” so I cleaned my plate. I did a quick Google search with the phrase “clean your plate” and found in the top 5 results, 4 articles or stories posted in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2010 (the dates are important only to emphasize that this is not new information, yet over the last 7 years obesity rates have continued to rise). My search revealed that the clean your plate message started during WWI as a means to conserve food during a time of scarcity and continued after WWII. The message infiltrated school systems and led to the creation of “Clean plate clubs”. It seems the goal was achieved, food was conserved and even multiplied, but the message stuck. The psychological impact of this tradition can be quantified by the growing waistline of America. It’s no wonder that portion control and portion size is such challenging hot topic; everyone wants the secret pill to help them with their portions. Here’s an equation for disaster: let’s make pills to suppress appetite or better yet surgically shrink the stomach while restaurants continue to serves gigantic portions and feed it to people psychologically brainwashed to clean their plates. Guess what that equals to… lots of overweight, unhappy, unhealthy people. As kids, hopefully our parents were providing us with kid-size portions to clean up but as adults we are letting fast food industries and restaurants govern our portions and it’s only natural that those portion sizes become our norm. Why the big portions? It’s cheap and enticing. Think about your visual reaction to a plate at some fancy French restaurant vs. a plate at a bar and grill, which provides the most bang for the buck and which is healthier?

The government created this 1917 ad as a way to conserve food.
Library of Congress


There was another piece of advice that accompanied the Clean your plate message but somehow got lost over the years, “Don’t put more food on your plate than you will eat.” Food rules, regulations, and advice are all over the media these days and we are well aware of the consequences of bad eating habits. Ultimately it will take some time for portion sizes, so it’s up to us to only eat in moderation. Here are a few tips:

  • DON’T clean your plates (unless you are working with bumper plates)
  • When at a restaurant, order an appetizer plate as an entrée OR pack half your meal to go before it even comes to the table.
  • Put small amounts of food on your plate…eat… wait 20 mins… if you are still hungry have another plate.
  • Avoid starter breads, they initially suppress your appetite and cause you to overeat.
  • Drink water not soda or juices with meals. Water fills the stomach and helps expand food, this ultimately triggers the brain to turn off the hungry button.

Note to parents; break the “clean plate” tradition by providing small portions of healthy food options and allowing your kids to eat how much their body needs.

Recipe of the week: TBM Tomato, Basil, Mozzarella

Tomato season is coming to an end and my garden is pumping them out faster than I can eat! Here is something simple, delicious and quasi paleo, it has dairy.

(Photo: courtesy of my new camera!)


Ritu Riyat

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