The Feeding Doctor on Pinterest

waste now, save later

Posted by on Apr 4, 2012 in Blog Posts | 4 comments

While I am in the thick of getting my book into shape, I will post some old posts. This one came up recently again with a client about food waste. Three years after this original post, I can tell you we waste much less food, but there still are not too infrequent meals where she leaves food on her plate, and I’m fine with that. I’d rather she leave a few bites of mashed potato, or the small scoop of lentils she tried last night and didn’t love, and stop when she’s done. And now, the original post…

This is what a  fairly typical plate looks like after my daughter is finished. She’s eaten about half of what was on the plate, 4 or 5 pieces of broccoli, the remnants of a puddle of ketchup. A small dish that had some vanilla ice-cream.

As someone who grew up in the clean-plate club, allowing my child to leave food was something that took some getting used to. It seemed wasteful. She had asked for seconds on the broccoli, and didn’t finish it. I can hear my parent’s voices, “You asked for more broccoli, now you have to finish it.” For those who did not always have food in abundance, this is an understandable reaction. I try to serve smaller portions and let her ask for seconds and thirds. As she gets better at it, she will be serving herself family style.
Letting your child leave some food behind honors her inner voice– that voice that tells her she’s full. Making a child clean her plate, or eat when she is not hungry will make it harder for her to tune in to the cues her body is sending. Losing touch with the feelings of fullness and satiety can later lead to a pattern of overeating.  (One study showed that 85% of parents of kindergartners encouraged their children to eat more than they wanted to. “Just take two more bites of cheese, OK Sweetie?”)
In addition, letting a child leave food on her plate means she will be more likely to try new foods. If she knows she doesn’t have to finish something unfamiliar, she will be more likely to try it. Waste a little more now, but less later as she gets older and learns to enjoy a greater variety of foods.
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  1. jessidehl

    We scrape our plates directly into the dog’s dish, unless Daddy wants more or wants to take it for lunch. 🙂

  2. KellyK

    I struggle with feeling guilty about throwing food out, since I grew up with “clean your plate” too, and had to retrain myself to know when I’m actually full.

    One thing that helps me is to decide that the actual waste happens before the food is on my plate. If I cooked too much or bought too much or ordered too much, it’s probably already wasted–I can waste it by throwing it out or waste it by making myself sick with it. I like the first choice better. I actually figured that one out when I was in college, though I have to constantly remind myself of it. Teaching a kid to clean their plate and then sending them off to a school where the dining hall is buffet style…not a good plan!

    Defining “eating food I don’t want/need” as wasting it also helps me realize that feeding scraps to the dog or cat is better than eating food I don’t want.

    The same way, if a kid tries a bite or two of a new veggie and the rest gets thrown out, is it really waste if it gave the kid their first introduction to a food that they might later like?

  3. Alex

    I felt a lot better about leaving unfinished food even on my own plate, let alone my son’s, once we started composting! It’s funny, but knowing that it will help to grow next season’s flowers or vegetables totally removes the guilt over “wasting” food for me. 🙂