As kids and as parents we know the scenario all too well. There is a plate of food standing there with either something on it that kids don’t like or maybe it’s just too much for a child to handle. Many parents have the approach of “finish what’s on your plate”. I remember many stories my mother told us children about her having to stay at the table for hours because she couldn’t finish her food. Thankfully she did not incorporate this into her style of parenting.
I still see parents telling their children to finish their plate although it’s pretty obvious that they simply can’t fit anything in their tummies anymore. And I honestly struggle with this kind of approach.
I struggle for multiple reasons.
First of all when you are full you are full. So many adults have stopped listening to their bodies and realizing that enough is enough. That’s why so many struggle with their weight. It’s not just the junk food but also the overeating. There is so much talk out there about healthy eating and often I find people ignore the fact that you can easily eat all food groups but keep your weight, blood sugar and so on in track by simply keep your portions under control. By making a smart decision about how much vegetables, proteins, carbs, fruits and healthy fats you consume.
Unfortunately people often don’t stop when they full. They keep eating and eating. When I look at the portion sizes at some restaurants I can’t help thinking that one plate would often feed 2-3 people if you would portion it properly. But people finish it. Not because they are hungry. Because if they would eat slowly and stop when they start feeling full, they would realize that it’s no longer about being hungry but rather about not wanting to waste any food or maybe even because we do like it so much that we just keep eating.
I’m guilty of it too. Sometimes. The good thing is that the issue is often only related to eating out and we do that rarely.
But back to the children and the “finish your plate” approach. We don’t have that rule in our family. It doesn’t make sense. When someone serves you a plate full of food, put on that plate by an adult you should not been forced to eat it all up. Not in a restaurant and not at home. All it creates is a strange relationship with food. Either you learn to constantly overeat, besides being told that what you feel, what you want is not important. Or you overeat and find a unhealthy way of getting rid of that overly full feeling.
I have the rule in my house that the kids have to eat what they serve themselves. They know that they can always go back to seconds or even thirds. If they though overfill their plate I will make them try to finish it. They also have to try everything at least once. If they think it’s just not to their liking they have to eat a little bit of it (we are talking vegetables). If they truly not like it to the point where it makes them feel sick, they don’t have to eat it. For a long time I wondered if I’m too slack in this regard. Especially with my son. He used to be pretty picky in regards to vegetables. But he outgrew it and eats heaps of fruit and vegetables now. So the case is not lost just because you don’t force children to eat what they really don’t like, people!
So while at home my kids can either serve themselves or tell us how much of what they’d like to have on their plate, in a restaurant it’s of course not as easy. The plates are prepared in the kitchen by someone who makes sure each plate has the same amount of food in the same proportions on it. Even the kids meals are often too big for them to handle.
I’ve encountered waiters and even guest sitting at the table next to us making a “funny” remark about them not deserving a dessert because they had not finished their meal. It’s one of those moments I wonder why people think they need to stick their noses in other families business. And then I wonder why they think the decision of how much to eat should ever be taken away from someone. My favorite answer is that they deserve a dessert for not finishing their meal. Because they realized that it is enough and have stopped rather than paving the way to binge eating.
There are so many eating disorders out there and we hear constantly about it. We wonder why people develop them. I think it’s because when they were younger they were constantly told how to and how not to behave around food. Finish your plate. Eat this, don’t eat that. Even being told that if you eat this piece of cake you end up fat. Rather than being encouraged to have a healthy relationship with food, food is used as a tool to control and bribe.
I think it needs to stop.
We need to find back to a healthy relationship with food. Need to realize that it’s meant to fuel us and bring us together over a nice meal. It’s meant to be enjoyed. By forcing our children to eat what they can’t fit in their tummies anymore or what makes them gag we take the enjoyment of eating away from them. By forcing them to eat more than they can handle and the things they don’t like we plant the seed to a disorder. If we like it or not.
We also take something else away from them. The power of “no”. Because their no, their wish to finish something they no longer enjoy is not heard. We ignore it and we use our “superior” position to make them do what we want them to do. In my books not a good lesson for them to learn.
Now some of you might think that I’m too slack. I don’t think so. There are rules in our house that need to be followed. As I said, my children have to eat up if they fill their plates. They have to try everything. But if they don’t like it I will not force them. If they are done, if they are full, I will not make them eat more than they can handle.
I want my children to know that they can make a decision that involves their bodies. That they can say no if they feel uncomfortable and that they don’t have to overeat. I want them to realize when they are full and stop there. Because that’s how they develop and healthy attitude to food. And I hope that it will help them to stay healthier and away from eating disorders, maybe even from feeling they have to diet.
Most of all I want them to know that I not only ask for respect but I show it as well. That not only I deserve respect but they do too.