Clean Plate Club

We recently returned home from our annual summer vacation to Montana.  As we ate our dinner at a brewery in the Salt Lake City airport, I overheard a woman commenting to her server as she handed him her empty plate.  “I just always think of those starving people in Africa” she said.   I casually glanced behind me and saw her grin and then ask for the dessert menu.

I have learned a lot about healthy eating habits since I formed my business, What’s Cooking, nearly 5 years ago.  For one, it has become increasingly obvious that children form their eating habits early…and mostly learn them from watching and listening to their parents.  When parents make a big deal about how much food a child should consume, eating frequently turns into a life-long issue.  My husband grew up in a household with a “clean plate club” policy and has managed to avoid this excessive behavior in his adulthood.  Instead of eating all of the food on his plate (“cleaning it”), he stops when he is full.  He does not waste food, however, since he usually takes fairly small portions and then returns if he wants more.

I remember hearing comments about the starving children of the world when I was a child, and was always surprised to see how they were nearly always brought up during mealtime.  It was as if I should be made to feel guilty for having a meal when others were less fortunate.  While I agree that comments like this might be intended to remind children to appreciate the fact that they have food, it doesn’t teach them a larger lesson.  We can’t actually send people in Africa or China the leftover food from our plates – there are simply too many practical barriers for that to be useful.  People in those countries can’t even enjoy most of the foods that aren’t used in our grocery stores for the same reasons.

However, there are lots of other ways that we can empower our children to help others, without burdening them with guilt over what other people lack.  First, we can teach our children to collaborate with each other and discuss issues that are important to them.  What do they care about in the world and how can they help?  I can hardly think of a more valuable family bonding experience than to work together to help others….even if the cause you all select IS to help the hungry children in Africa.

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