You Don’t Always Have To Clean Your Plate
Growing up, my parents admonished my sister and me at least once a week, “Clean your plate! Don’t you know how lucky you are to have food? There are people starving all over India!” In our bratty teenage years we would often reply, “So send the food to them — we don’t want it!”
However, like so many parental mantras, this one stuck with me. And by the time I was in university, if I was at a restaurant, I would feel guilty if I didn’t finish my food. If I were at a friend’s house, I would force myself to eat what was offered, even if I had already had a meal. And if I wasn’t hungry, I would still finish the leftovers in the fridge.
After I had my daughter, I found that the baby weight was not just coming off. It took a while for me to realize that I would have to make some lifestyle changes to lose the weight. I began to run regularly and to eat more conscientiously. For me, that meant asking myself if I was hungry before I sat down to eat, dropping those guilty feelings for a skipped meal, and politely declining an offered snack.
About this same time, I started wanting to instill healthy food habits in my daughter. One day I opened my mouth and out came, “Finish your food, sweetheart!” My daughter, ever vigilant about hypocrisy, pointed out that I myself had not finished my meal.
We live in a very sedentary society. Childhood obesity is on the rise throughout the world, and it starts with poor eating habits at a young age. I decided that I didn’t want my daughter to have the same struggle with eating that I had gone through. So, now, instead of asking her to finish her food, I ask her to eat until she’s full. I always ask if she’s hungry before offering her a snack, or I simply wait until she asks for one herself. Also, I make sure she exercises in some way each day.
There are challenges with this approach. Different playschools and well-meaning Aunties have often chastised her for not cleaning her plate. And snacks are part of every playdate. But at home, I do my best to instill mindful (versus mindless) eating, give her healthy food for kids, and reassure myself that her weight and BMI are spot-on for her age. As she approaches those dreaded body-conscious preteen and teenage years, I hope healthy food habits will help her to view meals as fuel, not an enemy.