This Is Why I Don't Force My Child To Clear His Plate
I have so many childhood memories of not being allowed to leave the table unless I finished every morsel of food from my plate. I had to clear my plate or there would be big trouble.
Funnily enough, it was never really my own mother who said that – but rather my grandmother. She reminded me that there were “starving kids in Africa” and that I would be really bold if I didn’t finish the entire portion of food she had given me. I remember thinking there was way too much food on the plate and naturally it wasn’t always something that I totally adored.
My grandmother would tell me stories of her own childhood. So many of them involved sharing food and the big treat of meat on a Friday. She spoke to me about how slowly she would chew the meat, savouring every little bite knowing that it would be a week before such a treat would come to their home again. She came from a different time and the mere thought of her grandchildren “wasting” food was intolerable.
One of the biggest motivations for finishing the meal was dessert. If you finished your plate of food you could enjoy a dessert. There was always dessert at my grandmother's house. I was never going to let myself miss an opportunity for a cone with ice-cream and sprinkles I ate every single bit of food as quickly as I could. It worked although admittedly by the time the dessert came along I was way too full and feeling a little sick.
The funny thing is I look back on those memories with my grandmother and think nothing but happy thoughts. I remember the way her kitchen table looked, the pinny she wore and the fact that her really salty vegetables probably gave me my current lust for salty food. They are happy childhood memories and I cherish them so very much. In a sense, I’ve replicated some of it. We don’t have dessert every day but my son is allowed to have one treat every day. We usually have it after lunch so that the sugar is out of his system before bed-time.
The one thing I don’t do is insist that my son clears his plate though. I remember reading something about the fuss that we make at meal times and that so often our very own behaviour is what can encourage our children to have a bit of a complex about food. It’s difficult to even imagine that but in a way it does make sense. I feel like being forced to eat the rest of my dinner made me resent that particular meal. When I saw it again I wanted to turn my nose up at it because for me it represented a negative feeling of having to eat when I was full.
Food is something that we should celebrate and enjoy as a family. That is a lot easier said than done when one or more of your children are fussy eaters but research shows us that making a huge song and dance at meal times only encourages a play of power. A battle of wills where the child is very unlikely to come out anything but on top. Insisting that our children finish a meal when they are full is encouraging them to over-eat and may actually lead to obesity. Instead, it might be a better idea to reduce portions and offer more if plates are cleared and the kids look for a little extra.
Tracey is a happy mammy to four-year-old Billy. She is a breastfeeder, gentle parent and has recently lost five stone so healthy family eating is her passion! You can find her at www.loveofliving.ie.
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