Don’t Tell Kids to Finish the Contents of Their Plate


I grew up in a household where wasting food was akin to murdering puppies. My mother would inspect my plate before I was allowed to put it in the sink. She would always manage to scrape together a spoonful from what I had deemed an empty plate and even went so far as to encourage me to lick food that had somehow found its way to my fingers. I’m not sure if that was because she didn’t want me to waste food or because she was concerned that my sticky fingers would interfere with her desire for a pristine home.

I was accustomed to the occasional 3 hour lunch because I either really disliked the food or was too full. Often the dinner table discussion would involve me inquiring how finishing the contents of my plate would benefit starving children in Africa. If anything I should have been allowed to send the food I wasn’t eating to Africa, but somehow my parents didn’t seem to understand that.

However there was an understanding that there were certain foods I just would not eat. The last time my mother served me sago (a food I have abhorred since childhood) she decided to refer to it as potato soup so I didn’t make a fuss. While she may have thought she was being very clever by changing the name and serving it in a different manner, I was still unable to stomach it. In an effort to make it more palatable I added some pepper. Still gross. Added more pepper. Still gross. Eventually the entire pepper shaker was in my bowl of potato soup. My mother had finally accepted that the contents of the bowl was not going down my throat and that she would still have to eat it to set an example about not wasting food. Needless to say she was very angry with me about the peppery sago (which she threw out when she thought I was not looking).

I preferred to serve myself so I could control what I ate, although even that backfired at a party one Christmas. As a 9-year-old I firmly believed cake was supposed to be sweet. However grown ups did not seem to get that rum prevented cake from being sweet. Since I knew I could not get away with discarding the giant slice of rum cake, I kept going back to add more cream to drown out the bitter taste of alcohol.. Funnily enough the host noticed my numerous trips to the dessert table and presumed it was for more helpings of the dreaded cake. She even commented to my father about my fondness of the cake, unaware that I had finally wised up and stuck him with the task of finishing the contents of my plate.

That was not the last time my father would have to consume my over-sweetened leftovers. When I turned 15 he made me my first cup of coffee which I found too bitter to consume. So I added a spoonful of sugar. It was still bitter. So I added another spoonful. Still bitter. This continued until I had added 10 spoons of sugar when I realised no amount of sugar would make it bearable. So my father tried to drink the coffee and got a ‘sweet’ surprise.

While my parents clearly suffered from consuming my adulterated meals, they were not the only ones. Upon reaching adulthood they were no longer there to bail me out. So, because my parents hammered in their point about not wasting food, I still continue to follow this rule. Even the time I mistook butter for brie cheese and put a generous portion in my plate. And before realising my mistake declined the host’s offer to let me just put the extra butter back. Thus I can conclusively say telling your kids not to waste food will increase their chances of a heart attack.