Don’t clean your plate

Many of us have made resolutions to lose weight. This resolve to decrease the numbers on our scales is not without merit. Two-thirds of Americans are overweight and our increasing girth has significant consequences. The incidence of diabetes in increasing. Heart disease and joint ailments can be related to weight gain. The seats on airplanes, ball parks and concert halls need to be bigger. Clothing sizes keep changing, partly to allow us to deny the fact that we are chubbier than we used to be.

Not only have our sizes changed, so have our attitudes about food and how we eat. When I was young, we almost never ate in a restaurant. Pop or soda was a rare treat as were most sweetened drinks. Sugar was relatively expensive. When my mother made Koolade, she put in about half the sugar recommended to save money. The resulting drink was colored and looked enticing but the taste didn’t result in our asking for more.

Now eating out is a common occurrence for most families. Some of us eat in restaurants more than we eat at home. We travel more and we snack more. Perhaps even more significant is our expectation of generous portion size.

I ordered a salad in an expensive restaurant once because I was not particularly hungry and it was the cheapest thing on the menu. When the waitress brought my meal, the plate which held my salad was almost 15 inches across. It was piled with fresh greens, chicken, tomatoes, almonds, cranberries, oranges and croutons. It was accompanied by a large bowl of dressing. I would have made a salad of a similar size to serve a family of four. Of course, I could not begin to eat the entire plateful so most of the delicious food went to waste. What started out to be a healthy choice turned out to be overeating as I tried to eat my money’s-worth.

For those of us who were raised as part of the “clean plate club,” leaving food on our plates is almost impossible. We are filled with guilt about the starving kids on the other side of the globe and a fear that we will forever be deprived of desserts if we leave some of our meal uneaten.

Recent research has proven that how much we eat depends on the size of the plate on which our food is served. That really makes sense if you think about it. We are hard wired to perceive a circle surrounded by a small space is bigger than one surrounded by a wider space. So if we pile the mashed potatoes on a big plate with space between the spuds and the cranberries and turkey, our brains tell us we have less on our plate. If the space around our food is smaller, our brains tell us that the servings are larger. It has to do with perception and geometry.

I had a set of dishes which I inherited from my aunt. I recently gave them to my daughter. I was surprised when I pulled them from the top cupboard. The dinner plates were only eight inches across. The dinner plates which I have used since the 1970s are 10 inches across. A friend of mine recently bought a new set of dishes. The dinner plates were almost 13 inches. They would not fit in her 1970s vintage cupboards. She had to build a new cupboard for her new plates.

A two or four inch increase in the diameter of your dinner plate doesn’t seem like a big deal until you do a little math and figure out what the increase in diameter means in increased area. The area of an eight inch plate like the antique dinnerware from my aunt has an area of 50 square inches. My 1970s plates have 78 square inches of surface to cover with food. My friend’s 13 inch platters sold as dinner plates are 132 square inches. Simply put, that means that each time you fill one of those new mega-plates and clean your plate, you are eating almost two and a half times more food than my aunt would have in 1920. Bad news for the clean plate club.

I think I’ll put the dinner plates in the top cupboard where the antique dishes were and just eat from the salad plates which are about eight inches across. Ask restaurants to split meals or put half of what you are served into a carry out container before you start to eat. Plate the food at the stove. Second helpings are a little more inconvenient if serving bowls are not sitting right in front of you (and it saves some dirty dishes).  Check serving sizes. Did you know a serving of ice cream is only one half of a cup? So why are ice cream dishes the size of a mixing bowl?

Good luck with those resolutions.

Copyright © 2012 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains


One thought on “Don’t clean your plate

  1. Liz

    We use salad plates for our dinner plates. =) the only time we use the BIG dinner plates is at Thanksgiving. . . The Dinner of Indulgence! I do like super big fat bowl type mugs for my coffee though.

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