Why You Should Finish Everything on Your Plate

plate and fork“Finish everything on your plate!” That mantra from Mom has gone out with the leftover corn flakes. Over the years we’ve learned that forcing children to eat can lead to eating disorders.

But Mom had a good reason. By the time it gets to your plate food that has been grown, watered, picked, transported, processed, packaged, stored and cooked. Whenever we throw out food, we also waste a portion of the resources that went into getting it onto our plates.

And I don’t need to remind anyone that wasting food costs your family money. If only one person in the family leaves just half a teaspoon of oatmeal each day, you’ll throw out more than 11 cups over the course of a year.

But there is yet another reason to scrape that last bit of food off your plate. Think about where that rice, barley or potato will go next. I’m not even talking about the landfill, just within your own kitchen.

Let’s say you rinse off the bowl in the sink. Forget about the extra water, because maybe you saved it from an earlier dish-washing session. Those grains of oatmeal go into your sink and you will have to scoop them out. I bet that’s not your favorite job. Or they might end up in the dishwasher filter. A better option is to scrape it right into the garbage. But it will start to smell and require attention eventually. If it doesn’t have dairy or meat I guess you can add it into the compost pile, I guess, but putting in edible food kind of defeats the purpose.

So however you look at it, you have to deal with these scraps once or even twice before they’re gone for good. Teach your kids to scrape their plates at the end of their meal. That extra half teaspoon won’t make them fat. Then you can wipe the plate with a sponge and the smaller particles will go right into the drain,  never to be seen again.

If your family members regularly leave large amounts of food, start serving smaller portions. Train them to be aware of how much they actually eat.

The same principle applies to cooking and serving utensils. If you leave that oatmeal in the bowl or pot, it will dry into a rock. Then it will need soaking and scrubbing, and you will again end up fishing remnants out of the sink or dishwasher. But if those scraps gets eaten, or put away with the leftovers, the pot or bowl can go right into the dishwasher. You might not even want to bother, as it’ll be so little trouble to wash.

To make scraping pleasant, keep an inexpensive plastic spatula on hand.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like:

Eleven Tips for Painless Kitchen Cleanup

Extremely Frugality: Twenty Memories of My Mother

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  1. There’s a saying that if you don’t finish everything in your plate, you will marrry someone that looks like a cat?

  2. Simple but sound; the sort of things we tend to forget. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Not sure I agree – if the reason they’re not eating the last half teaspoon is because it’s hard to get at, then yeah, I agree.

    But it’s good to teach children that they should stop eating when they’re not hungry no matter what’s on their plate.

    I try to gauge how much they’ll eat, start them off with a small amount and keep refilling when they finish something until they don’t seem hungry anymore, but sometimes it just doesn’t work. however, giving (for example) 1/6 tomato at a time means that the most that ever goes to waste is 1/6 of a tomato.

    Of course, in our house, a fair amount of leftovers get eaten by the dog (who knew that dogs eat tomatoes?!), so less loss there.

  4. I tend to agree with Leah. Aside from the fact that I can’t get my kids to eat the minimal portions that they are currently willing to eat, I just don’t want to encourage them to eat just because it’s in front of them. I try to encourage them to finish as much as they can, but you can’t stuff it down their throats. And me finishing their suppers actually has made me fat. So, unfortunately, we do have too much food waste at the moment.

  5. Abbi and Leah,
    If they are having trouble finishing what is on their plates, give them smaller portions to start with, as Leah suggested. I am only talking about very small amounts. I’m definitely not in favor of forcing food down people’s throats. I’m saying that perhaps it’s a bad habit to always leave small amounts of food on the plate out of laziness or pickiness.

  6. I’m with Abbi & Leah. It’s only wasting if eating those last few bites keeps you from eating something else at a later time (of course, that something else costs money). If you leave the table feeling stuffed (forget about overstuffed or sick), it’s probably not going to reduce the amount you eat for breakfast tomorrow.

    Another thing about waste – quite often I’ve tried to avoid waste by making, say, a banana bread with overripe bananas, or using up rice in some other type of dish. Those items use energy to cook, and use other ingredients. If there is no real need for banana bread, making it to use up old bananas just wastes oil, eggs, sugar, & flour.

    To me, avoiding foood “waste” is only helpful if it frees up other food items. If not, it’s not doing anyone any good.

    • Hi Tesyaa,
      I think my title was misleading. I am not talking about stuffing yourself so as not to waste food. I’m talking about scraping the last bits of food off the plate. Larger quantities should be saved or thrown out if necessary. It’s best to serve smaller servings and prevent food from being left in the first place.
      Regarding the second point: The key with leftover ingredients is to use them in something that you need and will eat anyway. If you don’t need or want a cake, freeze the bananas for when you do, or use them in smoothies. I don’t see how it is wasting flour and oil. Why would you make a cake and throw it out? Same with the rice–if you’re using it in a casserole for dinner how is that waste? But sometimes, the recipe you are making with the leftover item doesn’t come out so good and then more food gets wasted. With practice and skill this will happen less often. And, eating leftovers as is is a good plan too.

  7. yeah i think i agree with what hannah said

  8. “The truth is that you either throw the food out or you throw it in, but either way it turns to waste. ”
    -Geneen Roth