-Finish your plate! A well-known mom-/dadism still in use. Now there’s a study to show that we actually do finish our plates – in general.
The study, from Cornell University, Ithaca, USA, reveals that adults eat 92% of the food they put on their plate, on average. One can easily dish out reasons for this, several of them baked into the finish-your-plate thing; it is the polite thing to do, it is a sign of appreciation, it is too delicious not to finish for gourmets and gourmands, food is expensive and we have a hard time wasting food – especially and understandably those who’ve known a lack of food. Like Grandma urging you to have a second and third helping, remembering all too well the hungry days of WWII and the post-war years, also remembering her shiny new 1950’s refrigerator filled to the brim, and ever since taking pleasure and pride in offering plenty to her family. Trying not to overeat at Grandma’s seems to be quite a universal challenge.
The Clean Plate Club was a campaign launched by the US government in 1917 as a result of the shortage of food during WWI. School children pledged that “at table, I’ll not leave a scrap of food upon my plate”. This idea is also quite universal and still persists, even though many are at quite the opposite end of the scale, and finishing your plate might quite simply be a bad habit. The study, published in the International Journal of Obesity, showed that we tend to finish our plates regardless of gender and nationality. It looked at nearly 1 200 self service cafés and restaurants in eight countries, and the results were almost identical in the USA, Canada, France, Taiwan, Korea, Finland and the Netherlands. When we get to enjoy our meal undisturbed, only 3% of the food is left on the plate, whereas if we’re distracted, we’ll leave 11% of it uneaten. If we fill up our plate with snacks, we’ll leave about a quarter of it.
According to the researchers, one explanation is quite simply that when we help ourselves, we have a fairly good idea of how much we want to eat, so we finish it. Now how much we want to eat doesn’t necessarily equal how much we should eat, and the research team hopes that knowing that we tend to eat almost everything on our plate will make us more aware of portion sizes, thus avoid overeating. The results may also help nutritionists and obesity researchers better understand eating behaviour.
The average child in the countries featured in the study eats a little over half of what’s on the plate. And most parents will guess one of the explanations for this – there are a lot of things children don’t like. Children quite often don’t get a say in how much food is put on their plates, and their portions are too big. For that reason, nutritionists will argue that parents shouldn’t make their children finish their plates. The child will unknowingly push the limits of hungry and full, which might again lead to weight problems.
A piece of advice from the researchers: When at a self-service restaurant, choose the smaller plate and browse through the selection before you decide what you really want to eat. On a local note: Maybe the French cuisine / German portions combination found in Luxembourg restaurants isn’t so great after all?
By Unni Holtedahl, August 2014