Monday, August 19, 2013

Clean your plate!

Yesterday was my son's third birthday, and my wife and I took him out to lunch. He got to go for his first BART ride (although not his first train ride - we rode Amtrack up to Sacramento to see the Train Museum several months ago) and he also got to go on his first bus ride. The place we took him to was the San Francisco Creamery, which is ironically located in Walnut Creek. (Or does the fact that Walnut Creek is in the San Francisco Bay Area void the irony? Bah. Who cares?)

It's a pretty good place, with some decent American food and some really good ice cream. As is the custom in the United States, they give you more food than you really should eat, and definitely more ice cream in one sitting than you should eat in a month. Logan had the corn dog and fries, and after that he got a kid's scoop of ice cream. He ate only about a third of the corn dog, half of the fries, and probably less than a third of the baseball-sized scoop of chocolate ice cream.

Part of me really hates the idea of wasting food - any kind of food, even if we're talking about dessert. Also, as a person who has a genuine issue when it comes to sweets (if they made you drunk, I would have been fired from every job and had my driver's license revoked decades ago) I had a hard time seeing him stop eating ice cream and announce that he was all done. Who the hell stops eating ice cream? If they put a bucket of it in front of you, you're OBLIGATED to eat the whole thing, right?

Okay, I didn't finish my mountainous sundae either, but that required the maturity of a nearly-40 year old man whose gut is making his T-shirt feel a bit too tight. It's not the type of self-control that a three year old can muster, is it? Don't misunderstand, this boy loves himself some ice cream. I mentioned it to him hours before we left, and he lit up so intensely that the electric company is going to give us a refund this month instead of sending us a bill. He also had a huge grin on his face when it was put in front of him.

Still, after having enough, he stopped eating it. Crazy, right?

I know that many people have all sorts of issues when it comes to food. I'm compelled to clean my plate, and I relate to the following quote from Louis CK too much:  "I don't stop eating when I'm full. The meal isn't over when I'm full. It's over when I hate myself." While I don't remember my parents doing this to me all the time, I do remember them telling me on more than one occasion to finish my food. I don't think that this is so strange, especially from my mother who grew up poor. In her early life, you ate when you had the chance. My dad was raised by people who lived through The Depression, so no doubt some of that same train of thought came through in his upbringing.

Kids in my son's situation don't have that problem. We're not exactly living high on the hog here, but there's always plenty of hog and other food for him when he needs it. Obviously, we don't want to get into the game of him refusing his dinner and then asking for something an hour later when we've cleaned everything up. Also, we're not going to make separate dinners for him like I know some parents do (and I'm not talking about kids with special dietary needs here - I'm talking about them just being picky).  On the few occasions when Logan doesn't want what my wife and I are having, he can have something simple like a banana, some bread and butter, cereal and milk, etc. However, I'm not preparing anything special for him. This seems to work out well, as he usually eats what we're eating.

We also don't pester him about eating his vegetables. He's not a big fan of them, but we've noticed that on the occasions when he does eat them, it's when we let it be his idea to try them. This worked out for salads, as he'll often have them. Basically the goal is that we put a bit of everything in front of him and tell him that he can eat what he wants, and if he wants more of something, he can have more of it. Another strategy that gets him to try more foods is when I let him watch and help me while I'm making dinner. Food is often more appealing when it's not just shoved in front of your face and you get to see the process. (Possible exception to this rule: hot dogs.)

Even though we've been pretty consistent, there's a part of me that hates to see food go to waste. Sometimes we can save it for the next day, but that's not always practical. Obviously, there are people out there who wish that they had this same problem, as they don't even know where their next meal is coming from. It's people like that I think about whenever food gets thrown away, but another thought hits me - isn't it wasting it just as much when you eat more than you need to eat? And in the second instance, you're being downright unhealthy. Besides, eventually he's going to get to a point where he can articulate to me just how hungry he is or isn't, so I can adjust his portions based on that.

So, we have days when he eats like a horse and days when he barely touches what's on his plate. In other words, he eats when he's hungry, and when he's not, he doesn't. Seems pretty basic, doesn't it? Yet I have a feeling that there are probably a lot of people out there who relate to me as to why it's not so simple for me to follow. Why else would Weird Al have had such a hit with "Eat It" all those years ago if we weren't a culture that was obsessed with finishing our food?

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