And though it’s by no means the first time I’ve seen (or cleaned up after) this image, it’s the first time I’ve had any reaction other than the one that typically accompanies postprandial cleanups.
And it has to do with the lack of food left behind. The clean plates.
Though it is uncomfortable to admit, the amount of food that is wasted in our house is borderline unconscionable. Between the pickiness we endeavor to counter and the idiosyncrasies and proclivities of young children, there are more often than not shovelfuls of food that end up either in our dogs’ bellies or the garbage can.
And, oh, does this pain me. Wasting food is one of those things for me. It hurts me on too many levels to articulate—from the preparation and expense required for its cultivation and creation to my constant awareness that not everyone is as lucky as we are—in this house, for many in this country—to have access to plentiful, nutritious food.
On some level, I think, we ask for the waste. It is our contention that our children should not be compelled to eat every morsel on their plates if they are not hungry. We never subscribed to the “clean plate club” mentality. Of course, failure to eat one’s dinner means no dessert; but more times than not our children cannot (or will not) finish the reasonable portions offered.
With our oldest and youngest sons, this hasn’t engendered any great concern. They’re growing and growing well. Listening to their bodies works for them, creates the balance that leads to energy and health. For our middle son, though, it’s an entirely different story.
After growing only one inch in a year and gaining no weight, our middle son’s recent “failure to thrive” diagnosis is gravely concerning. We have a Columbus Day deadline. His doctor needs to see weight gain; so we are all working really hard to ensure that despite the appetite suppression brought about by medication used to treat his ADHD, he eats—and eats well and plentifully.
And this is not easy. Battling about food is not a fight worth having and never leads to anything good; so for a child who will eat but isn’t inclined to eat, hand-feeding is our only option. It’s working. He’s getting all the calories, good fat, and protein his body needs to grow; but by and large it’s due to an effort reminiscent of feeding an infant. When he needs to eat but isn’t inclined, we have to sit with him; we have to feed him. He needs to grow; and because this is a crisis, we will do this for him until he can do it for himself.
But this morning he cleaned his plate on his own. And this morning I finally understand the joy many parents feel when their children eat everything on their plates.
If the Clean Plate Club will have me, I think I’d like to join.