The Happy Plate

When I was a kid and I finished everything on my plate, my mom or dad would say, “Oh, good job, you made a happy plate!” I always thought it was a fun little saying, so imagine my surprise when I’m in college and jokingly applaud someone for making a “happy plate” and said person responds with a blank stare and an “are you crazy?” look. Apparently “happy plate” is not a universally known phrase, but I know we are all aware of its twin, “clean plate.” For whatever reason, Americans have this belief that if food is on your plate, you must eat all of it. Every last bit. It’s what members of the Clean Plate Club do, and Americans are the founding members and chief practitioners. Where did this idea come from? I am sure when I was younger my parents wanted to make sure I ate enough, so they encouraged the “happy plate” mentality, and I know that often we are taught to eat whatever we are offered in the home of someone else so as not to be rude, but what if we are full before the plate is empty? Why do we feel the need to keep eating until all the food is gone?

I still struggle with this clean plate mentality. When I am eating a really delicious meal, especially a dessert, I want to eat all of it. I want to savor every single morsel, down the very last crumb on the plate (seriously, I have even scraped CRUMBS off the plate, sometimes to the point that you can’t even tell food was on it at all!). Even when the feeling of fullness starts to invade my senses, I fight that little voice inside me saying, “Oh, who cares if you’re full, there’s still a lot left! It’s YUMMY! You know you love it, and a little more won’t make a difference. Just eat it!” Sometimes I succumb to that little voice’s lies, other times I am cognizant of the fact that I am full and have enjoyed my food enough. It’s not as though the last bite tastes any different than the first bite. Food doesn’t get better as it sits on my plate, so why do I tell myself that I MUST eat all of it? Why do I chase after gluttony when my heart tells me that I must taste and see that the LORD (and only the Lord) is good?

I have said before that food is an idol in my life, and even though I’ve been trying to lose weight for the past 17 months, I am realizing that food is still an idol. I haven’t beaten it, but I am trying. I am redefining what it means to have a happy plate. A happy plate is one I can look at and know that I ate just enough, no more, no less. A happy plate is one that won’t make me feel guilty later. Most of all, a happy plate represents a meal where self-control defeats gluttony.

I’ll take that victory over a good dessert any day of the week.


15 thoughts on “The Happy Plate

  1. Oh, Erin. I was raised in the happy plate club(yes, we said “happy plate!”), too. I think some of that has contributed (to but is not the main reason for) my eating issues.
    I have already tried to let Isaiah eat until he is full. If his plate isn't empty, fine. I don't want to force him to eat when he's not hungry. And I definitely want to be careful about this if I ever have a little girl. I will struggle to be a good model for healthy body image…so I'm trying even now to be careful in how I teach Isaiah about food. As you said the other day in a tweet, food is for the body, not the body for food. How I hope I can communicate this to my child(ren)!! I've much to “unlearn” in this area.


  2. Umm, yeah. The same grandmother who used to make sure I was part of the 'clean plate club' told my husband the last time we saw her that he was responsible for making sure I lost weight since I'm apparently heavier each time she sees me. 😉


  3. I had “happy plates” too! I come from a long line of over-eaters – good Southern women who squeal when their child licks the plate clean. I also battle the “Everyone must eat every scrap on the table or it means I did not cook the food properly and therefore have failed as a woman” syndrome.

    I find myself licking the plate clean when I feel like something was really delicious, and what bothers me is the fact that I eat it like I may never have it again. Like omg, I can come back to O'Charley's whenever I want and get another steak. I can go to Kroger and pick up another pie whenever I please. Food is always going to be there!

    I was grossly underweight as a child and doctors were always poking at my ribs and telling my mom I didn't eat enough. She said, “I give her her food, she knows it's dinnertime, and she eats what she pleases.” I was just small for my age (still am!).

    I hope that our generation will follow healthier trends as parents and not “EAT EVERYTHING”. I think that's the only way out of the obesity crisis our society is experiencing. We need to teach the next generation healthier habits! Way to go Erin!


  4. I watched a show on Fit TV or something like a year or so ago and they did an experiment and found that the French participants stop eating when they were full and that's the way it was with many other countries except for Americans. They stopped when their plate was clean. I found it interesting, true, and probably one small factor in why obesity in the US is through the roof.


  5. I'm not sure where I got the idea, but I always eat my plate clean. I even started using smaller plates! That works unless it's a dish I REALLY love, and then I will eat until I hurt. I don't know why – like Sweet Melissa said – I eat like I'm never going to eat this again? Really? I'm a rich American! I'm always going to be able to eat that food again….so why do I do what I do? Why can't I say no? Why is it such a strugle? I don't know. Maybe it's just practice – like “saying no” is a mental muscle you have to exercise and it gets stronger. ~ L


  6. I too have that mentality. I even used to go back for seconds! Now, with my own child, I always try and tell him – I don't care if he finishes EVERYTHING on his plate, and he gets a treat (a small piece of candy usually) only if he eats all of his healthy stuff… He's athletic and slim, but I'm trying to instill he eat the healthy stuff, and the rest only if he is still hungry.


  7. Very true post, Erin. Food is such a central part of our life, but it shouldn't be something we take advantage of. I too struggle with the “happy plate” concept. This past weekend, I only ate half of my meal at a restaurant and it felt WRONG! Yet, my tummy felt so much better and I didn't get hungry again. I was completely full. I think it just takes practice….


  8. ah yes…i am an awarded member of the “clean plate club”! i definitely give food an “idol” status in my life (you've seen my baking blog!) i am learning to give myself smaller portions when at home (eating w/smaller plates and bowls to help) and always take half the food home when going out. great post as always!


  9. I used to be a member of this club too, not only when I struggled with obesity, but even before that.

    Especially with restaurant meals! For some reason since I paid for it – I had to eat it!!

    Now I can leave food on my plate, and NEVER make my kids feel like they have to join the “club!”

    Thanks for a great post.


  10. I'm so glad you addressed this. Why do we never think of gluttony as a sin? I understand parents wanting to make sure their children are eating enough food for nutrition's sake, but it's all too easy to join the happy plate club and unknowingly encourage negative behaviors and even sin. Excellent post…and I think you should write a book about godly habits and food…or something like that 🙂


  11. Hallo Erin!

    You don`t know me. But I found your name on Elains blog. And maybe you can do a favour für me and contact me?
    I am a christian youth worker and have a question about this campside near cinta. I have been there once before with a christian youth camp.
    Now I would like to contact the new owners of this campside in cinta. But I don`t know who runs this campside.
    Please can you write me whre I can get informations about this campside? I would like to visizt it next year with a christian youth group if that is posible.

    Thank you for helping me.


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