Demise of the Clean Plate Club

When I was a youngster, my mother and grandmothers conspired to find novel ways for my brother and I to finish our meals. It was very common, given what a “picky” eater I am (or such is the rumor), that I would eat the items on my plate that I liked and would not touch the items I did not like. They devised the “Clean Plate Club” and it was met, by me, with immediate challenges. To be a member of the Clean Plate Club, you had to finish everything on your plate. Membership privileges included getting to leave the table before bed. Since I was very stubborn in addition to picky, I spent a lot of time looking at cold food as I was often at the table long after everyone else had finished.

However, these days the Clean Plate Club has become sort of a curse for me. Wherever I go, whatever I eat, I feel I need to “clean my plate.” I feel guilty if I do not eat all of the food placed in front of me. I can understand the necessity of letting kids know that food is not something to be wasted. However, in these days of gigantic plates of food from restaurants like Bennigan’s, TGI Fridays, and others, cleaning the plate is a fast way to a fat waist. I recently ate dinner at a restaurant in Northbrook called J. Alexander’s. I actually eat there once or twice a month. I always get the same two menu items: Rattlesnake Pasta and a side of their Smashed Potatoes. Both of these dishes are “to die for.” They are truly excellent. I love them. They make me happy. I digress.

Unfortunately, I should never eat them completely. The Rattlesnake Pasta comes in this huge dish. I am reminded of those Betty Crocker instant meals like “Tuna Helper” which I make at home sometimes. When you make this stuff at home, the whole package looks to me like one serving. It says on the box, “3-4 servings”, but I eat the whole thing. Well, the Rattlesnake Pasta is the size of, like, TWO of the Tuna Helper packages. It’s a boatload of food, enough for 2 families!!! And I eat the whole thing in one sitting…and then turn to the Smashed Potatoes. The Smashed Potatoes are delicious. They are almost as good as this recipe I have at home. But when you get this “side dish” it is about the size of two large baked potatoes. Huge. Really a lot of food. It’s like an Atkins Diet nuclear weapon. Guaranteed to send you blood sugar to Saturn. Combine the potatoes and the pasta and I’m looking at a pair of dishes invented, it seems, with the sole purpose of sending me to the Big & Tall Men’s store, or I should say Big & Wide Men’s store.

Now the food by itself is not really the problem. The problem is the quantity of food given to a single person. I don’t have any numbers to use for comparison but I’ll bet you that restaurant meals in the before 1990 or so weren’t this big. It’s some sort of weird trend in the United States, to increase the size of the portions. I imagine that it has something to do with perceived value and all that. But it’s a huge waste of food…because my #2 New Year’s Resolution is: Never clean your plate. At home, I will only put the amount of food on my plate that I should eat. At restaurants, I will stop eating when I am full, which at J. Alexander’s will be after about 10 bites. I’m not big on leftovers so that food will probably go to waste. Not my problem - stop bringing me so much food!!!!!!! Thoughts or comments, please share within.