Like most people, I was brought up to clear my plate. I was taught that it was wasteful and ungrateful to leave food. And after years of being programmed in that way, many adults find that they go into plate-clearing autopilot mode at mealtimes, without ever stopping to consider whether they have actually had enough. Coupled with a general trend towards bigger portions, at home and when eating out, our plate-clearing habits are causing us to regularly eat more than we need.
Our behaviour was shaped when we were children, when our parents were buying preparing, cooking and serving the food. But we are now adults, who can choose to buy, prepare, cook, serve and eat as much or as little food as we like, so we have every opportunity to avoid those leftovers situations.
There are two main options to tackle an issue with leftovers – you can put less on your plate in the first place, or you can give yourself permission to throw away any excess.
To put less on your plate, just cook less. Or, taking a step further back, buy less at the supermarket. That really would be eliminating waste. And since we’re all now surrounded by mini-supermarkets which open long hours seven days a week there’s no need to stockpile food in the house. Buy less, cook less, eat less. If that means you have to shop a little more often, great, you’ll be eating fresher food too.
Your second option is to give yourself permission to leave excess food on your plate, and to throw it away. Does that sound difficult? Well here’s a thought for you – eating food which you don’t need or want is just as wasteful as throwing it away – either way, it’s wasted, and isn’t going to good use.
If you’re in a restaurant and you’re served an enormous plate of food, you’re doing no one any favours by forcing yourself to finish it – either way, the excess wouldn’t be finding its way onto the plate of a starving orphan, it’s going in the restaurant’s bin (although I suppose there’s a chance an urban fox might benefit from it).
Finally, ask yourself this: when you make the statement “I can’t leave leftovers” are you actually just giving yourself permission to eat more than you know you need? Are you making a virtue out of eating more food than you need? Try to refrain from saying it, to yourself and to others, so that it doesn’t become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
This blog post is adapted from a chapter of “What’s Your Excuse for Not Eating Healthily?” – if you enjoyed it you can buy the book here