Clean Plate Club … You know it? You probably are an honorary member of it.
As a child, I dutifully attended family dinners where membership in the Clean Plate Club had be earned every night! What a hoax! No matter how hard I tried I never seemed to be a permanent member. I struggled through beans. Warm milk. Brussel sprouts. Mush. It seemed like a new initiation nightly. I vowed the Clean Plate Club would not be an active organization in my home when I became a mother! Little did I know …
I married a man who was a firm believer and a lifelong member of the Clean Plate Club. How did that happen? I don’t even know. It’s not like that was on my list of things to discuss while dating. Sure, I asked the important questions like how to deal with finances, household responsibilities, even laundry detergent preferences. But Clean Plate Club? It never crossed my mind until I sat at our round table. I looked across at my oldest daughter sitting with her arms across her chest, defiantly stating she would starve before she’d eat the beans. Two days later, she still had not eaten the beans! Oh my! (I’d like to point out that my daughter proved false the theory that a child would eat when they got hungry enough.)
Under great stress to my marriage and peace in our family, I abolished the Clean Plate Club. I learned that it wasn’t worth the anxiety, stress and overwhelming angst it added to my home. I abolished the Clean Plate Club soon after spending an equivalent experience sitting across from that same table with my first son who was agonizing over oatmeal.
(For the record, the oldest -still will not eat beans, even after living in Ecuador for 18 months. The oldest boy -still vehemently opposed to oatmeal.)
As younger siblings joined our family, they had their older siblings to thank for the dissolution of the Clean Plate Club. I took a new tactic. Family style eating. Each member of the family had to eat everything that was offered but they dished their own food. If it went on the plate, it needed to go in the mouth. Seems simple. Worked well. I recently watched my youngest son, now 15 years old, carefully measure out one (yes, one measly) green bean from the serving bowl. I watched in utter surprise. These were fresh green beans. Delightful. Sauteed in garlic and olive oil. The smell permeated our dining room, taking over the smell of the sourdough bread which I had freshly baked. (Sourdough became my obsession for several days after reading the book. I couldn’t get enough.) His oldest sister and her husband watched, mesmerized. “Is that all you’re going to eat?”
“Of green beans, yes.”
“I don’t want to waste space on green beans when there’s fresh bread and fettuccine.” He continued onward and ate his share of bread until his brother-in-law quickly grabbed the last piece, saving it for his lunch at work later.
It seems like such a normal scene. It happens in homes across the world. But in our home, it ended differently. It became a learning experience. My daughter who is a senior in college shared an article and debate from a recently class. The point made by an ‘authority’ was that food should never be forced on children. They should be able to choose what they want from the beginning of life.
“Really? What about the Clean Plate Club?” I asked.
She smiled, “Death to the Clean Plate Club.”
I nearly rejoiced. I felt so validated! Yay! Death to the Clean Plate Club! Long may it rest in the same utter misery it dished out …
Tracy Atkinson, mother of six, lives in the Midwest with her husband and spirited long-haired miniature dachshunds. She is a teacher, having taught elementary school to higher education, holding degrees in elementary education and a master’s in higher education. Her passion is researching, studying and investigating the attributes related to self-directed learners and learning styles. She has published several titles, including MBTI Learning Styles: A Practical Approach, The Art of Learning Journals, Calais: The Annals of the Hidden, Lemosa: The Annals of the Hidden, Book Two, Rachel’s 8, The Personal Pursuit of Perfection and Securing Your Tent. She is currently working on a non-fiction text exploring the attributes of self-directed learners: The Five Characteristics of Self-directed Learners.