You Are Not a Garbage Disposal

You Are Not a Garbage Disposal - photo by perikatipole

In my house growing up food was a precious commodity. It was how my parents showed love, it was how we celebrated, how we grieved, it brought us together. And something that precious was never, ever, to be wasted. When you finished your first serving, mom would offer you more. Dinner wasn’t over until all the food was gone.

Over the years, learning to leave this mindset behind has been extremely difficult. The thought of throwing food away is repulsive to me—even the thought of putting it away for leftovers leaves me a little unsettled. I rapidly project myself into the future and try to plan exactly who is going to eat the leftovers and in what quantity so I can mentally zero out the food balance sheet (Daniel is a godsend for any leftover anxiety I may have, since he loves them). But when I find myself eating just to finish my plate, or eating for the sake of not wasting, I try to remind myself, you are not a garbage disposal. The food I don’t need to eat can either end up on my body, as pounds, or in the trash. And while both scenarios are a sad, unnecessary waste, I get to choose where the food goes.

If you struggle with this, too, the best thing you can do is figure out how much food you or your family need and prepare the right amount. Of course, sometimes you may be in a situation where that isn’t possible—and waste is more or less inevitable, in those cases, it’s important that you eat the amount of food you want to eat (or, the amount you know you should eat). If any food is left over, pack it up, bring it home, and put it in the fridge. Maybe someone will eat the leftovers; maybe no one will; that’s OK. You tried. Whether you’re throwing food in the trash or forcing food you don’t need or want down your throat, you are wasting it, because you are not a garbage disposal.

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13 thoughts on “You Are Not a Garbage Disposal

  1. Heather

    This is timely for me. My husband and I have one kid home from college and one finishing up high school. We’re almost empty nesters but can’t buy for two as they may be around for meals. We’ve been finding ourselves cooking for 4 because that’s what we bought. But when the kids aren’t around for dinner, we end up eating their portions rather than doing leftovers. Trying to figure out the best strategy for this, especially with grilling meat. We’re talking about cooking two of the portions two nights in a row. If it’s not cooked, we won’t be tempted.

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  2. A

    This was something I struggled with so much, buying and preparing the right amount of food. I grew up feeding lots of people, think 40-50 people at holidays and a rotating crowd of up to a dozen on any given weeknight and by the time I was 15, I handled the whole thing from shop to prepare to cook. Then I went off to college and eventually had my own little two adult family with no one dropping in for dinner and WOW! what a change in just the quantity of food I wasn’t having to buy. Now as a single mom with two growing kids to feed, I find myself buying more than I used to, but it’s still never as much as I think we need. I’m actually often shocked at just how little food we eat and how little I have to cook – I’m getting better, planned leftovers used in lunches the next day is what I aim for and I mostly hit that mark.

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  3. sarah

    I cook extra just so that I have leftovers…..and some things are even better the next day…like spaghetti sauce….I personally freeze leftovers and pack those for my husband’s lunch….and leftovers also come in handy on those days that you come home exhausted and don’t feel like cooking….just my opinion

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  4. Margaret Flynn

    On thing we have enjoyed doing is subscription meals. It has helped my husband & me with portion control. Also, a nutritional sheet is included. I am decreasing my portion because there’s still enough for leftovers sometimes. We only get 3 days worth a week and not every week. Great article.

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  5. Juliette | Namastay Traveling

    I understand this 100%. I hate the idea of wasting food, but am also fearful of not making enough food for leftovers! It’s a tricky balance and I try to make sure I can freeze most things which helps me not go crazy and eat everything but still not feel like it’s going to go to waste. Still a work in progress!

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  6. Deb D

    I can totally relate with this, too. I was raised as part of the “clean plate” club and still feel the need to finish everything on my plate whether I’m really that hungry for it or not. I’m pretty good at wrapping up leftovers if I can just keep it off of my plate. I do hate throwing food away but have accepted that it is much better in the garbage than fat on my body.

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  7. Danielle Panettiere

    Wow.. So true! I remember as a kid being stuck at the table because I didn’t want to finish the ham on my plate… So, I had to sit there… for what felt like forever.. To this day the “Cleaning the plate,” method is something I have to try to overcome. When I had tried weight watchers years ago they showed a Large plate and the small circle part inside the big plate. When I prepare a dinner I try to keep all of my meal in the circumference of the small circle. Not perfect at this but I definitely am more aware then I use to be. I also am guilty of pouring soap or water on something just to make myself not eat it…..

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  8. Susan

    I’ve been thinking about how growing up as a child of parents who grew up during the Depression has affected me in various ways, particularly my eating. I only learned after her death that my mother’s family regularly did not have enough money to buy food and subsisted on crackers and mustard at times. She never told me. And she never overtly told me to clean my plate that I remember. But I did clean my plate, food was in abundance, and was used, I was going to say for treats, but when you have a chocolate egg cream and a candy bar every day they become your norm. I’m guessing my mother never wanted me to feel deprived or hungry. If I said I was hungry between meals, I remember mostly her telling me to have some bread and butter.
    These days I cook for one. I’m trying to be more reasonable in my portions. I’m currently doing Weight Watchers and weighing and measuring is helpful. Now I am trying to be more mindful of when I am full and stop eating then. I don’t like to throw food out. It helps a lot that I am an avid composter.

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    1. Betsy

      Susan, I relate so much to how my Depression era parents – especially my father – influenced my lifelong eating and weight issues. One of his most powerful memories was when a social worker came to the door with food for his family, and as long as he lived he never forgot seeing the shame on his mother’s face for having to take charity. When dad had kids of his own he took not only great pride but also delight in being able to provide food for us. Treats were common and always offered conspiratorially, as if the memory of his mother made him think he needed to hide such extravagances as Uno bars and ice cream cones. He introduced me to the idea of “illicit” eating and the pleasures that can be found there, for better and for worse.

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  9. Alyssa

    This totally resonates with me. I love portion control and sometimes, after plating up a portion of food there’s just a tiny bit left. I often have to remind myself it’s okay to NOT put that tiny bit onto my plate to eat as well and if it doesn’t get ate or ends up in the garbage, it’s OK! I need to make decisions that are good for me and that feel good for my body.

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  10. Sandy

    I try to always cook enough for leftovers. I physically cannot stand in the kitchen for over an hour or more, night after night, and cook. We are a 2 person family and I was raised to clean my plate also, but my husband and I went out and bought inexpensive walmart salad/dessert plates to add to the ones that came with the set of dishes, so we’d have a lot of the small ones. These small plates are 99.9% of the time the plates we eat dinner on. If we have corn on the cob or something that requires a large plate, then, of course, we use them, but it always seems strange to eat on full size plates. We just got a new dishwasher and it holds so much more than my old one did, and we are now running out of small plates, sometimes before I need to wash a load. And my cupboards cannot hold any more, lol. I’m going to have to start washing dishes more often and not waiting until I have a full load, because we also run out of forks and sometimes other utensils, lol. Most of the time I do clean my plate, but it’s so much less food to start with that it’s not a problem. Now if we (I) could curb the in between meals eating, my husband does a better job than I, we (I) could lose weight a little faster than we (I) currently are/am, lol. The night time eating seems to be my downfall. I take medications at night, 2 of which increase my appetite and the meds are too important to even think about NOT taking them.

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