Weighty issue that needs cut down to size

Helen Mead

Helen Mead

First published in Columnists by

“DAD, that’s disgusting.” So say my daughters when my husband tucks into a meal.

They’re not commenting on any unsavoury eating habits, but the sheer volume of food on the plate. More often than not, it resembles a mini mountain.

He sets his standards by this, so, if not kept in check by careful scrutiny, will serve the rest of the family similar portions. When this happens my daughters halve the pile and refrigerate the remainder for another day.

We are all trying to get my husband, who isn’t as trim as he used to be, to cut down, and drew his attention to the message from Duncan Selbie, the head of Public Health England, who urges parents to consider giving smaller plates to children at mealtimes to help them lose weight. Similar guidance should be issued to adults, particularly those who relish taking part in those revolting ‘half a cow steak and sack of chips’ eating challenges popular at certain cafes.

It’s not easy to cut down. Once you’re used to certain amounts of food at meal times, it is very difficult to break the routine. As a child we were always given a hot meal at tea time, followed by a pudding, usually home-made fruit pie and custard, then cake, and a drink of tea. I grew up with this and the pattern must be ingrained as I still don’t feel fulfilled if I have less.

I do eat smaller amounts, often just a yoghurt after a main meal, but this takes willpower, especially if there’s a cake in the house. I’m giving away our cooking apples this year, so I can’t make pies.

For most people, small plates would simply result in more portions. Barbecues are a perfect example. Apparently we eat three times more at barbecues as we do at normal meals, yet the paper plates associated with them are half the size of our usual dinner plates.

If you’re still hungry, you’ll eat more, whether the plate is small or not. It’s the same with alcohol. Pouring only small measures is, a study found, a good way to avoid drinking too much.

But surely it also means that after every small pouring there is more left in the bottle, and therefore more wine to look forward to. We already do this, enjoying three small glasses of wine rather than two large ones. It doesn’t mean you drink any less.

To get to the bottom of both childhood and adult obesity you only have to look into people’s shopping trolleys at the supermarket: laden with takeaways, fizzy drinks and crisps. I remember visiting a school where packed lunches prepared by parents contained the same sort of stuff.

My husband may eat too much, but at least it’s healthy, and made from fresh ingredients. Sugary, fatty, processed foods are often cheaper and more readily available than fresh foods. Surely that, coupled with inadequate exercise, is where the problem lies, not in plate sizes.

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