It’s a small world until it comes to the Buffets

By Cindy Phillips updated Fri, Jan 13, 2012 01:22 PM

I was raised by a single mom who mastered the art of stretching a dollar. She would buy a whole chicken and roast it to perfection for a Sunday dinner, accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes and a vegetable. During the week that followed, the dinner menu would include two nights of chicken soup, a creamed chicken casserole and a chicken pot pie with a Bisquick topping. Friday night’s dinner would be chicken-free because we didn’t eat meat on Fridays.

We never went hungry in our house, but there were restrictions on luxury items. Soda was considered a treat and we were only allowed to have it at Sunday dinner. You got one glass, so if you were smart, you figured out how to savor it and make it last. We didn’t have dessert every night. Desserts typically came on the weekends when mom wasn’t working and they were always homemade. It might be a cake from scratch, topped with her butter cream frosting. She always iced half the cake in vanilla, then added the cocoa and covered the other half in chocolate. My favorite dessert was Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies. Mom always let me help her make those and I got to scrape the bowl and eat the dough. For some reason, eating raw egg was safe back then.

Our meals as kids were decent sized portions, and we were always allowed to help ourselves to seconds. In fact, my mom initiated us into the “clean plate club” at an early age. She also sometimes nudged us to finish off an item if the amount was so minimal it did not fit the criteria for being a viable leftover. “Don’t make me get out a Tupperware container for that little piece,” she would lament. So, yes, there were times we ate a bit more than our fill, but I honestly do not recall pigging out at meals to the point where my stomach felt it could literally explode.

Many Boomers had a similar culinary upbringing, the basics taught by a depression-era parent who learned early on about how to stretch a meal. Eating out was a rare occurrence and typically meant a stop at McDonalds or a small pizza with no toppings. I honestly have no memories of eating in a restaurant as a child, it simply was not in the budget. And I certainly do not recall ever hearing about the infamous all-you-can-eat-buffets that are now an American staple.

My actual first memory of a food item whose size might have been considered obscene was the Kitchen Sink at Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor. Designed to be eaten by a minimum of 8 to 10 people, it consisted of a scoop of every flavor offered by Jahn’s covered by a sampling of every available topping. It was served to the table in a large bucket and the serving spoons were ladle-sized. I never indulged in a Kitchen Sink. It was one of those things that you fantasized as a kid, thinking that maybe someday your parents would surprise you with one on your birthday.

At some point during my childhood, super-sized sandwiches were introduced. The Big Mac and the Burger King Whopper promised to satisfy even the biggest appetites. Later on, they were accompanied by super-sized fries and drinks. Popular fast foods grew to monumental proportions, and it became the norm rather than the exception. Once I had a family of my own, buffets became a regular stop on family restaurant night. My daughters learned early on how to laden their plates with large helpings of macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and banana pudding. Buffets offered trough-sized serving pans, so they never had to worry about taking too much. Their stomachs grew almost as large as their eyes. Coke came with as many free refills as they wanted. Unlike me, they never had to listen to the stories about food lines and the scarcity of meat that occurred during the depression. In fact, their happy meals even came with a toy.

I’m sure my parents and grandparents are shaking their heads from above at the enormity of today’s portion standards. My grandmother would probably be scraping the plates and creating whole new meals from what we think nothing of tossing in the trash. I know she would think it was a crime.

The economy is slowly coming out of a recession, but our food portions didn’t seem to get the message. Personally, I have decided to go back to the food mentality of my mother. Waste not, want not, waist not. It not only makes financial sense, it’s simply a healthier option. However, I do have the Kitchen Sink on my bucket list.

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