I am certain that I have not been doing it my entire life, but I have eaten this way for as long as I can remember. First I assess the plate of food in front of me. Next, I express my gratitude for those who have prepared it as 99% of the time I have nothing to do with the cooking. Finally, I consider how much I will enjoy each item and how healthy each portion of the dish is before eating each item in order of least enjoyable to most enjoyable. I have long subscribed to the philosophy that if it’s good for me, it doesn’t have to taste good, but if it isn’t good for me, it must be delicious. In my house, we now refer to this methodology as eating our broccoli first. Up until recently, my son had a very different philosophy. He would eat what tastes best first, only to be left with his figurative broccoli last. He was of the mind that he should be sure to eat the tasty stuff before he was too full and if he couldn’t make room for his ‘broccoli’ because he ate everything else first, so be it. Despite my continual encouragement to eat his broccoli first, he was repeatedly less than satisfied with the last taste of his meal being the least tasty after he had devoured the portions he preferred most.

My son is now a sophomore in high school and his grades are suddenly important to him. At the beginning of the year, we talked about how unforgiving some teachers could be when it comes to accounting for mistakes on exams, missed assignments, and perceived inattentiveness. We discussed the importance of starting strong while acknowledging that missing assignments or performing poorly on quizzes early on would put him in a hole. A slow start off the blocks could require flawlessness the rest of the semester if he was to achieve his goal. I went on to point out that a strong start would allow him the opportunity to make mistakes later in the semester should life get in the way of either homework or class attendance. Looking for another way to communicate the message, I told him that this was merely another application of eating your broccoli first. In essence, if he ate his broccoli first he would have flexibility down the road and when others are stressed out at the end of the semester having to ace the final to get the grade they want, he might be in a position to relax a bit. Like so many conversations, I was unsure as to what, if anything, resonated with him.

As the sole ‘anticipator’ in a home of procrastinators, I would be looking for signs over time. Over the course of the semester, two things happened. First, I saw him change the way he ate. He began to clear his plate of the item he liked least while saving his preferred dish for last. At the same time, he built on my eat your broccoli first mantra by acknowledging that no matter how full he was at the end of the meal that there is always room for ice cream. That was his way of communicating that there is always room for the things we enjoy even after we consume that which is most nourishing. Oddly enough, the most nourishing can be extremely satisfying (since he has grown to really like broccoli!)  As gratifying as that was to see as a parent, the other observation was the noticeable change in our weekend story arc. Where Sundays were the night he frantically did his homework after a weekend of fun, Friday nights and Saturday mornings became homework time, leaving Saturday nights and Sunday nights for fun. He now, both literally and figuratively, eats his broccoli first and has room for ice cream after he’s done.

Last week, my son sent a text during his lunch break at school. He was excited to let us know that he spoke with his history teacher and found out that he could score a zero on his final exam and still finish the course with an A. To which I simply replied, “Congratulations, that’s what happens when we eat our broccoli first.” And yes, we were sure to enjoy some ice cream that night.

  • What do you eat first on your dinner plate?
  • How do you prioritize your need to and want to lists?
  • As your day draws to an end would you prefer to be looking at a plate of broccoli on your plate or a bowl of ice cream?