When is a dinner plate not a dinner plate?

I came across an article, an older article, in the Washington Post lately called The Nine Inch Diet. It's actually a diet book review, which didn't interest me as much as this one paragraph embedded in the article:
He starts the book with a simple tale. Having just bought a lakeside cottage built in the 1940s, he and his wife went out to stock up on dinnerware. But the plates they bought (regular ones from somewhere like Target) didn't fit, no matter which way he tried to jam them in the cupboards. Slowly it dawned on him that those cupboards had been built with much smaller plates in mind. Further research revealed that while most dinner plates today measure 12 inches, in the middle of the past century the standard was nine inches.
This was something I've long believed. As I recall, most dinner plates were actually 8.5 inches, which is the size of a standard "luncheon" or "salad" plate today.  So it's a little more than three inches more in diameter.  That doesn't seem like much, until you recall that the area of a circle is π times the square of the radius.  So the 12 inch plate has an area of a little over 113sq inches, while the 8.5 inch plate has an area of a little over 56.5 inches, making the new plates almost exactly DOUBLE the area of the old plates.

So today, when mom says "eat everything on your plate" to a kid, and that plate had been full, she's asking her child to eat more than twice as much food as her grandmother asked her mother to eat at the same age.

Let's just let that sink in a while...



I abandoned dinner plates entirely about 9 years ago.  However, recently I went to get some new Corning ware, and found that I couldn't find any of the old six inch luncheon plates anywhere, and ended up buying the 8.5.  Of course, I know I can't fill those plates and still eat in the smaller amounts I need to, so I've only gotten a couple to use for company, and hopefully will be able to locate some of the older pieces in thrift shops.

I've also started eating soups and chili from what we now call "berry bowls" (which are increasingly hard to come by) I strongly suspect that the size of our bowls have also doubled in since the 1950s.

Of course the EASY thing is to say "well, just put the same small amount of food on the plate no matter what size it is." Yeah, it's easy to SAY, but as it turns out, it's not as easy to actually DO.  How the Size and Color of Plates and Tablecloths Trick Us into Eating too Much was published on Forbes Online in 2012, and it's a really interesting look at the psychology of eating and serving. 


  1. Very interesting and helpful blogpost. Thank you, especially in this season, when overeating without realizing I'm doing it or knowing why I do it is so often what I do.... I grew up in the '50s and '60s, and I can attest to the increased size of dishes now. I love your analytical insights. Happy holidays to you and your family.

    Oh, and I didn't comment yesterday, but I enjoyed your explanations of all the many moves of abode you've made as an adult....


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