“The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.” Sage advice from Brian Wansink, Director of the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University and author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. Eating healthy doesn’t mean you must forsake all indulgences and subsist solely on oatmeal and salads. Instead, what if you just made a few small changes to your eating routine that could lead to gradual, sustainable results? Here are five tips to try when cooking and eating at home, inspired by Prof. Wansink’s good read.
Snack before cooking: Cooking while hungry can lead to lots of unwanted calories. Sometimes we find ourselves eating half the meal–or half of what’s in the cupboards–before we actually make it to the table. If you’re starting to cook and you haven’t eaten anything in the past 3 to 4 hours, consider having a small, healthy snack first (such as a yogurt or an apple and a few almonds) to keep your hand out of the cookie jar. Or if every minute counts, make it a point to have a healthy snack within arm’s reach while cooking so that carrots, not cookies, are the easiest option to reach for.
Divide and conquer big portions: If you’re planning on cooking larger portions, separate and put away the intended leftovers before serving. Then, keep any big platters or serving dishes in the kitchen, away from the table, so it makes mindless munching and second servings at the table harder to do. If you’re going to keep one serving dish on the table for continued munching, make it the veggies or fruit.
Downsize your dinnerware: Research has shown that eating off a smaller plate and using smaller utensils will make you feel fuller off less food. It’s true: Your eyes can influence your stomach. It’s also a good idea to use tall, thin glasses for caloric beverages; you’ll pour and drink less compared with when you use smaller, wider glasses. (Exception: Use small, wide glasses for water.)
Plan your plate differently: Wansink accurately points out that most of us don’t care about the amount of calories in the food we eat, but rather how much food we eat (volume). Take a look at your typical dinner plate: What percent of it holds the protein/meat, what percent is starch/grains and how much of it is fruits or veggies? If it’s a casserole or sandwich, briefly separate the components on the plate.
Now consider, which of these types of foods take up the most volume, but has the least calories? Veggies and fruit! So simply putting more veggies and fruit on your plate will allow you to eat a similar amount of food, for many less calories. Depending on where you’re starting, consider adding 20% more fruits and veggies to your plate, or go with the “Half Plate Rule,” similar to the USDA MyPlate: Make half of your plate veggies or fruit. (For MyPlate-inspired meals, including Whole-Wheat Spaghetti with Swiss Chard, above, visit Food Network on Pinterest and scroll down to the MyPlate section)
Keep what you eat in front of you: If the food you’re eating has bones or other traces of its existence, don’t clean it up right away. Having a visual reminder of how much you’ve already eaten may provide the pause you need to determine whether you really want another piece of chicken.
You currently have a set of habits, or a script, that you follow at meals. Choose the changes that result in eating a little better, without feeling like you’re depriving yourself. A couple hundred calories a day can go a long way in a year.
TELL US: As Prof. Wansink likes to ask, “How will you rescript your mealtime?”
Through his book and blog, Death of the Diet, Jason Machowsky, MS, RD, CSCS, empowers people to live the life they want by integrating healthy eating and physical activity habits into their daily routines. You can follow him on Twitter @JMachowskyRDFit.