A lot of our eating habits and food choices are subconsciously determined by our environment. You may not know it, but science has proven that it is. Here are some ways you can change up the situation at home to create a healthier eating environment. These tips may also improve your dining experience at home!
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1. Declutter your dining table
The dining table is for food and for eating—nothing else. If space is tight at home and your dining table doubles up as a work table, make sure you clear it out before a meal. Having non-meal related items on the table are distractions that draw your mind towards them, even if subconsciously, and away from the food in front of you.
At meals, you should be focusing on the taste of the food and how you feel at that time. It’s just like when you’re at a movie, you want to be entirely focussed on the movie and how it’s making you feel. So respect your food and give it some space. To know more about how to behave when you eat, check out this post on mindful eating.
2. Place only healthy snacks in sight
For the 2-3 months after Chinese New Year, I’m always guilty of having soft drinks, biscuits, and chips on the shelf behind our dining table. What’s worse is that I always succumb to having a few bites of them after dinner the moment I set eyes on them. Moral of the story? Don’t let these snacks be visibly present to tempt you after meals. Remember: out of sight, out of mind.
If you need some snacks lying around for kids in the house (even for the big kids), make sure they’re healthy ones. My favourites are nuts (p.s. they help reduce cholesterol), dried fruit mixes, grain crackers, or even muesli. You can store them in glass jars and paste stickers of recommended serving sizes on it, as a reminder not to overeat. One or two tablespoons at a time is a good snack portion. What better way is there to creating a healthier eating environment than providing yourself only with healthy snacks?
3. Create the right mood at meal times
Recently, I’ve become quite a big fan of setting the right atmosphere for different times of the day. When we dine out at fancy restaurants, we allow ourselves to be pampered with soft music and floral scents lingering in the background. Why can’t we do that at home too? Let every meal time—or at least dinner, be a treat to ourselves after a long and tiring day. It doesn’t have to take long…you just have to have the systems up in place.
I have my trusty and nifty speaker that I easily link up to Spotify on my phone for jazz, classical, or soft pop while we eat. My dad would drip some essential oils (lavender is calming, lemongrass invigorating) into our oil burner at meals. I even know of a family that makes an event of lighting a candle at dinner time (the kids fight over it). If you want, you can lay out place mats too. I used them at one point and find that plastic ones can be easily rinsed after meals without having to wipe the table.
These are the small things that really create the right atmosphere for a proper meal that you and your family enjoy. Meals are no longer rushed through, underappreciated, and forgotten. Get different members of your family onto different tasks and it would barely be a chore. It’s a great habit to start with kids, as a little bonding activity for the family every day.
4. Hydrate yourself as you eat
Place a jug of water on the table at the start of your meal. It may be iced water, plain soda water, sparkling water, or warm water…whichever you prefer. If you have the time, you can even prepare some plain tea or fruit infused water.
Some people need liquid at meals to cut the taste of food in their mouth. That’s why having calorie-free water available is always a good idea, to prevent the temptation to reach out for a sugary beverage instead. Furthermore, drinking water between bites helps you pace your speed of eating. This prevents you from subconsciously overeating and stuffing yourself.
5. Always have spare food containers at home
Unless the primary cook in your family has excellent forecasting, there’s a good chance that there will be more food than needed on the dinner table. The ideal situation is to cook just the right portion for everyone, or be able to eyeball if portions are too large and pack any extras away before serving the dishes on the table. However, that’s not always realistic or easy to estimate, what with people in the family running late from a meeting, or being ravenous after soccer practice.
What’s the solution? Use common serving spoons during dinner and have food containers ready in the kitchen to pack food that can’t be finished at dinner time. The serving spoons ensure that there’s no double dipping (read: sharing of saliva) and ensures food safety if the food is to be stored for another day. Click here to find out how long you can keep different foods for. When you stop eating more than you need, you start practising healthier eating habits.
Healthy eating is not just about the food that is placed before you, but the systems that you have in place that create a healthier eating environment. They may not seem like much individually. However, if you faithfully employ these methods, you will improve your meal experience and eating behaviour in time to come.
Like this article? Click here to read about how you can set up your bedroom for good health!