Numerous studies — including those published by the U.S. Department of Health — show the way foods are placed, displayed and stored in our homes influences choices to eat healthier. Here are a few ideas for preparing and presenting snacks and meals to help lead your family down the path of healthy eating.
Healthy options up front
Make first choices the healthiest ones. For example, place cleaned and cut veggies with servings of hummus toward the front to encourage making better choices.
Load a crisper drawer with single serving snacks like yogurt, hard-boiled eggs and chilled fruit bites. Do a little more prep-work and have a few slow cooker meals ready to use during some of the busier days of the week. It’s a satisfying feeling to walk through the door at the end of the day and smell that dinner is ready.
While you’re cutting fruit for snacks, set some aside for smoothies to create quick and easy breakfast options.
When it comes to plates and portions, bigger is not better. Research from the Food & Brand Lab at Cornell University showed larger plates make food appear smaller, while smaller plates make food quantity appear larger. But don’t ditch your larger dishes.
When eating healthy foods, use the larger plates to encourage filling up on more veggies and lean proteins. Keep the smaller plates around for nights when the food selection is less healthy. The extra effort to get seconds also makes people rethink the need for more.
It works for beverages as well. A 2014 study showed using leaner glasses can cut alcohol or sugary drink consumption by as much as 10 percent.
Out of sight, out of body
Several studies have shown that keeping healthier foods at the front of the pantry greatly reduces random grazing. Keep nuts, whole grain crackers and cereals, peanut butter and dried fruit out in the open and easy to reach.
Low sodium soups and instant rice are easy to fix and filling options that can keep the family from snack grazing. With snacks, pre-portioning is a smart way to keep track and remind eaters of actual serving sizes.
Reusable plastic containers help keep foods fresh and organized. Tape the labels from the discarded packaging onto the containers as a reminder of what’s inside.
Time is considered an essential ingredient to healthy eating. More time spent preparing snacks and meals for the week leads to better eating habits, while less time in the kitchen leads to more fast food and spending extra money eating out.
Several studies from the last 10 years show that food prep, smart shopping and meal planning go hand in hand with making better choices at mealtime. To help with this, talk with your family about the types of meals they like to eat. Start a calendar or spreadsheet to record ideas and recipes. Start small — try doing this for two or three nights a week.
Fruits over junk
Research shows if you replace junk food on countertops with a bowl of fresh produce you are more likely to eat the fruits and veggies over the less healthy options. Cut, clean and portion your produce and leave it in easy-to-reach places to encourage healthy snacking.
Instead of leaving a big bag of chips out on the counter, take the time to portion them into smaller bags, per the serving size listed on the label. This may help discourage your family from overindulging. A study published in the journal Environment and Behavior also found that a cluttered, messy kitchen can cause people to eat up to 40 percent more.
Make it last
The sell by dates on most food products are just that, the date in which the manufacturer/ seller of the food has decided to keep the product on display. The dates also help inform consumers of the remaining shelf life, but don’t necessarily determine how long the products will last in your pantry, refrigerator or freezer.
According to the Food and Drug Administration, it does not require food firms to place dates on food products. The only exceptions are infant formula and baby food. The information on the packages is, “entirely at the discretion of the manufacturer.”
Here are the general definitions of what those dates and numbers mean:
Sell by: Manufacturer recommendation for when stores should sell the product.
Best if used by:Consumers should use this product by the date listed for best quality and flavor.
Use by: This is the last date recommended for use at peak quality and the product will likely lose quality (flavor, appearance, texture) after that date. In the case of infant formula and baby food, do not consume these products after the use-by date.
Closed or coded dates: These are packing numbers used by the manufacturer in the event a problem occurs with the food and it needs to be recalled.
However, don’t take these dates for granted. If the food looks, smells or tastes bad don’t risk it. Remember – when in doubt, throw it out. Find an extensive list of food staples and their shelf lives at HLMS.com.