You may be familiar with Michael Pollan’s book, “Food Rules.” In his book, he encourages readers to eat real food, pointing out that “eating doesn’t have to be difficult” and that daily decisions about food should be simple. For example, he suggests eating food with color and only eating to feed real hunger, not boredom.
Seems simple enough, right?
If only it really was that simple.
While I agree with many (but not all) of his food rules, it is actually not that simple. Unfortunately, setting yourself up to make the better food choice requires much more effort than simply being told what to eat and what not eat. Think about it. How many times have you eaten something when you knew you weren’t hungry? Why did you eat it?
When you’re faced with confrontation between the best food choice and your desired food choice, the sugary, salty, savory favorite will likely manage to hit your mouth first. That isn’t all that surprising either. Research shows us time and again that when hunger strikes, poor food choices follow. Boredom, sleep deprivation and social situations all influence our food choices.
Instead of fighting with yourself about foods you shouldn’t eat, consider creating new behaviors that will set you up for successful. Consider these Food Rules that work.
FOOD RULE #1 Keep a Clean Kitchen.
I’m not talking food safety here (though that is important). I’m talking about the foods that you choose to put in your kitchen. Clients tell me they know it was the wrong choice but they went for the chips instead of the vegetable tray. My question is never why did you choose chips over veggies (that’s kind of obvious). The question is why were the chips there to begin with? You can’t eat what’s not there. That brings us to our next food rule…
FOOD RULE #2 Use a Grocery List
Healthy Eating starts in the grocery store. If it ends up in your cart it’s likely to end up in your stomach. That’s why using a grocery list not only lands you healthier food it also saves you money. This food rule is much easier to stick to than “don’t eat the chocolate cookies I purchased because I shopped without a list.” And don’t even think about going to the store hungry.
FOOD RULE #3 Close the Kitchen
How many times do you or a member of your family stroll back into the kitchen after dinner searching for something to fill your boredom? The kitchen is not the place. Create a food rule around when the kitchen closes and make sure the entire family knows. This is helpful to teach kids not to mindlessly munch in the evenings too. Make an announcement to the family such as, “would anyone like a drink or small snack because the kitchen in closing in 15 minutes.” This allows everyone the opportunity to grab something if hungry. Remember, food does not cure boredom.
FOOD RULE #4 Never Eat While Watching TV
This is a hard one! Think about it, popcorn and the movies just go together. But beware. It’s easy to eat a few hundred calories of anything if you’re not paying attention to what you are doing. Meals and mini-meals should be consumed at a table with the electronics off. Focus on the food and make meal time about having a conversation with your family.
FOOD RULE #5 Create a Menu Cycle
Preparation is the key to success. How many parents can relate to the kids asking, “What’s for dinner?” When we create a menu cycle in advance, the answer to this question is easy. Knowing on Sunday what will be for dinner on Wednesday allows us the time to shop for the ingredients and minimizes our chance of picking up a pizza on the way home from work. And if Wednesday comes and you don’t feel like cooking what was planned, simply swap it for another day on the menu cycle. Now that you have choices, you have flexibility.