This month I’ve been focusing on healthy dinners and posting ideas on my Facebook page to help people make better food choices for their last meal of the day. When I think back to my first years out of college, which coincided with the first years I was married, I was eating pretty poorly, especially at dinner. I had a job that required me to be out of the house between four and five in the morning, I wasn’t eating lunch until early afternoon, and by the time dinner rolled around I was either too exhausted to make anything or barely hungry because I’d been snacking so much after work. Thankfully my schedule has changed, I have developed better eating habits, and I’ve gotten a little more brave and creative in the kitchen!
Here are a few strategies I’ve implemented over the years to help make dinner easier, healthier, and tastier! I encourage you to try one or many of these fairly simple ideas!
1. Be Brave – The best way to start trying new foods is to try new recipes. Sometimes I get intimidated with ingredients that are unfamiliar but thankfully there’s this really neat resource called Google that can help with random ingredient questions! I mean what did people do before Google?
2. Go off Recipe – I follow recipes about 50% of the time when cooking. Sometimes I see a recipe, get inspired, and make my own version and other times I stick very closely to a recipe. Occasionally I dream something up and it turns out really good. Case in point: Sweet Potato Pasta!
3. Downsize – I recently purchased new kitchen plates and made a point to go smaller. I think what I purchased might technically be salad plates. I also downsized the bowls. If your dish is smaller, you’ll eat less food. This is a proven fact!
4. Slow Down – Eating more slowly is one of my goals for 2015 and I’ve found it to be more difficult than I imagined. Sometimes I spend an hour making dinner and in no time I’ve eaten my masterpiece and am back in the kitchen doing dishes. A few strategies I’ve tried to slow down include: putting utensils aside between bites, chewing more slowly or counting number of chews, and if I’m alone, reading while eating.
5. No Distractions – A favorite thing my husband and I do while we eat is listen to Iowa Public Radio. Depending on what time we eat it’s either the evening news report or Studio One. We only eat in front of the TV when we have pizza, which is kind of exciting. I grew up eating at the kitchen table, he grew up eating with Wheel of Fortune, so our compromise was we could only eat in front of the TV if we had pizza, which is a special occasion food – about once a month. Author Brian Wansink wrote about mindlessly eating in front of the TV and again, you eat more when you’re distracted!
6. Think Small – Dinner should actually be smaller than lunch and breakfast. My favorite analogy of meal size comes from Michael Pollan: “Breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, dinner like a pauper.” Well said, Michael, well said.
7. Planning and Timing – Like any meal, in order for dinner to be successful you should plan ahead and know approximately what time your’e eating. Because my work schedule varies my evening meal schedule also varies. Sometimes dinner is at 6 and sometimes it’s at 8. If I’m eating at 8 PM, which happens about once a week during the semester, I usually have something lighter. When you hit the grocery store, have meal options in mind. My grandma used to keep a little menu off the side of her kitchen and I remember thinking that was kind of funny as a kid. Like many things, Grandma knows best. Planning ahead is key to all things healthy and well!
8. Cheers – Opinions vary but I don’t recommend having a beer or glass of wine every night with dinner. Notice the emphasis on every night. The calories in alcohol, and any beverage for that matter, add up and can sabotage the best of your weight loss/maintenance intentions.
What dinner rules do you abide by? For the longest time I’ve tried avoid the word rule in regards to food but I’m a firm believer in following rules, and breaking them when necessary!