Recently I have been reading “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan. At the moment I am about half way through, but it has been expanding and reinforcing my growing concern about food. Not just what and how much we eat, but also how the actions we take as individuals in acquiring our food shape and change the world around us. It has also given us our latest running joke. “hey, guess what you’re eating” — “CORN”. It will eventually get old, but we will run it into the ground and stomp on it a few times before we give it up. But back to diner.
Gestational diabetes has been the worst part of my last two pregnancies, but it has also been positive in helping me focus on two important facts. I need to eat better and I need to exercise more. These facts were drilled how when I met with the nutritional councilor who talked about managing the carbohydrates I eat and balancing my menus for better nutrition. The other item she highlighted was serving size. Portion control is important. Not just to my waistline, but to the family budget as well.
Rethinking serving sizes for health: Portions have gotten larger over the past 20 years. To see this in a compelling way check out Portion Distortion from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. (They also have a nice menu tool where you can input your menu and see a breakdown of the calories, fat and carbohydrates. ) I know as I have gotten older I have seen this on my own plate. I have allowed myself to be tricked into the idea that more is better with regards to food, but that is just not true. More is unhealthy. The most expensive calories you buy are the ones that you over eat. They cost money to purchase, time to store and cook, and money down the road dealing with health problems, they cost time to burn off, and they hurt your quality of life. They are not a good deal.
Reason dictates that children need less food than adults, teens need more, older adults need less, but when I look at most serving suggestions (including those on packages and in reciepies) there is one serving size. Menu recommendations for children usually reduce the number of servings, but this doesn’t work so well when I am cooking for the whole family. So instead of changing the number of servings I am changing the portion size.
My typical family diner serves two adults (one serving each), one teen (1.5 servings), one older child (1 serving) , two younger children (.75 servings each) and a toddler (.5 serving). So basically I need 6.5 servings for the family for breakfast and dinner and 4 servings for lunch and snacks and box lunches for 2.5 plus “on the go” snacks for 2.5 serving. But these can not be the bloated serving sizes that have crept onto our dinner plates, especially on the higher calorie items. I will admit my visual judgment on what a serving is isn’t so great. I need to measure and weigh items so that I can train myself to better judge what a serving is. The Clevenland Clinic has a good resource for determining serving sizes. I have a small kitchen scale and measuring cups and that pretty much lets me see what a serving size really is. One of the fun things I did with the children we to take their favorite breakfast cereal and measure out one serving. It was significantly less than what they had been pouring out for themselves when they had the chance.
Increased serving sizes leads to waste: When I cook too much it is almost guaranteed that at least some of it will go to waste. Studies have shown that children under five won’t on their own eat more no matter how much you put in front of them. They stop eating when they are full. But children older than five will eat more if there is more in front of them — to a point. Too much food served up means food that is brought to the kitchen that need to be tossed. Leftovers are great for boxed lunches especially, but more than one or possibly two days worth is a complete waste. It will sit in the refrigerator until it resembles some misbegotten science experiment and then be tossed. The second most expensive calories that you buy are the ones you don’t eat.
The sweet things in life: We are not machines. We don’t just consume our food for energy. We have a complex relationship with food, it is part of our culture, our family life and a real pleasure. Or at least it should be. Fast food, eaten quickly, on the go and alone doesn’t have anywhere near the same satisfaction as a well cooked meal, eaten with friends and family around the dinner table while talking over the days events. Likewise we can’t eat ourselves into happiness. While we might enjoy a piece of chocolate cake are we really going to enjoy a huge piece more than a small severing? What is better, the small piece savored slowly or the huge piece eaten quickly? A friend of mine once said, “With thing that you eat just for the taste just a taste should do.” Smaller servings, prepared carefully and served in pleasant surrounds have a satisfaction that super-sized bloated servings just can’t match. Taking the time to make food special has the double benefit of making less food more satisfying.