If you’re looking to cut calories, pocket a few bucks, and get more sleep — all noble goals, yes? — take a look at your weeknight dinner routine. By simply rethinking how you serve your food and store your leftovers, you might be able to save time, money, and calories.
Family dinner doesn’t have to be family-style
Establishing better and healthier food habits isn’t just about what you eat, but also how you eat. By pre-plating food at dinner, you can manage portion control and better monitor the calories you and your family consume.
Remember gathering for family dinners at Grandma’s house? A big, beautiful pot roast was served alongside a mountain of mashed potatoes. The platter of green beans (perhaps the only green item on the menu) was given a gratuitous butter bath and passed. A basket of dinner rolls made it around the table, followed closely by the butter dish because, well, you needed more butter. Fruit made a camouflaged cameo, cleverly disguised in some kind of Jell-o concoction.
You barely had a chance to take a bite before Grandma declared she didn’t want leftovers filling the fridge and the platters were passed once again. Also, she made pie.
How you serve affects how much you eat
While you may not be making the same classically decadent food for your family these days, the tradition of serving meals family-style — passed platters with generous servings and the chance for seconds and thirds — might linger. It’s no surprise this method of feasting can pack on the calories.
When you pre-plate your dinner, it’s easier to serve recommended portion sizes. And by not bringing the dish to the table, you’re less inclined to “just have a little more” without giving it a second thought.
When plating dinner, go double on fruits and veggies. You’ll fill up on nutrient-rich, disease-fighting foods.
Of course, when plating your food, it helps to have a basic understanding of what portion sizes look like — not to mention the types of food recommended for a balanced, healthy meal. Choosemyplate.gov, a resource of the USDA, offers tips on the five food groups serving as the foundation of a balanced diet. When it comes to fruits and vegetables, go ahead and double up; your body will thank you.
You’ve probably heard the size of your plate can impact the quantity of food you’re likely to eat. And there’s some scientific evidence to support this notion.
Professors Brian Wansink and Koert van Ittersum, with Cornell University’s Food & Brand Lab, conducted research based on the Delboeuf illusion. The principal of the illusion is simple: Identical dark circles are placed within circles of varying sizes, causing the eye to misjudge the size of the dark circles due to differing amounts of white space.
The professors applied the optical illusion to dinner plates, placing the same amount of food on a large plate and a small plate. The food on the larger plate was perceived as smaller, and the food on the smaller plate was thought to be larger.
If you’re trying to watch calories and avoid overeating, using smaller plates can trick your brain into thinking a modest serving is plentiful.
Tonight’s dinner is tomorrow’s lunch
Have you ever experienced lunch envy? You gather with co-workers during the noon hour and watch a colleague enjoy a delicious-looking lunch of last-night’s leftovers — complete with an adorable container of homemade salad dressing. The moment is only made worse when you think to yourself, “Darn it, there’s manicotti in the fridge at home!”
If you’re already going to the effort of plating food for dinner, take the opportunity to package up a tidy and tasty to-go container to take to work at the same time. The benefits of bringing your lunch are two-fold. First, you get to stretch that dinner for one more meal. Second, you’ll save money by avoiding a lunchtime visit to the fast-casual eatery around the corner. The average American eats lunch out twice a week, spending $11.14 each time, or $1,043 annually. In addition to the cost savings, you might also dodge a big dose of calories lurking in that tempting combo meal.
Consider investing in a decent set of re-usable containers to make storing and transporting leftovers convenient. The popular bento-style boxes offer compartments for all types of food. Look for a good microwavable, dishwasher/freezer safe, and stackable model.
Hit snooze a third or fourth time
At the top of this article, you were promised more sleep. Here’s how it works: Once you’ve mastered your dinnertime routine of assembly-line efficiency, you’ll no longer need to spend those extra minutes in the morning scrambling to find something to bring for lunch. The work is already done. So, go ahead and enjoy a few more winks, undoubtedly dreaming of the day’s noontime feast that awaits you. Just make sure you remember to bring your beautiful leftovers. You want to be on the winning side of lunch envy.
Things to Consider:
- Before sitting down at the dinner table, pre-plate your food – and at the same time, fill reusable to-go containers to take to work the next day.
- When plating food for portion control, consider the size of your dinner plates. A reasonable (and recommended) portion may appear small on a large plate. Put the same amount on a smaller plate and your brain will be satisfied.
- The average American buys lunch out twice a week, dropping $11.14 each time. If you break the habit and bring leftovers, you could save more than $1,000 annually — and possibly avoid some unwanted calories.