It’s not unusual to equate healthy eating with breaking bad eating habits. Eating right is often boiled down to cutting out certain types of foods, but this negative or avoidance approach is quite short-sighted. Instead, we can reframe the definition of healthy eating to be about the positive or beneficial nutrition habits that create the bigger picture of your lifestyle. We can focus on creating positive eating rituals to enhance the experience of eating resulting in a more sustainable approach to better health and longevity.
One definition of the word ritual is an act or series of acts regularly repeated in a set precise manner. Rituals are known to bring a sense of connection and meaning within cultures and religions. As with these other aspects of life, we can create eating rituals to improve nutrition and bring more ease and purpose to our food choices.
1. Create Rituals Around How Food is Prepared
We tend to focus more on what we eat (or don’t eat) than how it is prepared. Food preparation relates to cooking techniques like chopping, grilling and sautéing, but it also takes into account other factors like whether it is self-prepared and how ingredients and recipes are chosen. People are more likely to eat well when preparing their own foods compared to eating food prepared outside the home. Mindfully choosing nutrient-dense ingredients and balanced recipes can improve one’s overall eating pattern.
2. Choose Seasonal Ingredients
Living in Southern California, where locally-grown fruit and vegetables are available year-round, we have the opportunity of eating in season. Plus, many of us already have seasonal food rituals like enjoying special holiday recipes. We can expand our experience of seasonal eating by incorporating more meals and dishes based on what’s available at the moment. Eating seasonally can help us connect with the passage of time while increasing the amount of fresh produce consumed.
3. Practice Nourishing Morning and Evening Rituals
We are often so busy that it is not unusual to rush through meals or even skip them altogether. In fact, our rushed schedules are at least one reason why snacking is on the rise. A morning routine that includes food and hydration is a healthy habit that pays dividends. When we start off the day on the right track our good intentions are more likely to carry throughout the day. Choose nutritious foods and beverages that you enjoy to start your day along with other self-care rituals like stretching, meditation, exercise, or journaling.
4. Include Family and Friends
While some daily rituals are best practiced alone, healthy eating rituals can be enjoyed together with loved ones. Whether it’s cooking, baking, eating family meals, or taking trips to the farmer’s market, involving others in your routine can make the overall experience more enjoyable and supported.
5. Create a Healthy Eating Environment
Having a clean and organized kitchen will make it easier to be successful with your meal prep and cooking plans. This doesn’t mean you need a fancy kitchen or all the latest culinary tools and gadgets to create healthy eating rituals. However, a pantry full of expired items and a refrigerator loaded with carryout food boxes can impede your best intentions. Invest some time and energy creating an inviting space that facilitates healthy habits. This could mean rearranging a television near the dining area by opting for a music player instead, replacing an important appliance that is broken or adding a planter box with fresh herbs.
By taking a more active and intentional approach to food selection and meal preparation you can be better prepared to eat well without relying on a restrictive approach to nutrition. What food rituals can you implement now to positively impact your eating habits?
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD is a registered dietitian, providing nutrition counseling and consulting to individuals, families and organizations. She can be reached by email at [email protected].