Making healthier eating choices in the kitchen can be a challenge. If only you had an invisible cheerleader by your side, guiding you to choose carrot sticks over chips or oatmeal over Frosted Flakes.
But believe it or not, you can trick yourself into eating healthier. Indeed, a few small changes to your daily routine have the power to nudge you into making better decisions around your food, according to a January 2020 study in Marketing Science.
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Lead researchers Romain Cadario and Pierre Chandon found unconscious nudges — like making healthy food more visible — can make these decisions easier and reinforce positive behaviors in the long run. Their research looked at consumer habits around food choices in public cafeterias, restaurants and supermarkets, but the takeaways are applicable to food behavior changes in your everyday life, including in your home kitchen.
So, why does it work? Because we all want to eat healthy, but we don't want to feel like we're under a directive to do so, Cadario, an assistant professor of marketing at the IESEG School of Management in Lille, France, explains to LIVESTRONG.com. "My research has found that it's easier to reduce the consumption of unhealthy food than to increase the consumption of healthy food," he adds.
Making small changes, such as adjusting where you store certain foods in your kitchen, can save you time, money and calories, Chandon, professor of marketing at INSEAD in Fontainebleau, France, tells LIVESTRONG.com. "Health nudges can reduce intake by up to 200 calories a day — the equivalent of 20 sugar cubes," he adds.
Ready to give it a try? Check out these seven easy kitchen hacks that will help make healthy eating a breeze.
1. Make Healthy Foods More Accessible
Be strategic about where you place nutritious foods, so they're the first thing you see and the most convenient to snag when you're in a hurry. Grab-and-go areas include your easiest-to-reach cabinets, on your countertop in clear containers and in the front section of your fridge, Bonnie Taub-Dix, RDN, author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You from Label to Table, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
2. Pre-Slice Fruits and Veggies
Cutting up fruits and vegetables to make them easier to eat is another quick and easy hack. "We have busy lives, and it's tough, but doing this in advance is a really smart and effective trick," Cadario says.
Keeping a water pitcher with fresh fruit in the front of the fridge, before juices or other beverages, will help increase your hydration and ensure you're not consuming extra calories, Taub-Dix says. She recommends water-based summer fruit, such as peaches and watermelon, and in the winter, apples and citrus.
3. Hide Unhealthy Foods
"Out of sight, out of mind," Taub-Dix says. Keep the junk food or less nutritious snacks tucked away in higher cabinets or deeper in your cabinets, definitely not on the countertop. It may also be helpful to place unhealthy foods in non-clear containers, so you're less tempted to indulge.
4. Change Your Plates
You don't need a plate the size of a platter. Chandon recommends using a medium-size plate, smaller bowls and cups or even portion control plates. "A slightly smaller plate or cup (about 10 to 20 percent smaller than usual) is ideal because the size reduction is not too obvious and because it will make the same amount of food look bigger," he says.
Try, too, to make healthier foods — like veggies and the bigger portion of your plate, such as more salad on your plate versus bread.
5. Stick a Label on It
What sounds more enticing: "healthy beets" or "dynamic beets"? (We choose the latter!) Colorful, vibrant, even playful labels on food products can increase a person's interest in purchasing it. "It's about convincing people to eat vegetables with pleasure," he says.
Cadario recommends adding personalized labels to your own healthy foods in the house, especially when you're trying to convince a child to eat healthy.
6. Keep Kitchen Tools at the Ready
Let your tools do the nudging for you. Place healthy-cooking gadgets, such as a Vitamix or Instant Pot, in eyesight so you're more likely to use them.
"I keep my Vitamix on my countertop to remind me to make smoothies," Taub-Dix says. "If I kept it in the cabinet, I would be less likely to take it down, but now I use it every day."
7. Prep Your Portions
If there's a snack or food that you tend to overdo (i.e. cereal or pasta), it might be a good idea to divide it into proper portions ahead of time, Taub-Dix says. Pre-measuring healthy amounts into Ziploc bags or portion control containers will save you time when it comes to cooking and help prevent you from overeating as well.