I’ve always been food conscious. My younger self counted calories and avoided fats – even though I had no need to lose weight. Thankfully by the time I hit 30 ‘dieting’ had been replaced with a lifestyle choice to just eat healthy. This means fresh home made feasts, no processed food, minimal added sugar and treats in moderation. At the same time I continue to educate myself on nutrition and follow like minded bloggers.
Where is this taking me? Well as the latest fad diets continue to make headlines I wonder – do we worry too much about exactly what we eat and not enough about the rituals and values that surround food? Over a year ago a rare magazine article on the latter caught my attention. In ‘Eat like an Italian’ Australian nutritionist Susie Burrell summarised what she learnt about the true meaning of food during a stint living with an Italian family. I cut it out and added it to my to keep pile. Here, taking inspiration from Susie, I wanted to share three key things we can learn from the broader Mediterranean relationship with food .
1. Make dinner at the table a daily ritual. The whole family should eat the same food at the same time around the table – without distractions from the TV or other gadgets. It takes the meaning of dinner beyond just food – instead it becomes precious time for sharing and laughter. I recently met a lady who boasted to me about her family ritual – every night over dinner she asks each of her children to talk about the best and the worst thing that happened to them during the day. I love this idea as a simple way of connecting over food. And, if a daily family gathering around the table sounds over ambitious then start small and aim for 3-4 evenings a week.
2. Live by the values of simple, quality, fresh. Cook simple food, with quality fresh ingredients. Banish anything processed, all take-aways and other junk food. It’s really not that hard. This doesn’t mean resigning yourself to boring, rabbit food. Indeed As Susie learnt from the Italian family – ‘even the plainest food could be turned into taste sensations with just a few simple ingredients’. Ingredients like olive oil, chilli flakes and garlic. Want an easy way to start cleaning up your diet? Firstly scale back your cupboards and pantry to healthy essentials like tinned tomatoes, dried legumes, spices and vinegars. Next change your shopping behaviour – read every single label and stay well clear of anything that comes with added sugar, vegetable oils or strangely named additives.
3. Be mindful – stop, be present, slow down. Too often in today’s world we eat on the go – I’m always shocked when I see someone rushing through the city and stuffing down breakfast – typically they’ll have a coffee in one hand and toast or a muffin in the other. With so much going on they can’t truly appreciate what they’re putting into their body. To be mindful with food we need to slow down – and not just over the dinner table, but at breakfast and lunch too. This means being still, being free of distractions and most importantly chewing every mouthful. By savouring each bite you’ll feel more satisfied (plus your digestive system will thank you for it too).
Before you embark on adopting any, or all, of these habits consider your attitude towards hunger – for most of us food is so abundant that too often we seek immediate gratification to satisfy hunger. In doing so it becomes really difficult to adopt the 3 behaviours I’ve outlined – you snack before dinner, you turn to processed food and you eat quickly and on the go. You’re unlikely to suffer any ill consequences of a few hours of feeling hungry. Change your attitude to hunger and you’ll find it much easier to make changes that give you a greater appreciation of food.
By Laura (Feast Wisely)