The first half of this Comfort Food, Redefined series was about creating inner comfort around food; upgrading the way we most intimately interact with food on a daily basis - in our body and our mind. Achieving inner comfort has the power to transform our outer world by giving us the clarity, calmness, and energy to live well and thrive. Don’t believe me? Remember, our gut is our “second brain”. When our gut is happy we’re likely to have happy, optimistic thoughts. From there, it’s a cascading effect; I always coach that our thoughts affect our emotions, and our emotions affect our actions. In other words, how we think and feel directly impacts how we show up in the world each day. And when we expand the definition of comfort food further to include our home and community, we build in more support to think, feel, and act the way we intend.
Designed for comfort is designing our home food environment – our kitchen counters, pantry, fridge, and dinner table - in such a way that supports our Whole Nourishment goals. The intention is that our external environment mirrors our internal environment. Whether we’re trying to eat more fruit, cut back on those potato chips, or just drink more water, we can deliberately redesign our space in a way that places the goods things front and center. This simple act takes willpower and a feeling of deprivation completely out of the equation.
In his book, Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life, Dr. Brian Wansink suggests it’s much easier to mindlessly place a bowl of fruit on the counter than to say “I must eat more fruit”. In one study, when families had a fruit bowl sitting out in the kitchen, on average the parents weighed eight pounds less. Wansink argues that on days we’re busy, tired, and stressed, we need our environment to help us out so that we can mindlessly reach for the right foods. Slim by Design is full of practical and fun tips for doing this, not only in our home but also in the office, grocery stores, and other places we visit regularly. But today I’m sharing Slim by Design’s three steps for turning our kitchen into a more mindful environment proven to improve the quality of our food choices and to eat less.
Three Steps to Creating Your Slim-for-Life Kitchen
1. Declutter kitchen counters
The most visible foods are the ones we eat first and eat most. Wansink recommends making tempting foods invisible and inconvenient. Although it’s common to keep packaged snack food and candy within easy reach, he suggests leaving only fruits and vegetables out on the counter. This also goes for kitchen storage spaces. Rearrange the cupboard, pantry, and refrigerator so the first foods you see are the best for you. When study participants were asked to move all their fruits and vegetables from the crisper bin to the top shelf of their refrigerator and to move less healthy foods down into the crisper they reported eating three times as many fruits and veggies one week later.
2. Pre-serve your dinner
Studies show that families who pre-serve their food directly from the stove or counter ate 19 percent less total food compared to those serving right off the dining table. This might be because making the choice to get up from the table for that second helping requires a mindless PAUSE (<<<remember last week!), causing us to stop and think whether we really want more. On the flip side, if you’re trying to eat more greens, keep that salad bowl firmly planted in the middle of the table. ;-)
Snacking habits are often formed out of mindlessness, convenience, or an emotional need for something other than hunger. Along with instating the PAUSE from last week, it’s also helpful to make the undesirable snack we reach for most often less convenient to eat. The trick is to not deny ourselves of a snack, which only leads to obsessing over it more. Rather, to proactively make the snack foods we want to be eating more of more convenient. This is about making a (small) effort to prep a few things in advance: make oat bars, trail mix, kale snacking salad, or cut up your favorite vegetables to eat raw (i.e. carrots, celery, cucumber, cherry tomatoes). Portion out one of these snacks into small containers or plastic bags – one for each day – and either leave a portion out on the counter (or desk at work) or place front and center in the fridge so it’s easy to grab.
With a little forethought and inspiration, we can design our home food environment to work for us rather that against us. We can experience how comforting it is to have decluttered counters, nourishing ready-to-eat snacks, and dinner rituals that help us mindlessly make the better choice. But we don’t only live and interact with food in our homes. We also have a social and community connection to food that greatly impacts our food choices, whether we realize it or not. Come back next week – it’s the series finale! – to see how we can be connected for comfort.
Lemon Broccoli Spaghetti
Notes: I know you don’t need convincing of the comforts of pasta. But what makes this pasta particularly comforting for me - besides being delicious and fun to eat with all the bites of cheese, nuts, broccoli, nutty al-dente pasta and bright lemon - is that it’s made in one bowl and comes together in 15 minutes, or really as quickly as your pasta cooks. I use this recipe as an excuse to get out my large recycled glass serving bowl (pictured) or a clay bowl I also love. Using practical but beautiful serving pieces adds to the comfort, in my opinion. I prefer whole grain spelt spaghetti because it has a great chew and is nutty. Plus, the extra fiber helps me not feel like a nap afterwards. That being said, I still prefer to eat this for dinner rather than lunch when I’m winding down for the day and can afford to be a little less alert. ;-) You could of course use another pasta like brown rice, soba, quinoa, or whole wheat.
- 375 gr. (3/4 lb.) whole grain spelt spaghetti
- 1 large head broccoli, florets and tender stem chopped
- 1 medium clove garlic
- Zest and juice of 1 large lemon (plus extra for serving)
- 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
- 1/2 tsp. salt + freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2-3 oz. Pecorino Romano (a hard, salty Italian sheep's cheese)
- Mug full of pasta water
- Several handfuls pine nuts, toasted (or sunflower seeds)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop spaghetti and stir so strands don't stick together. Cook 1-2 minutes shy of package directions. Chop broccoli head and stem and add to pasta the last two minutes of cooking time. Just before draining, reserve a mug full of pasta water. Drain pasta/broccoli in a large colander and toss under cool water with tongs to stop cooking.
- While pasta cooks, use a microplane to zest the lemon and grate the garlic into a large mixing bowl. And the juice of the zested lemon, olive oil, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper; stir to combine. Add drained pasta and broccoli to the bowl and toss with tongs to coat well in dressing, adding a splash or two of pasta water to loosen and make a sauce.
- Cut off small chunks of Pecorino Romano using the tip of a sharp knife; toss into pasta along with toasted pine nuts. Add another drizzle of olive oil, black pepper, and salt, if needed. Serve immediately! I like putting out extra lemon and black pepper so people can add more at the table, to taste.