Real food meals away from home

Posted October 9

How often do individuals consider why they eat what they eat when away from home? With today’s busy lifestyle, it can be less common to stop and reflect on how, what, where and when to eat. Yet, self-care is about considering what truly nourishes a healthy lifestyle. Small actions can help build more mindful eating moments into the day — and ultimately create pathways towards improved wellness.

Many people want to have more energy, feel better, or lose weight. They also want to help keep themselves and their families healthier. When it comes to improving eating habits, one simple shift that has been shown by some research to have significant health benefit is preparing more foods at home.

Given that daily life takes individuals to many locations away from home, whether school, work, travel or even soccer games or outdoor adventures, bringing foods from home for meals or snacks when “out and about” can significantly contribute to improved eating habits. The food available is what individuals will eat. Instead of being tempted by that picture of french fries on a billboard, for example, bringing food from home may help to create a healthier food environment wherever individuals go.

How and where to eat: ritual vs. routine

It’s also possible to get stuck in a “food rut” even if packing foods from home. Hitting the vending machines at work can be more appealing than eating the same “boring” foods day after day. When it comes to eating, and many other things in life, individual behaviors are often driven by habit. Mindless eating routines, done day in and day out often without thinking, can contribute to unhealthy eating patterns over time. The word ritual, on the other hand while related in meaning, brings to mind a way of doing something that involves great care and intention (or mindfulness).

Both routines and rituals support important aspects of daily life. For example, creating a routine around planning and shopping for food each week can help reduce the time and effort it takes to have healthy foods available. Routines increase efficiency and leverage consistent patterns, reducing the need to make decisions to keep healthy behaviors on track. A simple routine might involve getting the family together every Sunday evening after dinner to review scheduling and plan meals for the week.

On the other hand, establishing rituals around some food experiences, such as during food prep at home and especially during eating, can help create lasting and enjoyable eating experiences. For example, rather than continuing with the routine of eating in front of the desk at work or going to the same restaurant each day during lunch, consider creating an eating ritual to truly enjoy meals or snacks. Whether at work, at a family event, or even on a hiking trail, there’s an opportunity to enjoy a food experience by bringing awareness to the little things that can make eating away from home more like a sit-down meal. It’s difficult to truly pay attention and enjoy food when distracted. One ritual might be taking a break from other activities to eat, creating space to sit and relax, and then spreading foods out to see and enjoy the colors, textures and smells. Meal rituals might even include bringing foods in attractive containers or a fun lunch box for kids.

What and when to eat: striking a balance with real foods

When packing meals and snacks to have away from home, it can be helpful to reduce convenience or highly processed foods that are typically higher in added fats, sugars and sodium. Instead of long ingredient lists, “real foods” are simple, wholesome foods that are closer to their natural state (and usually found in the perimeter of the grocery store, at the local farmers market, or even in a home food garden). They are often not only more nutritious, but can also be more rewarding to the taste buds and other senses.

Bringing foods from home also allows more personal choice in portions and types of foods based on taste preferences. In addition, balancing nutrition and enjoyment of food can help individuals break out of food ruts. For example, switching lunches from the same boring sandwich to a stir-fry lunch bowl or Asian-style meal in a bento box can make it more enticing to stop and savor meals.

Swapping home-made cookies as a treat for the store-bought versions is another option. Nourishing real food meals to go should include foods like whole grains, vegetables and fruits, lean proteins and healthy fats. There are seemingly an endless number of combinations for safe, healthy and enjoyable packable meals.

Then, during busy days, try practicing mindful eating by checking in with hunger and body signals about every two to three hours and take time to honor them with a meal or snack break.


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