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Why a Fast-Food Nation Needs a Slow-Food Movement

Spend More Time in the Kitchen and at the Table
  -- By Bryn Mooth, SparkPeople Contributor
We eat in our cars, at our desks, on the go, in front of the TV. We eat drive-thru, take-out, delivered, packaged and prepared meals. Why? Because it fits our not-enough-time-in-the-day lifestyles. Our food matches our lives.

Well, I'm certainly not the first one to think it—or say it—but we all need to slow down.

Consumer trends around the globe show that over the past three decades people are purchasing more prepared foods at the grocery and eating out more than ever before. It's projected that we'll spend a record amount at restaurants in 2011. We're consuming an increasing number of calories and bigger portions along with our to-go fare and value meals. Simultaneously, we're getting less healthy.

While debates rage over the food industry's contribution to our growing waistlines and our resulting health problems, the bottom line is this: What we eat, where we eat and how we eat are all 100% under our control. We can choose to eat a fast-food lunch on the go. We can throw a frozen meal in the microwave and call it dinner. We can eat without thinking: in front of the tube, at our computers, and while driving a car.

Or, we can dedicate an hour of the day to cook and enjoy a meal with our families. We can spend a few minutes in the morning to eat a healthy breakfast. Eating sensibly doesn't take much time or money, but it does require you to make a conscious decision to do so. Here are some steps you can take to slow down your mealtimes and bring food, which is an afterthought for many of us, back to the head of the table.
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Respect Food
While some folks say food is fuel, it's much more than that. It's a product of the earth, a valuable natural resource. Prepared with care and love, food is synonymous with community and family. So give food the respect it's due. Take time when you're eating. Savor the flavor and experience the texture. Eat without distraction from the TV or your computer. Research shows that when you eat mindfully, you're not just paying attention to what you eat, but you're enjoying it more and less likely to overeat.

Take Cues from the Slow Food Movement
Slow Food is working to shed its reputation as group for "foodies" who lust after black truffles and heirloom tomatoes. It advocates for "food that is good for [us], good for the people who grow it and good for the planet." Check out the website and look for a chapter in your area, which likely hosts cooking classes, supports farmers' markets and teaches kids about healthy eating.

Shop Your Farmers Market
Local farmers markets are an optimal source for fresh and seasonal foods. Price-comparison studies conducted through Seattle University and an association of organic farmers in Vermont both found that farmers market produce was less expensive in many categories than both organic and conventional produce sold in grocery stores. (Eggs were one notable exception, because small farmers have higher production costs than large poultry producers.) Even better, buying local produce means you're getting goods that have traveled a short distance from farm to market.

Be Mindful of What You Put in the Shopping Cart
Read labels to avoid highly processed ingredients like corn syrup and white flour, salt, and other additives and preservatives. Shop the perimeter of the grocery first, picking up produce, fresh meat and low-fat dairy before adding cereal bars, cookies and prepared foods (if you add them at all). Switch from soda (including diet) to zero-calorie flavored water and eventually, plain water. Skip as many packaged items as you can: Try replacing bottled salad dressing (which often contains added sugars and less than stellar oils) with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar or a homemade dressing. Limit the frozen meals. Here are more great tips on making smart supermarket choices.
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Be Careful about Coupons
Buy one box of toaster pastries or frozen pizza snacks, get the second one free. Sounds like a good deal. But is it? Are you purchasing processed foods your family doesn't really need, simply because you have a coupon? Are you buying "once-in-awhile" foods and treats in greater quantities simply because you have a coupon? Be mindful of the coupons you clip, focusing on healthy choices and limiting the treats to occasional purchases.

Eat "The Plate"
The USDA MyPlate guide to healthy eating provides a simply visual for a healthy meal. If you follow these basic guidelines, you're certain to be eating healthier. After all, how many fast food or restaurant meals do you encounter that follow these portion sizes or are made up of mostly vegetables and fruits?

Eat in
Lunch is the biggest calorie culprit when it comes to eating out. Brown-bag your lunch, and you'll save more than 150 calories (according to the USDA's Economic Research Service) and about $6 per day. Try bringing lunch from home at least three days per week. Make a big salad packed with veggies on Sunday afternoon, and pack that for lunch throughout the week. Here are some great lunch recipes you can try, too:
Gather Your Family for Dinner
Here's the good news: Americans are getting better at this. According to a report released in November 2010 by the American Dietetic Association, 73% of families surveyed eat together every day, up from 52% in 2003. Studies published by Harvard University and the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine have shown a meaningful correlation between family meals and kids' mental and physical well-being.

Don't Sweat It
Making food, cooking and mealtime a real priority in your life may mean that other things need to drop further down your list. While it can be a challenge to always put healthy eating first, just do your best. Remember that the food you nourish your body with has a more significant impact on your health, weight and well-being than almost any other activity you do, so treat it with the importance that it deserves, but start small. Every meal made at home—even just once or twice a week—is a step closer to a healthier body and a slower food lifestyle.


Sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "U.S. Obesity Trends," accessed July 2011. www.cdc.gov.

Kant, AK. Graubard, BI. Eating out in America, 1987-2000: trends and nutritional correlates," accessed July 2011. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov.

National Restaurant Association. "National Restaurant Association 2011 Forecast," accessed July 2011. www.restaurant.org.

The Journal of the American Medical Association. "Patterns and Trends in Food Portion Sizes, 1977-1998,". accessed July 2011. www.jama.amassn.org.