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Bring back the joy of eating

Eating is one of life’s great pleasures but for many of us it’s a source of stress. Dietitian Karissa Woolfe reveals four ways to rekindle the joy of eating.

What are the words that come to mind to describe your family mealtimes? Rushed, organised, chaotic or fun? Maybe not fun.

Earlier this year, more than 1000 people were asked how they felt about cooking dinner. Sixty-two per cent said deciding what to cook was stressful, and catering for special diets was the number one stress factor involved. Just over half thought cooking dinner was more stressful than going to work, while 30 per cent would rather clean the bathroom than cook for their household.

In fact, having to deal with fussy eaters, cope with special diets and create a menu the whole family will like can make preparing a meal much more stressful than it should ever be. While this was Australian research, we’d suggest Kiwis are pretty similar when it comes to our feelings about cooking.

Here are four no-fuss ways that will help you take the feud out of family food and restore the joy of eating to your table.

1. Set the right tone

Researchers at the University of Illinois found family meal times that are accompanied by the loud sounds of a vacuum cleaner can put children at risk of obesity. How? The cacophony distracts parents from noticing when children are full. And, equally importantly, it interrupts mealtime conversation, which is associated with a healthier weight.

On the positive side, a study carried out by Cornell University found that eating in a relaxed environment can help you lose weight and increases your enjoyment of food. In the study, dimming the lights and playing mellow background music meant that diners ate 730kJ (175cal) less.

Bring back the joy: Set the table with a tablecloth or place mats, serviettes, and a candle or even some fresh flowers. Dim the lights and play a little gentle background music.

2. Ban technology

You only have to look around a busy restaurant to see how technology gets in the way of good dinner-time conversation. Gadgets distract you from eating mindfully, which can lead to overeating.

Studies show conversations around the dining table help families connect better, and are associated with reduced teen pregnancy and dementia risk.

Bring back the joy: Declare the dinner table a TV and phone-free zone. Encourage everyone to talk about their day at work, home or school and what’s coming up.

3. Tune into your senses

In the rush to get everyone ready to travel from point A to B, it’s easy to find yourself eating on the go, in the car or at the desk.

Speed eating robs your taste buds of the joyous opportunity to fully savour the flavour of your meal. It also tends to leave your tummy grumbling, with several studies linking mindless eating to overeating and weight gain.

Research also shows we get a lot of satisfaction from how a meal looks on the plate, its different colours, textures, arrangement and aromas.

Bring back the joy: Make mealtimes a sensory experience. Enjoy your meal slowly, first with your eyes, then your nose and, finally, your mouth.

4. Share the joy

Dishing up healthy meals to please everyone night after night can be a challenge. Signs of chef’s fatigue include difficulty deciding what to cook, impulse supermarket purchases and opting for takeaways.

Many hands make light work, so if the joy of cooking for your family has turned into a ‘job’, it’s time to turn it once more into a positive experience.

Bring back the joy: Ask each family member to nominate a favourite ingredient or dish that will appear on the menu during the week. Then recruit them to help with cooking, setting the table and, of course, cleaning up!

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