Intentional Meals

Natalie Zimmer and Rebecca Morley

It takes time and effort to plan, grocery shop and execute a healthy meal. Add a career, driving kids to and from activities, caring for loved ones and the many other responsibilities of day to day life for baby boomers, and the idea of cooking meals seems exhausting. Wouldn’t it just be easier to swing by a fast food joint on the way home?

Many people these days eat on the go, in the car, or just snack and skip meals altogether. Consequently, the majority of meals are eaten alone, which is associated with increased consumption of fast food, over-eating, and often loneliness. The current food system of processed, ready-to-eat, convenient food is conducive to these eating patterns. Is it coincidence that the values of efficiency, convenience and speed of the food system directly align with the values we hold around food and eating?

The industrial shift in our food system has stripped the values out of America’s food culture. The
ubiquitous presence of processed foods has taken away the need to cook and with it, the intention
around mealtimes. Eating food has become such a perfunctory act for many of us these days. It is time
to bring intention back into our eating patterns.

Eat throughout the day

One way to bring intention to mealtimes is to not only focus on what you eat, but on when you eat. A good guideline to follow is to eat three portion controlled meals a day, plus a couple of healthy snacks. Eating one large meal a day and/or skipping meals decreases the efficiency of your metabolism and leaves you feeling lethargic.

When you wait until you feel like you are starving, your resistance to junk food may fly out the window
and you may give into the temptation of whatever is quick, filling and easy. It can also throw off your
body’s satiation mechanism and cause you to overeat.

Eating regularly stabilizes blood sugar levels, which helps maintain energy throughout the day. Regular meal consumption increases your basil metabolic rate, which is the amount of calories you burn while at rest, and decreases your appetite.

Plan ahead

Planning ahead is key. When you wait until you are over-hungry to decide what to eat, you usually choose less healthy options or tend to eat too much. Planning ahead will make you more aware of what you are eating as well as help you develop a regular eating pattern. Not only will planning meals
in advance benefit you, but your family as well.

Many boomers have teens still at home or are overseeing the care of loved ones. Eating a well-planned, balanced mix of foods every day has health benefits that help reduce the risk of heart disease, stroke,
type 2 diabetes, bone loss, some kinds of cancer, and anemia. And if you already have one or more of these chronic diseases, eating well may help you better manage them.

Planning and providing consistent healthy meals for the entire household will assist in better health outcomes for all.

Spice up those cooking skills

For those of you with teens or college students still living at home, mealtimes are a good place to experiment cooking together.

Due to the fast food environment today, many young adults do not know how to cook. Yet, studies show that people who prepare their own meals have a better quality diet and a lower consumption of fast
food that can be high in fat and sodium. Thus, when it comes time for your teen to move out on their own, you can rest assured they will have the cooking skills needed to support a healthful diet.

If you have grandchildren, consider planning “dates” to cook together. The kitchen is an excellent bonding environment and it is never too early to be a part of the meal preparation process.

Social interaction

Eating meals with family or friends has been proven to benefit both physical and mental health. Research has proven the existence of evidence-based positive outcomes associated with family meals
in children and adolescents, which include lower drug use, better academic performance and less
depressive symptoms.

Although these studies have focused on adolescent behavior, the positive effects of social interaction
apply to all people, regardless of age. The company, consistency, and support system surrounding family
meals are key contributors to better outcomes, all three of which are easily achievable for boomers and
families.

If you live alone, start a dinner group with people you know at work or set aside a night each week
designated to eating with a friend. Eating with peopleprovides a sense of comfort, and allows time to share and support each other through life.

Body weight management

The act of eating with people not only benefits your psychological health but your physical health as well. One study showed that taking small bites, pausing between bites, and putting down the utensil between bites resulted in less food consumed.

Eating slower allows the body to send satiety signals before too much food is consumed. Taking
small bites and pausing between bites comes naturally when engaged in conversation. Therefore,
eating with people may result in less calories consumed and better weight management.

Beware of falling into a habit of meaningless and mundane meals. Eating should be enjoyable! It can be a problem if we let our busy lifestyles dictate our relationship with food. Irregular eating patterns are not optimal for our health. To eat intentionally means to be more aware of all things associated with food and eating. So eat healthy, eat often (in moderation of course!), plan meals, cook meals, and eat with others. Intentional mealtimes will offer increased pleasure and better health for everyone.

Natalie Zimmer was a summer intern performing a rotation at the Missoula City-County Health Department, and is currently completing her education requirements at the University of Washington toward a degree in public health, with additional plans to become a registered dietitian.

Rebecca Morley provides nutrition services through the Eat Smart Program at the Missoula City-County Health Department and can be reached at 258-3827 or at rmorley@co.missoula.mt.us