Simple Pleasures


Chocolate Cake with Buttercream Frosting
While some would caution us (with good intentions) not to place too much emphasis on the way food makes us feel, it’s undeniable that food does affect our mood.

Whether it’s the smell of fresh-baked cookies, fresh from the oven, the feel of bread dough as we knead it into rolls or loafs or braids, or the snap of fresh green beans before they hit the colander for rinsing, the use of our other 4 senses when cooking and eating are indispensable when it comes to the total food experience.

There are the phrases “eat to live” and “live to eat.” The first one is for folks who look at food as a tool: fuel for daily tasks. It has to serve its purpose and nothing else. The second is for the rest of us who really enjoy our food. Sometimes that leads to over-indulging, but I think there’s a middle ground.

Part of that middle ground is found by examining the quality of what we eat in relation to the quantity of it.

Recently we attended a friends birthday dinner and it was asked of all who wanted a second slice of cake. It was very good cake, and the first serving was definitely on the conservative side.


While a part of me, the inner child if you will, wanted another, larger, frosting-overloaded piece of cake, another part of me (and, thankfully, the part that had control over my actions at the time) demurred. Why? Because one slice was enough.

Now, some would call this willpower. I am actually rather infamous for my lack thereof. Some would also call this self-deprivation. But I call it good sense. By appreciating the piece of cake I’d already had (following a delicious meal of lobster ravioli and a nice tall cocktail–see what I mean about the willpower?) I stopped myself from almost-certain indigestion and regret.

We’ve all been there, right? The oh-I-can’t-believe-I-ate-so-much moment after a large meal. The feeling of leaden limbs, the desire for a nap, the mushy-headed-ness of overdoing it. The hangover if it was a case of one-more-drink-won’t-hurt, last night.

What’s the secret, then, to avoiding overindulgence?

There isn’t one. Not really.

It’s just a matter of being aware of what we’re doing, eating and drinking. Of knowing how much really is enough. And enjoying it.

There’s some sort of major sporting even coming up this weekend, I’m told 😉 Many may be invited to parties. Those parties  may feature tables laden with heavy, fatty foods. Buckets of beer. You know the drill.

And I’m not going to preach small plates or counting calories, I’m just going to suggest that, if you want to avoid the calling-in-food-sick on Monday morning thing (when everyone knows that you really just partied too much), you think about each trip to the buffet or each scoop of 7-layer-dip you take. Notice the texture, flavor and enjoyment it gives and take a moment, a fraction of a second even, to appreciate it before going back to for another. And maybe realize it’s enough.

While I go set my DVR for the Puppy Bowl on Animal Planet.

Portion Perceptions


Since part of getting back into the swing of things this year meant watching what (and how much and when) I eat, I’ve been paying more attention to labels so that the info I’m entering into is as accurate as possible.

And while I always knew, and understood, the idea that we eat with our eyes as well as our mouths, it really hit home over these first two weeks with my occasional afternoon snack of chips and queso.

One week we had the large, restaurant-style chips in the house and a portion of those is approximately 7 chips. The next week, having run out of the larger chips (they were left over from holiday entertaining and snacking), I ended up buying the smaller bite-sized rounds.

Imagine my surprise when the same calorie count (140, for the curious) translated to 24 round chips.

Why is this relevant? Well, while quality should always trump quantity, sometimes the hand-to-mouth comfort of larger portions makes us feel better than the righteousness of a smaller portion. In this case, though, the portions are equal, it’s the perception of the many pieces in one versus the few in the other.

(Yes, there’s plenty to be said on meeting emotional needs with food–this isn’t a post about that and I sympathize with those in Overeaters Anonymous who struggle with just this issue.)

In fact, 24 of the rounds almost felt like too much. I’ve even been known to only have 12 (yes, I counted) and been perfectly satisfied. But there’s very little chance that I would have settled for only 3.5 of the larger chips. I mean, come on, would you?


Tortilla Chip Comparison--big triangles vs little rounds

Have you ever heard the phrase ‘your eyes are bigger than your stomach’?

It’s not your eyes that are the problem, it’s your mind. Taking the chip example and putting into dinner mode, think about the size of  your average dinner plate: 10+ inches.

Now place a deck of cards (for meat/protein), a 1 cup measure (veggies) and a 1/2-cup measure (grains or potatoes) on it.

Swap out that whopper of a dinner dish for the smaller salad plate (8 inches) and place the same representations onto the plate.

10.5 inch dinner plate with portion representations 8 inch salad plate with portion representations

The dinner plate on the left looks positively naked while the salad plate is full. And it’s not unusual to feel short-changed with a small item on a large plate. That perception of being deprived or “gypped”  by a near-empty plate is what leads to loading up double portions or going back for seconds. And soon a habit is formed that a 12 oz steak is a single portion (not more than 2!) or that if you’re plate isn’t filled you won’t be full.

Switch to a smaller plate, though, and a lot of those habits are easier to break.

We still keep our dinner plates around, of course. They’re great for holidays when a little indulging is okay. When you’re having a cookout they’re great for serving kebabs or acting as serving dishes for smaller dinners. Or under a soup-bowl to hold a slice of bread or corn muffin.

But we don’t use them very often for dinner and we don’t miss them, then, either.