Nutrition Articles

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

Spend More Time in the Kitchen and at the Table

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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.

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.

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.

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Member Comments

  • My family rarely eats out anymore and when we do, we have found we do not feel as good afterwards. We really prefer eating meals at home, made from vegi's from our garden, and meat from the livestock we have raised. We know what is going into our bodies and feel so much better.
  • I know that Fast Food has a bad reputations in the healthy food department. But have you looked at main stream sit down restaurants with waitresses? There menu is just as bad. High fat content and larger portions. Some restaurants have more healthy choices than others. I've learned to make those choices. Most fast food, has salads that is a good choice, except they usually add something that is very high caloric so even there, a burger might be a better choice. I learned to say, leave off the___. Or I pick out the high caloric food.
  • CACUJIN
    The collective "we" is as annoying as the collective "Americans." If some folks slow down, they might be considered dead. Perhaps getting moving would help more than slowing down. As is see it, fast food is not the problem; poor time-management and laziness is the problem.
  • I gave up fast food in 2006 and am proud to say I have not been back
    when I want fries I make oven fries at home....they are are so good...I dont miss all the junk food...I feel so much better
  • I completely agree. Seems like they are popping up closer to schools which is drawing the attention of our younger generation. Fast food is taking away from the home cooked meals.
  • The kitchen has always been the heart of my home, as a child, as a parent and now as empty nesters. I love hanging out there, eating there and talking around the table.
  • Love the slow food movement!
  • It's important for me to prepare 90% of our meals. I spend a few hours on the weekend preparing a few meals to freeze for the week. If you're chopping an onion, you might as well chop a few. Easy meals include lasagna, shepherds pie, meatballs, vegetable sauce, soups. As an added bonus, every few weeks I don't need to cook at all. Reheat and serve with salad. Easy peasy.
  • This article was written in 2011, and is even more true today.
  • The USDA recommendations? Are you kidding me?
    Too grain-heavy!
  • "We all need to slow down?"

    That's adorable. Ameicans eat the way they do, because our lives and our jobs pressure us to do so. If you have a job that allows you to "make time" to prepare food, congrats to you! However most working Americans don't.
  • The article mentions the buy one get one free coupons. As my wife used to say whenever I was interested in the large, marked down bag of chips, "A bargain isn't always a bargain." Glenn

  • Not to mention that you can get burgers for $1, and salads are $7 (depending on where you are)
  • I use the computer during breakfast: I go through my SparkCoach program while I'm eating. I think that's good company and a good start for the day, especially since I live alone.
  • You can make 'fast' food at home (like breakfast wraps that you can freeze and then microwave for breakfast) and then take them with you on the go. Being busy is not an excuse anymore.

About The Author

Bryn Mooth Bryn Mooth
Bryn Mooth is an independent copywriter and journalist focused on food, wellness and design; she's also a Master Gardener and enthusiastic green thumb. She shares seasonal recipes, kitchen techniques, healthy eating tips and food wisdom on her blog writes4food.com.