How to Get Your Family to Eat More Healthfully
Inspiring them and modeling good behavior works way better than nagging
Darya Rose, Ph.D., is the author of Foodist and creator of Summer Tomato, one of TIME's 50 best websites. She eats amazing things every day and hasn't even considered going on a diet since 2007.
Every time someone asks questions about what you are cooking, you have an opportunity to make your food taste better and be more satisfying. How? By changing the way you talk about the meal.
Healthy eating isn’t a universally popular idea, and it’s easy to understand why. The kinds of things we’ve been told are healthy are often a plate of unappealing overcooked vegetables or other foods with no fat, sugar or salt — that is to say, with none of the flavors we love.
That’s why you may have found that announcing to your partner, parents or children that you’re going to cook healthier fare can backfire, since no one wants to feel they are being deprived of tasty food.
But those of us familiar with real healthy eating — seasonal, fresh whole foods — know it is actually delicious and much tastier than the processed junk food that has numbed our taste buds for the past few decades.
So how can we get others to share our enthusiasm?
(MORE: How I Became a Grown-Up Who Eats His Vegetables)
The Psychology of Good Taste
It turns out that our perception of taste is deeply rooted in psychology. Research tells us that if you believe something you’re about to eat will taste good or bad before you eat it, your experience isn’t likely to be too far off from your expectations. We can use this fact to our advantage by enticing family members into believing they are about to eat something amazing — not something “healthy.”
One study showed that food is more satisfying if it is described as “tasty” rather than “healthy.” Making this shift in emphasis can have additional benefits as well. Not only will people be more excited to eat what you serve, but their satisfaction levels could lead them to eat less later on.
To get everyone enthusiastic about your healthy cooking, you can use the same tactics copywriters and journalists use to pull us into their writing. Some restaurants do this to get you to order the most expensive items on the menu. The key is to remember that if you’re faced with a table of skeptics, you can’t just serve healthy food; you have to sell it.
(MORE: Fiftysomething Diet: 5 Foods That Will Bring Your Blood Pressure Down)
All great copywriting starts with a captivating headline and a chef’s “headline” is the name of the dish or menu item being served. When food is what you’re selling, you want to be as descriptive as possible.
When speaking about your food to friends and family, use colorful words that evoke images of seasonal freshness. For example, “salad” can be a hard sell for dinner, but few people will turn their noses up at “ginger scented baby gem lettuces with grapefruit, hazelnuts and goat cheese.”
When choosing your language, start with the ingredients. Did you find something exceptional at the farmers market? Use the entire name of the item: for example, it’s not just kale, it’s Tuscan kale. If the name of an ingredient isn’t particularly inspiring, you can embellish it with other words that elicit thoughts of freshness or seasonality.
Adjectives you can use to describe healthy foods:
Using descriptive words to showcase your ingredients signals that the meal is special and the experience valuable. Suddenly those vegetables aren’t so boring.
(MORE: Fiftysomething Diet: 5 Foods You Should Never Eat — or Try Not To!)
How to Describe Cooking Style
You can also use evocative language to highlight your cooking methods. People enjoy eating meals that they believe were prepared with care and techniques that preserve and accentuate the food’s flavor. Words that sound like you’ve gone the extra mile in the kitchen can do wonders for making mouths water.
Make an effort to appeal to as many senses as possible, particularly the nose, eyes and palette.
Adjectives that describe steps that occur during preparation and cooking:
- slow- (roasted, cooked, etc.)
- hand- (made, tossed, etc.)
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel since restaurants have this down to an art — feel free to borrow from your favorite menus.
Beyond the Descriptive Language
Think about how you will "sell" your dishes as you are shopping and planning. And when your family inquires what’s for dinner, never hesitate to mention what a unique seasonal treat you were able to get your hands on or the touching backstory behind the meal.
Ultimately how you describe what you're serving goes a long way toward whetting everyone's appetite. If you’re excited about the food you’re preparing and are able to communicate this, your job is half done.
For more inspiration and recipes, check out Summertomato.com.
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