Four Ways to Make Your Food Taste Better, Without Lifting a Finger.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day.

This Wednesday: Four ways to make your food taste better, without lifting a finger.

One of the secrets to a happier life is to extract as much happiness from ordinary circumstances as possible. As Samuel Johnson observed, ““It is by studying little things that we attain the great art of having as little misery, and as much happiness as possible.”

One very ordinary part of our lives is food. Are there ways to get more satisfaction from food, without any extra effort? It turns out that there is.

In Brian Wansink’s fascinating book, Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think–which I highly recommend–he outlines studies that show that when food is given highly descriptive, tasty-sounding names, people enjoy the food more, and are more satisfied with the restaurant in which they eat.

Nothing about the food is different, but people’s experiences are different, because their imaginations have been fired. To quote Samuel Johnson again, “Were it not for imagination, Sir, a man would be as happy in the arms of a chambermaid as of a Duchess.” (Remember, he was writing in the 1700s.)

Wansink found that the descriptive themes that restaurants use to ignite our imaginations fall into four basic themes:

1. Geographic:  Kansas City BBQ, Southwest Salad, New York Pizza.

2. Nostalgic: Legendary Chocolate Pie, Grandma’s Fried Chicken, Classic Old-World Manicotti.

3. Sensory: Velvety Vanilla Mousse, Hearty Sizzling Steak, Buttery Plump Pasta.

4. Brands: Jack Daniels Glazed Ribs, Butterfingers Blizzard.

I can’t remember if this example comes from here or elsewhere, but I read a funny account of a classroom of children that ate an unusual amount of broccoli. It turned out that one child’s family described broccoli as “dinosaur trees,” and so eating broccoli was part of playing dinosaurs–which the children loved to do.

Imagination! We can use it to transform our everyday experiences, to make them richer and more satisfying.

Have you ever found a way imaginatively to reinvent an experience, to make it happier?

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  • peninith1

    Ah, how many times have I made a simple dinner a thousand times better by looking up a recipe in my Julia Child cookbook collection and if not doing the whole thing from scratch and absolutely perfectly, at least adding ‘the Julia touch’ to my meal of the evening. Bon Appetit!

  • Natalie

    I’ve tried calling broccoli “dinosaur trees”. It worked for about 2 seconds. Until they tasted it.
    I personally love broccoli, but the kids aren’t interested.

  • eva

    Some thirty years ago my sister tried to seduce her 3-years-old son to eat vegetables by naming green beans “grüne pommes” (green potato chips). Living near the German-Netherlands-border the children knew (and loved!) the famous “pommes frites speciaal” (crispy hot chips with fried onions, mayo and ketchup). Of course my little nephew sussed her out, but by the way we learned, that he willingly ate all vegetables if he was allowed to eat them with his fingers (as is common with “pommes”). So what helped? Imagination, creativity and a sense for even sometimes uncommon solutions!

    • gretchenrubin

      Such a good idea.

  • Brigid

    That’s interesting! At our house we have Meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Wednesday’s Hens Day (a salad, we had trouble coming up with a name), Throwback Thursdays (a chicken and rice comfort dish)) and pizza on Friday’s. It makes cooking so easy and my daughter loves it! For now it’s working!

  • ruth

    My son learned to eat lots of veggies on his sandwiches when a beloved babysitter tolf him they were rocket ship sandwiches. The astronauts eat them!

  • Holly

    Want to spruce up any meal with little or no extra work? Tonight IS a special occasion. Pull out that beautiful china or those lovely crystal plates. Serve dinner on the fine china and use the good silverware. Why not use that lovely linen table cloth or cloth napkins. You’re the special guest at dinner tonight. Why do we let these things we treasure sit in the closet or drawer and only bring them out on special occasions. Make tonight a special occasion. It’s a nice touch for busy moms and dads…put the kids to bed and enjoy a special late night dinner–you’re worth it.

  • Erin

    For me, what makes food taste better is when someone else prepares it! (I dislike cooking but believe it’s better for my family, so I cook almost every night.)

  • Molly

    I just finished reading Bringing Up Bebe and French Kids Eat Everything. Wow, what an eye opener to learn the French way of handling eating/cooking and (they call it) educating children’s palates. After reading these books, I have really been re-thinking my son’s eating habits, as well as ours, and frankly, how much more civilized the French are about eating and cooking. It even helped me re-appreciate Julia Child’s love of France and french cooking.

    We have always eaten at the table together most evenings, but I have gone back to much more variety in what I make (esp. vegetables — roasted beets, turnips, seasonal vegetables, etc.) and making my son try different foods. I wish I were as good as others at being imaginative in how I describe the food to him, but I’m not. A couple things I have done: I tell him he has to try everything, but he doesn’t have to like everything. (I’ve even allowed him to give a little lick to vegetables he really doesn’t like. It’s a start!) If he doesn’t like it, I just say, “Hey, you haven’t tried it enough, let’s give it another try next time.” (If he’s really adamant, I don’t force.) And, importantly, he is no longer allowed to say, “Yuck,” or “Now way…[with a scowl]” or anything rude. He can only say ‘no thank you.’ I hadn’t thought about it b/f because we generally tolerate kids’ picky palates here, and almost encourage it (“he’s like me, he doesn’t like grapes”), but why does everyone need to hear every opinion we have about food. Food and eating should bring us together, not further individualize us. We make too much of food, on the one hand, and not enough, on the other. On the flip side, I’ve been making more of my own desserts, and we enjoy a little of something sweet, rather than looking at ever sweet thing as the enemy. He loves dark chocolate!