7 Tips To Make It Easier To Have Healthy Eating Habits.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day, or List Day, or Quiz Day.

This Wednesday: 7 tips that make it easier to have healthy eating habits.

Many people were very intrigued by my interview with behavioral scientist Brian Wansink and his ideas. He studies eating behavior and consumer habits, and has a book that just came out: Slim By Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life.

I asked him for some of his top tips, and he gave me these excellent suggestions to “Help your kitchen make you slim.”

  1. Serve vegetables first.
  2. Serve the main dish from the stove or counter, so that to get seconds, you have to stand up and go get more. (This combines the Strategy of Inconvenience, because you can’t just reach out to take more food, and the Strategy of Monitoring, because you can keep track better of how much you’re eating.)
  3. Use dinner plates that are 9-10 wide. We eat less when we use a smaller plate, but American plate sizes have been steadily growing.
  4. Sit at a table, with the TV off. People eat more, without noticing, if they’re watching TV. And if you have to sit at a table to eat, you’ve made it harder to have impulsive snacks.
  5. Keep two or fewer cans of sugary drinks in your fridge.
  6. Keep your kitchen counters organized, not messy. (I was interested to see this one — it confirms my argument about the Strategy of Foundation and the importance of “uncluttering.”)
  7. Keep snack foods in one inconvenient cupboard. (Again, the Strategy of Inconvenience.)

What would be your best tips? I remind myself of one of my Secrets of Adulthood for Habits: It’s easier to change my surroundings than myself. It’s easier to put cookies on a high shelf than to boost my willpower.

I talk about all of these tips in Better Than Before, my forthcoming book about habit change. The most fascinating subject in the world. To pre-order, click here. If you’re inclined to buy the book, I’d really appreciate your pre-order. Pre-orders really matter.


  • Lori McKee

    Automate one or two daily meals. My breakfast every week-day morning is a boiled egg, 2 strips of turkey bacon and coffee with cream (low carb/fills me up). Lunch is a can of healthy soup (or couple cups of homemade), wheat crackers and a small piece of cheese. All these things are easy to always have on hand. Only leaves suppers and week-ends for creativity – and challenge (and cheating!). <—-3 c's. Trademarked – LOL.

    But the idea is – it takes away the decision-making and so it simplifies it. I am one who loves routine so I could probably eat this for years without getting tired of it. Gone a couple years already….

    • Guest

      I like the automated meals approach too, especially breakfast when I am usually on autopilot anyway. For me yogurt, fruit (fresh or frozen), some almonds, wheat germ or bran does the trick.

      I love the 3 C’s.

      • Ana

        Yup, I eat the same thing for breakfast 7 days a week (egg and gluten-free waffle with a touch of peanut butter) and lunch 4 days (grilled chicken salad with home-made dressing. I do get one “treat” day at work to get a lovely warm soup or stirfry from the cafeteria instead of my daily salad, and weekends are more grazing. Its so much easier and healthier, otherwise I let myself get too hungry (since I don’t have a plan and don’t feel like coming up with one) and make bad choices.

        • johanna

          I agree with Mimi. Soda is so full of sugar (some have 17 teaspoons in one 12 oz. can , yes!) Being the sole grocery shopper in my house is a responsibility I respect and buy only healthy choices. If others want something different, THEY need to purchase them. I want to be faithful to my responsibility of being the healthy cook in the family. A friend of mine once said to me ” hey, you have to lighten up and live a little” I didn’t say anything , but I could have said “you mean I want to live a lot” :0)

  • Penelope Schmitt

    I do agree that you can ‘automate’ meals — particularly breakfast. I alternate two breakfasts: scrambled eggbeaters and a vegetarian sausage with low sodium V8 juice one morning, oatmeal with dried tart cherries and a little Splenda ‘brown sugar’ the next. Each one seems like a treat because it is very different from the day before. Boredom is my enemy, so I need at least that much variety.

    I agree with a lot of Wansink’s ideas. I am using a smaller plate for lunch, and serving dinner from the counter. I like his ‘half plate rule’ (half your dinner plate must be filled with vegetables) I have been working on de-cluttering in the kitchen, but have not gotten to the pantry (a problem area). Nor have I faced up to my issue with a couple of problem foods.

    I know better, and I know I am an Abstainer, but I really have not been able to let go of those habits, even though I know stress is not an excuse, nor is it improved by feeling stuck and discouraged about my weight loss regime. I can’t seem to move beyond ‘pre-contemplation’. However I am moving a lot of elder care issues forward that really take priority over everything else. I hope soon I will be able to come to putting myself first in this area again, while maintaining the progress I have made thus far.

    I really appreciate you bringing our attention to Wansink’s work, Gretchen! I now look for evidence of his influence when I shop or dine out. Last week I caught my Harris Teeter grocery store prominently offering packages of four single servings of hummus at the deli counter at a bargain price, and complimented them on their good move. Peace to those who dislike packaging, the single servings really help me to make my snacks more moderate. I use measuring cups and small reusable containers a lot — but single servings are an additional big help. Wansink’s work on our susceptibility to failure in portion control is awesome; he’s very accurate about our inability to be accurate with food!

  • Mimi Gregor

    The main thing I do, since bread and crackers seem to be my downfall, especially as I am cutting WAAAAY back on carbs, is don’t buy the whole grain bread and crackers to begin with!!! It’s much easier to resist temptation if one has to actually get in the car and drive to the store to get “a fix”. Also, I don’t snack anymore since we started eating three meals a day. I used to drink a smoothie for breakfast, but it was highly caloric and not very filling. Now I have a small bowl of organic yogurt with frozen blueberries and a scrambled egg. (I seem to need some protein in the morning to feel full.) Lunch is our big meal of the day, and it varies from day to day, but is always served with salad. (No bottled dressings. they’re loaded with high fructose corn syrup! Just olive oil and balsamic vinegar is just as easy and tasty.) Supper is a light meal: usually just a bowl of home-made soup or a sandwich or even a small portion of lunch leftovers. I usually make a big vat of soup every week or so and freeze it in portions so that I don’t have to resort to canned, which is loaded with stuff that is bad for you. With regular meals, I just am not hungry at odd times anymore.

    Also: people… you really don’t need soda. It’s full of empty calories, unless it’s sugar-free, in which case it contains sugar substitutes that are potentially carcinogenic. I buy sparkling mineral water or make pitchers of herbal tea to keep in the fridge to stay hydrated.

    • Penelope Schmitt

      I am so with you on the home made soup. So hard to find any canned that tastes good and is not loaded with sodium. Too salty or too bland seem to be the choices.

      • Mimi Gregor

        I used to buy cans of Progresso and thought at the time that it was good. Not earth-shatteringly so… but acceptable. But the quality of home-made soup just exceeds it by leaps and bounds. My favorite is the Soupe au Pistou from Julia Child’s cookbook. It’s basically a minestrone with pesto added, and it only takes an hour to make a big pot of it, start to finish. I can eat this soup every evening for days at a time and not get tired of it, it’s that good.

        • Lori McKee

          Progresso and Healthy Choice are my favorite soups. I do love making big pots of homemade soup as well and am always looking for new recipes. I’ll have to try this one with pesto!

        • penelope schmitt

          SUPERB SOUP! You are so right!

      • Isabel Buechner

        I love miso soup. It is easy to make a lot of it, i can freeze it and it’s always different because of the vegetables and stuff I add.

  • PolarSamovar

    I live alone. My tip is to make every time I eat a little bit of an event – nice dish, fork and napkin, computer put away. Even if I am just having a snack.

    First of all, setting that up takes a little bit of time, so if I’m not really hungry, I’m less likely to bother. Second of all, I think that bothering to make food attractive and eating eventful makes it more satisfying. After a meal, eating doesn’t usually occur to me until the next mealtime. Even though my work desk is currently in my kitchen, four steps from the refrigerator, I don’t snack much. There’s no food (except fruit) visible unless I’m actively cooking it, for one thing.

    I think that food advertisers’ efforts to teach us that every blessed moment of the day is another opportunity to put food in our mouths – while doing anything from playing sports to driving to watching TV to visiting friends to working to lolling in bed with a lover (!) – has done us a lot of harm. I admit that I read while I’m eating, unless I have company. But I don’t do anything else during either meals or snacks.

  • Randee Bulla

    The tips that have the biggest impact on me are the Strategies of Inconvenience and the Red Line. I generally plan my meals out a week or two in advance and only buy what is on that list. I plan healthy meals, so only healthy food comes into the house. I’m a moderator so never tell myself I can’t have some chocolate, anything cheese-related, or fixings to make treats, but I don’t bring those things into the house on a routine basis or in advance of making them. I know that I’ll ignore cravings most of the time because I really don’t want to drive to the store. If it’s a really big craving and it’s totally worth driving to the store, then I just do it. But it’s helped with so much mindless snacking and fleeting gotta have it moments. As for wine, I love it, but tend to find I get dehydrated and put on weight pretty quickly, even with just one glass most nights of the week. And if I have wine in the house, I most likely WILL have a glass because I enjoy it and I find it helpful in relieving stress at the end of a long workday. So I don’t keep it in the house, but allow myself to imbibe whenever I go out. With both of these strategies, I no longer work on being a “better person” or having better self control, it’s just a non-issue by handling it this way. And I am grateful I have one less thing to try to work on or improve about myself because, quite frankly, it can get exhausting trying to make great decisions all day long. And by the time 5 or 6 o’clock rolls around, all bets are off. My environment needs to make good decisions easy.

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  • I remember going to a friend’s house for Thanksgiving one year. She served dinner on her great grandmother’s china and I recall thinking that perhaps we were eating off of saucers. Oh but no, it’s just the size of our modern plates have become gargantuan. Like us. Also about food, just saw the documentary FedUp. Highly recommend it.

  • Put chocolate or candy in the freezer. If you are a moderator, you will want to have it around. But waiting for it to defrost means you won’t mindlessly eat junk food.

    If you live with a scavenger like I do (my husband will just go around snacking on anything he sees instead of cooking) Try the strategy of anticipation – and use a slowcooker. If he knows we already have dinner in the slowcooker, he is less tempted to snack before dinner, or eat mindlessly in order to avoid cooking. Dinner becomes an appointment with the slowcooker.

    • Megan

      I love this! The Strategy of Anticipation… is that one of Gretchen’s, or your own? I think I’m using that strategy right now…. in Canada, Thanksgiving is this weekend, so I’ve tried to remind myself that pie is coming soon, and I’ve been somewhat successful in avoiding treats this week, anticipating a slice or two of my Mom’s pumpkin pie. 🙂

  • Jan

    Before eating out, I check a restaurant’s on-line menu and the nutritional values if they have one. That way I can choose the healthier option and my mind is made up before entering the restaurant. Using this method fits yesterday’s Strategy of Safeguard and lessens the temptation of high fat/ high calorie foods.

  • D.

    I know a family that flat out does not allow soda in the house. Ever. If they decide to go out and grab something at the drive through, they’d better finish the soda before they step inside, because there are no exceptions.

  • Jeanne

    I’m reading this guy’s books and they are really great. Especially the parts about how we will swear up and down that we are not influenced by advertising or size of glasses or plates, and yet we are. We like to think that we’re too smart for all of that. That fools other people. But if we wise up enough to realized that we deceive ourselves and are fooled all the time, we can change our behaviors enough to make a difference in our food intake and weight. Even people who study this stuff misread what they are seeing and doing and how much they are eating. None of us is above it.

    • Veronique

      I am an advertiser’s dream. I will be sitting down watching a show, a commercial will come on for a hamburger and two seconds later I want a burger. It makes my husband laugh because almost every time, I have completely forgotten the commercial.

  • Pat

    My simple plan involves shopping the perimeter of the grocery store. Obviously, I have to go down some aisles for basics but I don’t take the cart: only what I can carry comes back with me. And a corollary: find a farmer’s market and plan meals and snacks according to what’s there.

  • Veronique

    Many North American eating habits are incompatible with healthy living.I always find whenever I am in England and Europe that meals served in restaurants are smaller, there is less junk food available in the grocery stores and generally, the food choices for quick snacks are healthier. In North America every block has a fast-food chain and every convenience or grocery store has racks of industrial sized bags of chips, cheesies and other junk. At home I don’t keep ‘snack foods’ per se. Snack food, to me is an apple, carrots, dried apricots or a small handful of almonds. I never keep chips or any kind of junk in the house instead, if I have a craving, I will buy a small bag of whatever it is and eat it. Pre-made frozen stuff, diet foods, low calorie food and fat free food never make it near my home. I think they are unhealthy besides being horrible tasting, when I eat I want to eat real food that satisfies me. My feeling is, the more jump you eat the more you want.

    • Veronique

      oops junk you eat, not jump 🙂

    • Mimi Gregor

      I’ve been reading so many books lately that concur with what you say. “Convenience” food is greatly responsible for the sad state of the health — or lack thereof — of Americans. Not to mention the obesity epidemic. People assume that just because the FDA or the USDA approves something that it means that it’s good for us — or at the very least harmless. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many of the highest positions in these departments are held by people who came from the very industries they are supposed to regulate. Conflict of interest much? As someone once said, follow the money.

  • Birgitta

    I thought the idea of keeping two cans of sugary drinks in the fridge was a bit odd – to say the least. There can be no reason whatsoever to keep sugary drinks in your home. There can be no reason whatsoever to drink them on any occasion as far as I can see, but actually keeping them at home seems against all reason. If you want to be even moderately healthy, surely sugary drinks are the first thing you should give up?

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  • These are good suggestions. Another one I have often told my clients is to prepare items that are in and of themselves a single serving. For example, have a medium sized baked potato as opposed to cooking a pot of rice. When the potato is eaten, it’s gone and there are no seconds readily available.

  • Maha Lakshmi

    Great post. I like your blog. This tips are useful to maintain healthy eating habit. Thanks for sharing.
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