There are two types of eaters in this world: Those who use cooking as their art, and those who wish their dinner would just magically appear on their doorstep. For those of you in the latter camp, meet Nicole Centeno of Splendid Spoon, a meal delivery service that provides ready-to-eat, nutrient-dense and plant-based goodness that we promise your dinner plate will thank you for. But there’s more to dinner than just how it gets to you, and Centeno taught us that having a healthy relationship with your plate isn’t just about what you eat. Nope, it’s also about how you think about what you eat. Mind, Blown. Read on as Centeno breaks down her top seven tips for creating a more well-rounded and healthy relationship with food.
1. Stop labeling food
One of the biggest mistakes we make with food is labeling it as “good” or “bad.” This can be really dangerous because if we think we’re eating too much of the “bad” stuff, we start to punish ourselves. At Splendid Spoon we try to talk about food in a functional way, connecting it to a deeper purpose by asking thoughtful questions. Questions like: What’s the best food to help me through a busy day? Or what’s the best meal to share with my family? Keeping the bigger picture and purpose in mind of not only what you are eating but why you are eating it will allow you to accept a more diverse way of interacting with your food.
2. Create a food uniform
We all have one thing in common: We are all very, very busy and we put a ton of pressure on ourselves to constantly be productive. We know that we should be eating more fruits and veggies, mostly whole foods, but it’s hard to think clearly and make great choices when life just keeps racing on. Creating a simple, healthy meal ritual that you can go back to every week is incredibly helpful. What I do is pick the busiest part of my week (which is typically breakfast and lunch during the work week) and I have a uniform plan that I consistently follow. By making the majority of my meals clean and healthy it gives me one less decision to make during my peak busy hours and gives me more space to enjoy spontaneous, pleasure-focused meals during the leisurely moments.
3. Establish a grounding food ritual when stressed
Food is a necessary and wonderful nourishing force, but it also seriously affects our body chemistry. Simple sugars stimulate endorphins, while caffeine inhibits sleep receptors and stimulates the adrenal gland. In other words? Everything we eat has an effect not just on how we function, but on how we feel. Because of this, stress has a profound impact on our relationship with food. If you can ground yourself when stressed, instead of trying to power through it with more activity, or reaching for a sweet treat, you won’t just improve your relationship with food, you’ll create a really powerful tool to move you through life’s most stressful moments. My favorite grounding rituals are to focus on my breath for 60 seconds, simply bringing attention to my breath whenever my mind gets distracted. I also like to use a physical reminder to help me feel grounded. For example, I will touch a piece of jewelry or put my hand to my heart and take three deep breaths repeating to myself “calm body, calm mind.”
4. Eat with friends
When you think back to your favorite meals they’re probably filled with memories of the people you were with or the places you were enjoying them. Humans are social creatures and we love sharing food together. Eating with friends or family, instead of rushing through a meal to get to the next thing on the to-do list, helps build a strong foundation for a healthy relationship with food. Plus, studies have shown that we have better portion control when we share meals with others!
5. Go for the long-game
It’s common to get really caught up in the small details of eating (i.e., How many calories is this? Is there enough protein? What about calcium?). Instead of getting caught up in the minutiae, try taking a step back. Evaluate how your eating looks over the course of a week or, better yet a whole month, and then fine tune if necessary. One of the best ways to do this is to keep a food journal. You’ll be able to identify the macro patterns that are really affecting your health. For example, having a heavy late-night snack four times a week is going to have a much bigger impact on your well-being in the long run (versus agonizing over which smoothie to buy when you’re late dropping the kids at school).
6. Determine your non-negotiables
We are all different, with variations in our activity levels, genetics and personal preferences, which means it’s important to identify what works for you. For example, maybe you are in a higher risk pregnancy and you absolutely have to eat lower sugar to prevent gestational diabetes. Or maybe you love a hard workout first thing in the morning and it’s really important that you eat a big breakfast around 11:00 a.m. Or (as is the case for me) you have a major obsession with chocolate and it just feels really good to have at least one square per day. We all have a few non-negotiables, but sometimes in the process of changing our eating routines, we feel like these things are at odds with our goals. Acknowledge and accept your non-negotiables so you can include them as part of your relationship with food.
7. Look at ingredients instead of nutrients
If you are eating a variety of mostly whole fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes and grass-fed meat and local seafood, then you are most likely getting everything you need from a nutrition standpoint. Focus on ingredients (the vehicles that provide nutrients) instead of nutrients (the components that are metabolically useful) in order to make healthier choices. And if all else fails, bananas, apples, seeds and nuts are all great single-ingredient staples to help you in a pinch! Way better than any packaged snacks claiming to be healthy or low-fat.
Nicole Centeno is the founder and CEO of Splendid Spoon, a holistic wellness brand delivering ready-to-eat, plant-based meals nationwide. Prior to creating Splendid Spoon, Nicole studied diet therapies as treatment for illness, trained at the French Culinary Institute, and managed a New York City catering business. She has taught cooking and nutrition courses at Columbia University and is the author of Soup Cleanse Cookbook (Rodale, August 2016). Nicole lives in Brooklyn, NY, with her two sons, Grover and Caleb.