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What, When and How to Eat

What meal do you think this is?

When did eating become so complicated? I get that question a lot. I never did the digging to find outexactly when the shift went from the seemingly ease-free eating of once upon a time, to the stressful version most of us face on a daily basis today. I can assure you it likely wasn’t “ease-free”. When was the last time you HAD to grow, catch or kill your meal? Yet, times did seem simpler.

There were no commercials about food, no food “industry”, no marketing or food science. It was just food. It changed with the seasons and what we could get is what we ate. I’m all for choice, but nowadays, our natural instincts about food have been replaced, no hijacked, by media, marketing and years and years of bad habits being formed. And now, it’s become our food culture.

The reason I’m thinking about this now is because I recently embarked on an experiment at home. We changed our meal times.

We moved our dinner to lunch and typical lunch to dinner. What this means is that at lunch, which now takes place around 2:30-3:00pm, we have a full, hot meal; what we would have eaten for dinner. For dinner, around 6:00pm, we eat much lighter fare such as; soup and a salad or a small sandwich or just crudite with hummus and a bowl of miso soup or bone broth.

We immediately felt better and slept better, but what astonished me was how reluctant I had been to make the change. So conditioned am I that dinner is when we eat our big meal, that dinner time is our social time, that I was ignoring all the signs my toddler was giving me that she didn’t want to eat that way. I stressed when dinner approached. She wasn’t hungry or she just chose not to eat, but either way it was turning into a struggle, and as a food professional and mother, I know that’s not how I want meal times, food, family, and nourishment to be interpreted.

So we changed things around and that small change has brought about even bigger change. Of course it did.

Stress disappeared from meal times because now she eats EVERYTHING (for now), without the begging and pleading that was sadly becoming routine. We (the adults) eat less at each sitting in general. We wake up refreshed and ready for breakfast but not famished. We have fewer cravings for sweets, another conditioning that dessert comes after dinner. And digestion is in tip-top form. Need I mention how much happier everyone is?

It’s made me think about the whats, whens and hows of eating. Another example is what we eat and when. I’m really talking about breakfast here, but while we were home this summer I noticed again how certain foods don’t cross the borders of time. Breakfast was always the same, sweet stuff or eggs. Lunch was quick; a sandwich, a slice (of pizza), a compact salad, but all on the go. Dinner was the big meal, the fun, social, family, yummy meal that everyone had been waiting for. Even my 5 year old niece asked why my daughter was eating “dinner for lunch” once. (The conditioning starts early and she’s exactly who all those commercials are targeting.)

We occasionally eat “dinner for breakfast”, particularly if it’s the traditional “calentao” of Colombia, which is last night’s rice and beans with eggs and tintos or cafes con leche. We get other “savories” in here and there but typically it’s some form of muesli (my favorite recipe coming soon) and plain yogurt or steel-cut oats soaked and then cooked in milk or coconut milk or sourdough pancakes (another favorite). I am aiming to get breakfast to look more like lunch and dinner, just because there’s no reason for it not to be. The only reason I haven’t is that I have been conditioned, again, to believe that breakfast is a time for sweets or at least sweeter fare. (I love this recent article from the NYTimes.)

There are a ton of sources out there delineating the whats about food. Too many, in fact, because now we have to sift through loads of information and misinformation and other people’s oft extreme beliefs about food. (Is it ok to eat grain or isn’t it? What’s up with dairy?) But the whens and the hows (as in alone in front of the T.V. or in company of friends, family, or colleagues as you share a break for nourishment, etc.) go largely untouched. It’s a much more personal food issue but it’s no less important to your relationship with food and to your wellness.

There are also fewer answers. It’s so personal that only YOU can decide what works best for you. Answering the when-to-eat question is all about how you feel at each time in the day after you eat. It means really honing in and listening deeply and jumping into that next phase; the one where you get to break-down the social constructs of your mind and make up your own mind about what works for YOUR body and for YOUR family. It’s just another way of claiming responsibility and taking your health and wellness back into your hands and out of the hands of the food industry. You don’t have to grow, catch or kill your next meal, but it will bring you closer to that “simpler time”.

If you do embark on experiments of your own, I’d love to hear all about them, whether you’re facing the what, when or how challenge!

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Nathalie Curabba

Health-Supportive Chef

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Created by Ana Gavassa. Edible Rainbow Project ©2017