Looks can be deceiving.
The appearance of food is not always a good indicator of its actual portion and content. That's why food awareness is so important -- it allows people to make informed and healthful choices when it comes to their meals. Food awareness can be hard to build, however, and misunderstandings about the contents of a package are often a partial cause of calorie overconsumption.
That can stop today.
Help your clients build food awareness with these three hands-on activities...
Activity #1 Dissect It!
Just as taking apart parts of a car to get to the root of a problem can help mechanics, taking apart a packaged meal can help a people get to the root of what they are about to eat. Take a food item, then take it apart -- down to each individual piece -- before reassembling it in the shape of MyPlate. This will allow clients to evaluate whether or not the meal is balanced. They will also see how the portions of each food product relate to each other. Let's take a look at an example...
Here's a hoagie -- sliced in half and put on a plate. Many people consider this a healthful, balanced meal, but how does it measure up to MyPlate's guidelines? What are the portions really like? Let's find out by taking it apart.
Whew! This photo is pretty darn illuminating. Look at the huge portions of bread and meat! And does the plate look like it's half-filled with fruits and vegetables? No! That poor little lettuce leaf is hanging on for dear life at the edge of the plate, with no reinforcements to be found.
Does that hoagie look like a healthful and balanced lunch now?
Here is a triple burger:
Activity #2: Plate It!
One of the elements that helped reveal the hoagie as an imbalanced meal was putting it on a plate, rather than eating it straight out of the wrapper. Putting foods on a plate helps give a sense of scale while removing distractions like wrapping and packaging. Changing the environment in which food is presented can cut away many of the frills that interfere with food awareness. That's why putting all foods on a plate is a generally good idea. Plus, it forces people to slow down and really look at the food, instead of eating it mindlessly out of hand.
Everything is better with examples, so let's do another one...
Here's a scone that you'd find in just about any typical coffee shop. It doesn't look very big in the display case. In fact, it is often dwarfed by towering cinnamon rolls and chunks of coffee cake, but when you put a scone on a salad plate, its true size is revealed. Look at that thing! It's hanging off the edges of the plate! Is that huge portion a healthful choice for a breakfast side? Absolutely not! Build awareness by putting a questionable food on a plate, both for scale and a change of presentation.
You can do the same with a mall pretzel:
Or a chocolate bar:
Or an over-sized bag of fries:
Activity #3: Show What's In It!
Sometimes foods are darn good at hiding their true contents. Take soda, for example. Most people who have had a cola drink wouldn't necessarily expect it to contain almost 10 teaspoons of sugar. It just doesn't taste like it's that over-sweetened. A frozen dinner like pizza or pot pie, both shown above, are more great examples of hidden content. Neither one tastes nearly as salty as it truly is -- a glance at the Nutrition Facts often reveals a truly staggering level of sodium.
One way to help people understand what's in their food is to make a visual representation of a featured ingredient outside of the food itself. For example, you might pour a single serving of a sugary soda into a glass, then fill another with the same amount of sugar as can be found inside a serving of the soda. You can do the same with salt and frozen foods. Pastries, chocolate, and pickles, all shown below, look very different when the sugar, fat and sodium are measured and placed next to them.
What other strategies are you using to help your clients build food awareness? Tweet us your suggestions @foodhealth or write them on our Facebook wall.
You can also peruse these great products that we've developed to further improve food awareness...
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.