Past perfect … there's a lot to be said for the simpler meals – and smaller portions – of the post-war years. Photo: Getty Images
Have your grandparents told you tales about the times when the family sat down to enjoy three square meals a day, at the dining table, most days of the week? Do you remember when afternoon tea meant a biscuit and a glass of milk rather than the myriad of packaged snacks we see nowadays? Or when the word "snack" meant a piece of fruit rather than a highly processed, energy-dense mini meal purchased at a cafe or convenience store?
Nutritionally, those were the good old days when it came to food and our health. Sure, the milk may have been full cream and butter was used in everything, but overall we still ate less, and because most of our meals were prepared at home we consumed far less processed food and weighed less as a result. Here are some ways in which we can re-adopt some of the food habits of our past and potentially reap the health benefits that go with them.
Cut the snacking
If we contented ourselves with grabbing a small snack when we were hungry - say a piece of fruit or a slice of cheese that equated to about 420 kilojoules (100 calories) - there would be no issue with enjoying a snack or two each day. But these days a snack is much more likely to translate into a thick slice of banana bread or a muffin, while a coffee is often very large and many flavoured drinks are packed full of sugar. These can equate to as many as 1500-2000 kilojoules, the equivalent of an extra meal. While eating small, regular meals is of benefit to our metabolic rate, regular large meals are not, which is where the "eat regularly" message has become a little misconstrued. Try focusing on three nutritionally balanced meals a day, designed to keep you full for four to five hours. Not only will your energy intake be more controlled, but so too will your natural hunger and fullness mechanisms.
Sit down at the table to eat
Behavioural research has repeatedly shown that we not only eat more slowly and consume fewer kilojoules when we sit at the table to eat, but also that families do important socialising over meals. So, even if you can only manage to sit down to enjoy a meal together as a family once each week, start to make that family commitment.
Meat and three veg
The wide variety of cuisines we have access to in Australia is a fabulous thing, but it's also led to a rise in the popularity of energy-dense meals. Pasta-, rice- and noodle-based dishes, and the sauces and sides that accompany them, have done their bit to push up our kilojoule intake. Keep your dinner light, with plain grilled meat and vegetables at least three or four nights each week, to help control your intake of fuel-rich foods.
Cook only what you need
Cheaper food means we are much more likely to cook more than we actually need - and then, of course, we are much more likely to eat it. Stay aware of portion sizes and work towards only cooking what you need for each meal. If you do cook extra, it should be to pop in the freezer for future meals, or for lunch the next day. Not only does this approach save money, it keeps portion sizes on track.
Embrace home-prepared foods
Whether it is a roast dinner, a stir-fry or some baking at home, there are few things as soulful as preparing home-cooked food. Not only are we much more likely to use natural, fresh ingredients, but the act of preparing food for ourselves and our loved ones is one of the most satisfying acts human beings engage in, and as such deserves to be embraced. Remember, it is not a single serve of a roast dinner, home-made cake or dessert that causes long-term weight and health issues. Rather, it is the over-consumption of highly processed, non-satiating foods on a day-to-day basis.