Why your kitchen could be hurting how you eat

Woman sneaking cake from the fridge
How your kitchen looks may also impact how you use it, experts said. Photo credit: Getty Images

By Madeline Holcombe of CNN

Throughout my day, much of what I eat isn't based on what my taste buds and body want.

I can't remember whether the milk is still good, so I'll get my morning latte on the road. I have to get to the office, so cutting up fruit for a smoothie sounds like too much work. But that's OK, because the bright packaging of an energy bar that I don't really want catches my eye, so I grab it before I run out the door.

Even if you want to eat intuitively- basing your food choices around what your body needs rather than outside influences and diet culture - it's hard to do that if your life isn't set up intuitively. 

"We eat with our eyes in a lot of ways, whether that's marketers… putting eye-catching labels on things or whether we sort of market our own kitchen in a way to always have (certain foods) right top of mind," said CNN Food contributor and meal-planning coach Casey Barber.

How you set up your kitchen makes a big difference in how you utilise it, said Katrina Green, an ADHD organising specialist based in Sacramento, California.

If you want it be easy to eat what you want and need rather than just what is easiest to grab, and so you don't have to buy expensive containers or label makers - you need to invest a little time and organisation, said Natalie Mokari, a dietitian based in Charlotte, North Carolina.

How it looks impacts how you eat 

It isn't necessary to buy all the beautiful matching jars for your pantry and refrigerator, but it may be helpful to think about what you see when you go to grab food.

Bags of food, for example, can easily create a jumble of clutter for items such as baby carrots, green beans or rice that makes them hard to find, Barber said.

"I have a vendetta against plastic bags that have the resealable tops," she said. "Even if you're going to (keep food in a bag), maybe corral them in something like a shoebox type that's an open container where you could at least stack them like files if you really love your bags - because you don't want them falling off on you every single time you open up a drawer or a cabinet."

What about pasta and crackers and other foods that come in boxes? Is it better to put those in clear containers? That depends on your needs, Green said. You might want to see clearly what food you have. 

"I specifically like working with neurodivergent people," she said, and "a lot of the times the comment that I hear (from them) is out of sight out of mind."

For some people, it may be more helpful to look at a shelf of clear jars and see exactly what is available without all the noise of packaging, she added.

"Some people need the sort of peace and quiet of a streamlined neutral system," Barber said. But for others, seeing the label may make the connection of what meal that food can make in their brain, she added.

"Jars can be helpful if that makes you more likely to reach for it, but don't do it if opening something or putting it into something else makes you less likely to use it," Green said. 

First thing you see may be the first you eat

What you see first often impacts what you are likely to reach for first, Green said.

"I really try to put those things that I know I'm going to be turning to again and again on the shelves that are most accessible for me," Barber said.

Green likes to think about what goes at eye level in the pantry and fridge and what can be put in harder-to-reach spaces. 

The food items she may be drawn to but don't satisfy her go on the top shelf, while the things that make up meals she loves and wants to eat go where she can see them immediately, she said.

And just because the drawers in the fridge are marked for fruits and vegetables doesn't mean that's where they need to go, Mokari said.

Often the drawers are where good produce goes to die after being forgotten, so she likes to keep her produce on a shelf and use the drawers for things that she won't forget about or don't go bad quickly, like drinks and snacks, she said.

What you make available also makes a difference. 

Mokari has a three-tier fruit bowl, and although it does house fruit, it also has things like single-serving packages of nuts or granola bars that she and her family can grab when hungry without having to look too far to get a snack.

"When you're setting it up, think about, 'what are your goals with cooking? what are your go-to's?' Make sure that those look their best and most prominently as you can make them for your kitchen space," Barber said.

Prepare ahead of time

A little prep time also goes a long way, Mokari said. 

It may be worth it to take a little extra time to wash and cut your produce or portion out which ingredients are going to go with which meal over the week so that you aren't starting from scratch every time you go to eat, she said.

It can also help to designate space in your pantry and refrigerator for a bin of what should be used throughout the week - whether that is for the meal plan or because its expiration is approaching, Green said.

Consider organisation tools

Although it isn't necessary to spend your whole paycheck on organisation tools, it may be worth it to invest in the attractive container for fruits and vegetables if it makes you more likely to take it right from the fridge to the kitchen table, Barber said. 

"There are specific cases where I feel like having the splurge for your berry container … if that's going to be the thing that really gets you to have those berries, if you're going to eat more fruit because you have that then by all means, use your food dollars in that way," she said.

Finally, as you are prepping your meals, it's important to think about more than just what you want to include for your health goals, Mokari said.

"I think the most important thing is like that balance of nutrients staying power throughout the day and also something that you like," she said. "Even if you have it out and it's something that you don't like, then you're not going to eat it."

For me, it has made all the difference to have my blender out and fruit portioned into individual containers for the day so I can have a smoothie that both nourishes and excites me. 

And yes, I do seem to eat more fruits and vegetables when they are stored in pretty bowls waiting to be set out on my counter as a ready snack.