To make the most of your meals now and in the new year, choose carefully when and where you eat.

November 19, 2008
Randy Mayor

Maintaining a healthful diet is one of your best defenses for staying healthy.

But the holidays are busy, and regular eating and exercise schedules are often thrown off by the demands of shopping, entertaining, and socializing. That added stress plus disrupted routines may create obstacles to good nutrition.

According to a ­recent report from the USDA’s Economic Research Service, the longer people go between meals and the more food they eat away from home, the more calories they consume. And more of those calories are likely to come from saturated fats, sugar, and alcohol.

People the study followed munched through an estimated 107 more calories per meal when eating restaurant meals compared to meals prepared at home. Skipping meals also set them up for eating more. Stretching from four hours between meals to five added about 52 calories for individuals on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. Waiting six hours between meals added about 91 additional calories to the daily tally.

Just being aware of this can help people make better choices, say the report’s authors, Lisa Mancino and Jean Kinsey. From a public health perspective, they say, it may be as simple as “encouraging consumers to take more active control in limiting the interval between meals and choosing nutrient-dense snacks, such as fruits and vegetables.”

We can help with that. Our new 20/20 Superfast series offers speedy, every-night meals, while recipes like Quick Black Bean Soup are make-ahead options for a lunch on the go. The more you cook for yourself, the more you control what and when you eat, which will help you maintain your commitment to smart eating.