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Have It Your Way? Environmental Factors Influencing Food Choices

Submitted by Michael Murphy

Edited by Marcia Bristow MS RDN CSSD CD

Have you ever wondered why you ate that second helping of mashed potatoes? Or, why you chose to eat that extra slice of pie despite being full? The answer may be that the environment in which you selected and ate your meals may have affected what you ate and how much. By recognizing how your surroundings influence eating habits and preferences, you can adjust your environment to make healthy, more nutritious options the easy options. The following explores ways to change your environment so it is easier to make healthier choices.

Using smaller plates is one method that may help reduce food portions.  Researchers at Cornell found that using ten-inch plates, compared to twelve-inch plates, may reduce food intake by up to 22%.  The calorie reduction from using a smaller plate could result in an eighteen pound weight loss in just one year.

Another useful strategy is decluttering the dining room table at mealtime.  When dining, leave serving dishes in the kitchen and keep only plates, glasses, and utensils on the table. You are more likely to reach for seconds when food is at the table, right in front of you. Simply keeping serving dishes out of sight and reach, you can decrease the amount you and your family eat by as much as 20%.

Finally, the arrangement of items in the refrigerator may influence your food choices. Research shows you are three times more likely to reach for and eat the first food you see. By organizing your refrigerator with more nutritious options towards the front, you increase the likelihood of selecting meals and snacks that are part of a balanced diet.

Every day, you make hundreds of decisions about food and, without realizing it, your surroundings may be influencing those decisions. The good news is you can use your environment to reduce your portions and select more nutritious meals and snacks. By using some of these quick and simple tips, you can create an environment that makes selecting healthy, nutritious meals and snacks the easy choice.



  1. Wansink, B., & Van Ittersum, K. (2006). The visual illusions of food: Why plates, bowls, and spoons can bias consumption volume. The FASEB Journal20(4), A618-A618.
  2. Cornell Food & Brand Lab. (2010, April 26). New study: The kitchen-counter diet. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 1, 2017 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/04/100426182008.htm
  3. Wansink, B. (2007). Mindless eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think. Bantam.

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