Meal

Just viewing super-size meals can promote overeating

food huge
food huge

A girl sits down to a plate loaded with pizza. A boy gets a few baby carrots. Immediately, both kids’ brains start taking stock what’s in front of them. Consciously, the kids might be thinking “Yum” or “Yuck.” But their brains are also processing how much food is there — a feast, or just a nibble. And they’re cataloguing whether it contains a lot of calories per bite or just a little. Different parts of the brain are responsible for handling these two questions, a new study finds. The answers they come up with could limit the diner’s self-control.

Studies show that the more food there is on a plate, the more someone is likely to eat. Nutritionists call that the “portion size effect.” It doesn’t matter what kind of food it is. It also doesn’t matter whether the diner is young or old, male or female, alone or in a group. The bigger the portion, the bigger the appetite.

Laural English is a nutritionist at Pennsylvania State University in University Park. She knows that many eating habits that kids pick up in early childhood will still be there when they are adults. So she and her colleagues wanted to find out what happens in the brain when a child sees a large portion of food. Knowing what drives kids’ eating habits might help families create healthier lifelong habits.

Calories are a measurement of the amount of energy contained in food. English and her team also wondered if it matters whether a large serving is packed with calories (such as pizza), or less energy dense (such as carrots).

“When you’re sitting down to eat a meal, you don’t appreciate all the different impacts or cues in front of you,” notes Kathleen Keller, who helped run the study. “Size, smell, taste, the way food is presented — all have an impact on what the brain perceives and also what you eat,” she says. The new study is the first to look separately at how the brain reacts to portion size and the calories in it, she says.

What happens when the brain perceives a meal?

The research team recruited 36 children to take part. All were aged 7 to 10. Half were boys, half were girls. Nearly all had a healthy weight. To make sure that all of them were hungry, the researchers asked the kids not to eat for two hours before the study began. When kids arrived, the researchers had them climb into a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machine. It looks like a giant donut standing on its side, with a bed sticking out of the center. It uses magnets and radio waves to map the flow of blood in someone’s body.

MRI images
While in a brain scanner, children viewed images large and small portions of both high-calorie and low-calorie foods.

Each child had to lay down on the bed with his or her head inside the donut. Staying very still was important. Moving one’s head more than the thickness of a dime would ruin the scan, notes Keller. To help avoid that,…

Ask the Readers: Do You Plan Your Meals?

Meal planning is a great practice for frugal families. When you plan your meals around ingredients that are on sale or that you already have, you end up wasting less food saving more money.

Do you plan your meals? What are some of the difficulties you’ve encountered in meal planning? If you don’t meal plan, what other strategies do you use to save money on food?

Tell us if you plan your meals and we’ll enter you in…

Save Time and Money With These 15 Delicious Sheet Pan Meals

Feel like you’re constantly stuck in a dinner rut? Don’t turn into the drive-thru lane again for a quick dinner solution. Instead, use sheet pan meals to cook a delicious dinner, all in one pan.

The best part about sheet pan meals is that there are endless options. Below are 15 recipes, but feel free to tweak them to your desire. These meals are practically foolproof. (See also: 10 One Pot Meals That Will Transform Dinner)

1. Ultimate Chicken Nachos

Nachos can’t really be dinner, can they? You bet they can, and your family will love you for it. Spread an overlapping layer of chips on your metal sheet pan, then top with grated cheese, cooked chicken pieces, diced tomatoes, corn kernels, and canned pinto or black beans. You can even add sliced jalapeños if you’d like.

Bake at 400º for 10 to 15 minutes. Immediately sprinkle chopped cilantro on the finished chips. Top with your favorite wet ingredients (sour cream, guacamole, salsa, etc.) and enjoy!

2. Ratatouille

You won’t miss the meat in this dish. Use a mandolin or vegetable slicer to save time. Cut Yukon potatoes, zucchinis, yellow squash, and eggplant into small coin shapes. Next, open a can of tomato puree and add a thin layer on your sheet pan. Season with salt, then arrange the sliced vegetables in an overlapping fashion. Drizzle the vegetables with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.

Bake the ratatouille for 35 minutes in a 375º oven. Sprinkle with goat cheese and serve with crusty bread for a complete meal.

3. Lemon Garlic Salmon and Green Beans

Baking salmon on top of green beans, or a vegetable with a similar cooking time, makes for a yummy, heart-healthy meal.

Layer the green beans on a nonstick sheet pan. In a small bowl, mix ½ cup of olive oil, the juice of two lemons, a dash of salt, pepper, Parmesan cheese, and Italian seasoning. Dip the salmon fillets in the oil mixture and then lay them skin side up on the green beans.

Broil on high for eight to 10 minutes. Make sure the oven is fully hot before sticking your fish in, and check the fish at the eight-minute mark. It should flake easily with a fork.

4. Cilantro Lime Chicken Fajitas

Cut raw chicken breasts, onions, and bell peppers into strips. In a bag or bowl, mix ½ cup of oil, ¼ cup lime juice, finely chopped cilantro, and a packet of taco seasoning….