Buy in Bulk, Don't Eat in Bulk: Easy Tips for Portion Control

Even when you shop in the biggest stores, with the biggest portions, there are tactics you can use that will amount to a healthier eating plan

A smart article about the overeating habits of Americans hit the op-ed section of the New York Times a while back. It struck me, because I agree completely that Americans seem to struggle more than other cultures when it comes to eating more than we need. One point that was brought up in the article was the challenges associated with buying from big warehouse stores. Yes, they can be a challenge for sure — all the fabulous samples you encounter when you walk the aisles can make someone with an empty stomach go overboard. (Remember to always eat before you go.) But just because you buy in bulk doesn't mean you have to eat in bulk. In fact, buying in bulk can actually help you reach your healthy eating goals by making healthy foods more affordable. The biggest problem, as it turns out, seems to be about portion control.

A little planning, however, goes a long way, and even when you shop in the biggest stores, with the biggest portions, there are tactics you can use that will amount to a healthier eating plan. Here are seven ideas to consider:

Make Your Own Trail Mix Bags

This snack takes only minutes to put together, yet it provides a week's worth of on-the-go energy! Purchase nuts, dried fruit, and dark chocolate chips and mix together in a large bowl. Then take individual sandwich bags or small containers and measure out ¼ cup of trail mix for each portion. There you have it: pre-portioned trail mix that you can grab and go every day. Compared to an energy bar, your fabulous mix will be much cheaper and healthier too, as both nuts and dark chocolate (in small amounts) have been linked to a decreased risk of heart attack and stroke. Try pre-portioning kale chips, pretzels and popcorn, and then be sure to store the excess in the back of the pantry, not at eye level. "Out of sight, out of mind" really is true when it comes to controlling how much you eat!

Buy Foods That You Have to Work Harder to Eat

Take away mindless "autopilot" eating opportunities with foods like peanuts or pistachios in their shells, popcorn that needs to be cooked on the stove, and foods that need to be peeled or cut. For example, peeling and eating an orange will cost you approximately 80 calories and is a bigger time commitment than downing a glass of orange juice, which will cost you many more calories within a shorter amount of time.

Keep Produce In A Glass Bowl

Take advantage of large quantities of fruits and vegetables by placing them in a glass bowl on the counter. One study showed that doing something as simple as displaying fruits or vegetables helped to increase healthy snacking amongst participants.

Use Food Storage Containers to Your Benefit

When you're storing leftovers, put them in small, individual-sized containers instead of in one huge container. In fact, go a step further and pack leftovers away before you sit down to eat your meal. That way, there won't be extra food on the table to tempt you to overeat.

Use Appetizer or Salad Plates Instead of Dinner Plates

Studies show that the smaller the plate (and even the utensils), the smaller the portions consumed. Try it yourself.

Buy Pizza In Slices Only

Forgoing the entire pie, and buying your fresh or frozen pizza in slices, helps to avoid overdoing it with America's favorite food.

Stock Up on Water or Naturally Flavored Seltzer Water

Having a glass of water helps to fill you up before you even start eating. If you like a drink that’s a little more special than flat water, try adding a squeeze of lemon or lime to seltzer water. Most stores even sell devices that allow you to make your own seltzer water at home. Or keep in your refrigerator for a delicious and refreshing glass of something good for you!

By the way, I wore a pedometer to my local warehouse club last night and walked each and every aisle. At the end of my shopping trip, I had walked a mile! Think of it as just one more way to make your bulk buying experience that much more healthful.

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Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, RD, LD is a Wellness Manager at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, and oversees the nutrition component of Cleveland Clinic’s Lifestyle 180 program, which is focused on disease reversal. Read more of Kristin’s blog posts

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