Well-Being//

How to Design Your Environment to Make Healthy Food Choices Easier

From storing produce at eye level to keeping fruit bowls around the office, these small tweaks will help you reach for the nutritious option, every time.

Shutterstock
Shutterstock

The physical space around us can impact the way we work and live, including the daily choices we make. And when it comes to making nutritious choices that bring us closer to our health goals, the environment around us is crucial. Think about it: If you were sitting in a team meeting with donuts on the table, you’d likely reach for a donut. But if that same meeting offered fresh fruit or vegetables, you’d inevitably make a healthier choice

We asked our Thrive community how they’ve designed their own environments to make nutritious food choices easier. Which of these will you try to encourage healthier decisions?

Stash unhealthy options on the top shelf

“We do our food shopping on a Saturday afternoon, so this is the only time during the week that less healthy snacks are allowed into our home. Any unhealthy snacks that aren’t eaten on a Saturday are stored in an opaque box on the top shelf of a cupboard. If it’s out of sight, it’s also usually out of mind. If I have to go out of my way to retrieve it, I’ll usually just give it a pass.”

—Musa Francis, health and lifestyle coach, Oxfordshire, UK

Keep fruit bowls around the office

“I work in a small office in Los Angeles, and it is definitely one of those cities where it’s very easy to find healthy options. But when it comes to office snacks, it’s also important to have healthy choices available. We do have donuts and croissants every now and then, but we make a habit of having fruit around the office to grab on the go. You might be tempted to grab a bag of chips if you have the option, but it’s just smarter to never have those around.”

—Martin Sevillano, architect, Los Angeles, CA

Store jars of chopped vegetables in the fridge

“I often work from home, so to stay out of my pantry, I fill up two colanders at the beginning of each week with hearty vegetables like celery, radishes, and carrots on the bottom and bell peppers and cucumbers on top. I keep one colander in the fridge on a higher shelf and one lower at my kids’ eye level so they can reach for something healthy when they get home from school. Using pretty containers helps me keep the right choices in front of me.”  

—Tara Bethell, HR and wellness consultant, Phoenix, AZ

Pack nutritious options

“For me, it’s about preparation and mindset. There are always unhealthy food choices within reach, but I never leave home without healthy options. I pack foods like low-fat cheese, whole wheat pitas, almonds, crackers, and sliced fruit. Once you create the habit, it easily becomes part of your daily routine.”

—Cindy Zarnett, senior human resources professional, Vaughan, Ontario, Canada

Arrange ingredients by color

“My mom always told me to eat the rainbow, and that eating more colorful fruits and vegetables ensures you are getting a wide variety of vitamins and nutrients. Each week at the grocery store, I spread out my produce in my cart in rainbow order. I make sure I have several choices of each color. Often, I select something I’ve never tried before just because it’s a certain color. I have found many new fruits and vegetables to add to my repertoire this way. I take them home and spread them across my refrigerator also in rainbow order so I can easily pack colorful lunches to take to work.”

—Barclay G., health care lobbyist, Miami, FL

Keep healthy foods at eye level

“As I work from home, it would be easy to just graze all day, so I make sure to prepare my lunch in the morning while I’m preparing my kids’ school lunch. I keep it on the kitchen counter in plain view so I always have a nutritious meal ready to grab and eat between client sessions. I also make sure to stock up on satiating, nutrient-dense foods such as carrot sticks and hummus, boiled eggs, bone broth, and cans of sardines. These are stored at eye level. Anything that isn’t so healthy is stored either really high, really low, or right at the back of the cupboard.”

—Musa Francis, health and lifestyle coach, Oxfordshire, UK

Designate different “nutrient shelves”

“One of the small pleasures of my life is having a really organized, visually-appealing fridge. There’s something so satisfying to me when I open the door and am greeted with neatly laid out food choices. My love for an organized fridge eventually taught me how to make sure I was eating all the nutrients I need. After my meal prep is complete, I designate each shelf of my fridge to be a ‘nutrient shelf.’ The top shelf is reserved for all my healthy carbs, like brown rice, fruit, and roasted potatoes. The middle shelf holds all things green, like zucchini, spinach, and broccoli. And the bottom shelf is for protein — eggs, batch-cooked chicken, and beef.”

—Chelsea Brinegar, nutritionist, Portland, OR 

Set the table the night before

“I always recommend to my clients to set the table the night before. It is just a nice feeling when you get inside the kitchen and the table is already set, and it invites you to sit down and take your time, instead of just gulping something down while getting ready. It takes you a few minutes the night before, but those few minutes are precious and can make all the difference.”

—Isabel Galiano, cancer and health coach, Singapore

Embrace one-pan meals

“As a vegetarian who has certain food intolerances, I do all I can to support myself by making it easy to adhere to a healthy eating system. It comes down to three things: fasting for 14-16 hours each day, advance planning, and cooking one-pan meals. When it comes to cooking, I throw fresh veggies and some protein — quinoa, tempeh, or eggs — in a non-stick frying pan. I add some premade spices or flavors like pesto or marinara sauce, or even soup. I go for natural and organic ingredients whenever possible and, if I’ve got enough ingredients, I’ll make a double dose of the meal and freeze it for a later time. It’s taken a while to figure out what works for me, and now I’m so happy I’ve unlocked this system to keep me on track and feeling great.”

—Liza Horan, editor, Edinburgh, Scotland, UK

Place healthy ingredients in the fridge doors

“Since embracing clean eating, I’ve needed to make some significant changes to my lifestyle and my relationship with food. My avocados, boiled eggs, kale, and spinach are no longer tucked away in a drawer in the fridge. They are now in the center row when I open the doors of the fridge. Having these in plain sight is a reminder that my health is so much more important than the bag of chips and cookies that once held these spaces.”

—Carrie McEachran, executive director, Sarnia, ON

Simplify what you keep in the kitchen

“I’ve found that the more inviting my kitchen is, the more often I choose foods that make me feel good while I’m in it. I regularly clean out my fridge and try to simplify what’s in there, always keeping fresh produce in glass bowls, ready to eat with any other ingredients for meals. I keep just what I need for the next few days before my next trip to the market, knowing I have healthy backups in the freezer if something comes up. Buying simple keeps me focused on what to eat while keeping my options fresh and appealing.”

—Karla Kueber, health and wellness, Chicago, IL

Buy your groceries online

“I use a grocery delivery service, which helps limit any impulse buys or unhealthy temptations. If something unhealthy makes its way into the home, I will place it away on high shelves – out of sight, out of mind. 

—Alisha C. Taylor, engineering program manager and life coach, Greenville, SC

Make a crockpot recipe to store for the week

“I save the indulgences for special occasions, like gatherings with friends and family. The other 80 percent of the time, I focus on keeping salty and sweet snacks out of the house, and preparing some grab-and-go meals that are usually high in protein and fiber. I prepare simple things, like a crockpot full of shredded chicken that I can use in lots of different meals each week. That’s what fills my fridge!”

—Dawn Bryant, business owner and marketing consultant, Minneapolis, MN

Do you have a go-to tip that helps you design your space to encourage healthy choices? Share it with us in the comments!

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