Once I started cooking, I started to really appreciate my kitchen. I still do, especially since when I moved, it tripled in size! But I really started to love setting my table–even if it was just a table for one–and using a placemat, glass, and dishes. It makes the food seem more elegant, and therefore better, and makes each meal a real experience.
I really believe setting your table can improve your attitude toward food and your health. This simple act requires a few steps.
(By the way, this is how to set a table for one; even if you live with others, you probably eat many meals alone. If you can’t dine without your BFF or want to entertain guests more often, then, duh, get more of everything. But it’s still nice to have one set of dishes that is just pour toi.)
First, select your table. This means you must find a way to stop eating on the couch. If you’re pressed for space, get creative! Any flat surface will do. Use a small desk or cabinet if you have to. Build a wooden cover to go over your old-fashioned radiator, and then cover it with a tablecloth. (There are tons of instructions for this DIY project on the Internet.) If you eat at your desk, you can still make it over at lunch time. And if you have to eat on the couch every night, at least sit up, and get a gorgeous wooden tray like this guy. (It’s OK to order this TV tray online and then tell everyone you’re “having furniture delivered.”)
You’ll also need great dishes. You can find dishes everywhere, from department stores to IKEA to Goodwill to TJ Maxx. Start browsing!
You’ll definitely need a plate, a bowl, a dessert bowl, and a glass. The most important thing here is to let your personal taste shine through. If you’re only buying one of each, hell, go crazy, and get fine china. Or if you break a lot of plates (like me), go to Target. If you love special, vintagey-looking things, go on eBay or hit an antique store. Get square if that makes you happy! Get your favorite color or go with heavy all-white dishes. If you’ve never shopped for dishes, this can be really fun. I say just go balls out, especially if it’s going to be a while before you get to register for the whole pricey set. My friend just bought new dishes that are matte black and look like something from a hip Asian restaurant; this totally goes with her aesthetic, as well as the kind of food she makes. Let all your tastes be your guide.
There are some ways to maximize your dishes to help your diet goals. No matter what, your main plate should be small. Dinner plates these days are growing at about the same rate as our nation’s ass, so you are better off getting the salad plate, which usually clocks in at a respectable 8 inches. You may have noticed from my food pics, but I use 8 inch plates a lot. This helps you to cut back portion sizes and not fill your whole 14 inch plate. And conversely, when your food fills your whole plate, it feels like you’re eating more. Another idea is to get blue plates. Blue is an unappetizing color, so it can help you eat less. I love these turqoise Kate Spade plates.
Once you’ve chosen your plate, select two bowls. The first should be relatively large: this is for your side salads, meals that are saucier (like stir-fry), and oatmeal with all the fixings. It can match your plate, but it doesn’t have to. The other bowl–your “dessert bowl”–should be pretty small (like 1-1.5 cups), for things like yogurt, mashed potatoes, condiments, or ice cream.
You also need a glass. Pick whatever you like, but try to avoid plastic cups. I love goblets, even for drinking plain water or milk. It somehow makes everything seem more elegant.
Once you have your dishes, you need a placemat! (I usually have a couple placemats in rotation, because they can get dirty.) I hate eating on a table without a placemat; it just feels naked to me. This little act of cloth really ties your whole table together. You can also romance yourself and add a bud vase with a single flower.
Now, practice setting your table. This is the most important thing: set your table for every meal and snack. Doing this forces you to be more mindful of your food and really appreciate it. Even if something comes in its own container (like yogurt), use your dish. If it doesn’t need a plate (like, say, an apple), slice it up and make an artistic display of apple wedges. Even if you’re having processed food or takeout, serve it on your dishes. (Putting Doritos on Vera Wang dishes may lead to you eating less Doritos.) The first thing I do when I bring home takeout is put everything on my own dishes. I’d rather stick a spork in my eye than use plastic silverware (and telling them you don’t need it cuts down on waste). I also do it to give me a more accurate perception of the right portions–eating right out of the container kind of makes that impossible.
When setting your table, always choose the smallest dishes possible. I only use a large dinner plate if my veggies are too much for the salad plate.
If you live with others, practice setting your table for loner meals, like breakfast, or your afternoon snack. A set breakfast table is a great start to the day! Even if you’re only eating for a few minutes, it provides beauty and balance to your morning.
Being aware of what you’re eating–the flavors, the smells, the texture–can help you eat slower. And eating slower will help you realize when you’re full and should stop eating. (It can take 20 minutes to actually feel full.) Research shows that Americans tend to rely on external clues to tell them when to stop eating, like, “my plate is empty” or “this show is ending” or “I ran out of soda.” (For realz.) Going back to internal clues (“I’m not hungry”) is an important strategy to re-learn.
I’ve found that since I started setting my table, I find my meals more satisfying. And when I’m more satisfied, it’s a lot easier to walk away and be done.
Once you start cooking more, you’ll want to eat your meals at a set table. Don’t put time and energy into preparing food just to gulp it down while sitting at your computer. A little effort can go a long way and turn a basic meal into fine dining.