Research says that eating out of a bowl helps us enjoy our food and make healthier choices—but does it work IRL?
Food eaten out of bowls just tastes better. Or so says new research that looks at the effect that different dishes and cutlery have on our perceptions of food.
How we feel about what we eat may have just as much to do with what's outside of the food as what's in it. Previous research has found that color can enhance flavor (red) or make us eat less (blue), plate size can dictate how satisfied we feel after a meal (smaller plates make food feel bigger), and that utensils can make us eat more (spoons) or less (forks). This psychology may explain one of this year's biggest foodie trends: bowl food.
Bowls certainly aren't a new food trend, but recently people have been going out of their way to put foods that don't normally go in bowls into bowls. Take, for instance, the huge popularity of smoothie bowls, which are exactly that: a smoothie you pour into a bowl instead of a cup. Just look at Instagram: There are breakfast bowls, broth bowls, burrito bowls, and, well, anything goes bowls. And all those #foodporn pics aren't just to inspire culinary FOMO; Instagramming food actually makes it taste better, according to a new study published in the Journal of Consumer Marketing. Not only did scientists find that study participants who photographed a red velvet cupcake before eating it perceived it to be tastier than the study participants who simply ate the cupcake, but they also found then when a consumer knows people are eating healthy foods (i.e. posting about it on Instagram), taking a picture of their own healthy food makes it taste even better.
So does food legitimately taste better from a bowl? I decided to find out for myself. I figure I'm uniquely qualified for this experiment for two reasons: I've never been one of those people who cares if my food touches and I have really cute bowls (they're shaped like art deco flowers!). So for one full week, I ate eaten every single meal and snack—even the liquid ones—out of a bowl. (Here's the Anatomy of a Perfect Bowl.)
To make the experiment fair (well, as fair as an uncontrolled experiment with exactly one subject can be), I didn't change my diet at all. This meant I ate sandwiches and chicken legs out of bowls, just like I did salad and soup. I even drank water out of a bowl—which earned me some very strange looks from my cat and dog.
I won't lie: At first it was weird. And it was weird to me that it felt weird because honestly I've always kind of been a bowl person. I'm lazy and so throwing a bunch of leftover stuff into a bowl and eating it appealed to me long before the bowl craze took off. It's basically how I made it through college. (Confession: My bowl food never looks remotely cute, much less Instagram-worthy. It looks like a pile of crap. You do not want to see pics. Trust me.) However, eating every meal from a bowl? That was strange.
Right away, I noticed that it made me very conscious of what and how much I was eating. I wouldn't say the food tasted any different, but just making that one little change made me very mindful of my food. And being mindful of what we eat is so important for both physical and mental health. (Want to Lose Weight? Be More Mindful.) Plus, my cute bowls always make me smile, so every night felt like dinner with a side of happy.
In addition to making me think more about my food, the bowls also affected how much of it I ate. Beause the average bowl holds a lot less food than the average plate, I ended up eating a little less at every meal. And, strangely, I didn't feel at all deprived. So I can see how this might work as a little diet hack. (Check out this handy Infographic of Serving Sizes for Your Favorite Healthy Foods.)
It also helped that the food that traditionally goes in bowls, like salads and soups, is often healthy fare that is nutritionally dense and calorically light. I went on a major vegetable barley soup kick and remembered how much I love soup. (Note to self: Make more soup, it's totally worth the mess.) However, I found a way to eat unhealthy food out of bowls as well, and discovered that birthday cake out of a bowl is every bit as tasty as birthday cake on a plate (or snuck bite-by-bite out of the pan).
By the end of the week, the novelty had definitely worn off. Bowls had become the norm, and so I'd gone back to most of my normal eating habits (like, oh, not paying attention to what I'm eating). So while I did see some obvious benefits, the effect seemed short-lived. And, honestly, the food really didn't seem to taste better to me—in some cases, it even tasted a little worse. (Egg sandwiches in bowls? So wrong.) I'm sorry, I wanted it to work that way too. Maybe it was because I was aware of the experiment and so immune to its effects?
Either way, I'm not mad I tried it. And I'd definitely do it again—the next time I run out of clean plates. (I also have ridiculously cute plates!)