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  • Gary Sheahan

Portion (And Self!) Control

OK – so now your favourite or even just regular Food Service outlets are closed; are you eating more or less in a week than you did pre-Covid?

Well, it seems that depends. But indications are we may just be eating more.

Where data is available it seems overall food consumption is up in the EU, particularly Dairy. The basic equation of taking the rise in retail sales of food less the drop caused by the dramatic fall off in the Food Service channel gives a small increase in overall consumption.

So why are we eating more at home? Well, the folks in white coats who understand this stuff tell us that it centres around our parasympathetic nervous system getting messages from our very sensitive neurotransmitters. These guys let us know if we are in a good or bad place, figuratively speaking, and when we are based in our home and hopefully relaxed within that environment, our “calm and easy” hormones kick in, which then start cell regeneration and in turn, our active digestion kicks-in. (I think we used to call this being a couch-potato). So, if you are home, happy and calm you now have a physiological excuse for putting the pounds on.

The other, slightly simpler, matter is portion control. When we no longer have the experts supervising our portions – it seems we can get a bit carried away! When we prepare meals at home – especially something for the first time – our portion control is heavily influenced by two key factors; choosing not to use a formal recipe (mainly a male issue – we just won’t read the manuals or ask for directions will we boys) and more seriously, the serving equipment we use.

There is clear evidence the size of glasses, plates and even spoons significantly affect the errors we make in constructing and eating dishes. In one comprehensive study people using a large bowl ate 77% more pasta than those using a standard bowl. A group of nutritional experts, who really should have known better, served themselves 31% more ice-cream at a buffet offering when given the larger bowl and 14.5% more when issued larger spoons – into the same size bowls. In all cases the majority of subjects felt equally full having eaten from a smaller dish as a larger one. Lesson: Manage your equipment – manage the portion size.

Which plate has more food?

Portion control is a complex issue. The economics in a Food Service business range from “critical” to “somewhat important”. For us, the consumers, portion control ranks lowest on the negative feedback scale when eating out of home. It ranks 6th after Taste, Temperature, Time, Cost and Service. Why? Because most outlets have learned how to get it just right. They needed to. The alternative could be way too costly. In both operating expenses and customer satisfaction ratings.

As for our at-home efforts with portion control, the consequences of getting it wrong aren’t quite as impactful. But why generate any more waste than we have to – or add another inch to the waistline or pennies to the food bill?

When your favourite outlet next re-opens, take a moment to notice the portions you get served – the skilled front-line women and men in our Food Service industry tend to get this right – and it’s worth noticing how – in case we go into lock down version 5 any time soon!

Gary Sheahan is the European manager for Mera – a specialist provider of high-end dairy ingredients to the Food Service channels.


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