Is Your Kitchen Design Making You Fat?

What's wrong with this kitchen? Let me count the ways. (Photo: Wolfe).

In Small fridges make good cities and healthier people, I made the case that if you don’t have a lot of room in your fridge, you will go out and shop daily and get what’s fresh; you don't have a lot of room for frozen stuff and bulk purchases.

But there are other design issues in the kitchen that might be affecting our health and our weight besides the size or design of the fridge. In Canada’s Globe and Mail, Ellen Himelfarb asks Is your sleek new kitchen making you fat? Here’s what to do. She doesn’t miss the tiny kitchen of her youth and likes the big, wide-open kitchens cum eating areas cum den and lounge that are the trend today. However, the open kitchen has its problems. According to Dr. Brian Wansink of Cornell University and author of "Slim by Design," great rooms aren’t so great. He tells Ellen:

“The first thing I suggest if you’re giving your kitchen a makeover – make it less loungeable. Recent research shows that one of the biggest determinants of low BMI in children is sitting at a table with the TV off.”

Earlier, Wansink told Starre Vartan that you should hide the yummies and put healthy snacks on the counter — that what you see matters. “Wansink’s research has found that we eat what we see. People who have soda sitting out in their homes weigh on average 25 pounds more than people who don’t, and those who have fruit sitting on the counter weigh 8 pounds less.” Those are big numbers.
The microwave shouldn’t be too convenient either; it is so easy to pop prepared food into it. In fact it might make sense to get rid of the microwave altogether.

Lloyd Alter's dining room
The Alter family dining room looking its best. Craig Williams

Wansink likes old-fashioned design features like kitchen pantries (and so do I) and prefers them far away, to limit grazing. He also likes separate dining rooms; Again, so do I. In an interview, I told Himelfarb:

“Nobody eats in the dining room any more,” he rails. “I’ve had a lifelong war against the breakfast area [or eat-in kitchen]. I think it creates a real problem for health. I have a separate dining room and it means sitting down to eat is a conscious decision. The family has meals together, no grazing.”

It’s harder to graze when you are in a separate room, and as Starre noted in her post, when you dish out the food and don’t have serving dishes on the dining room table. “Those who ate with serving dishes on the table ate almost 30 percent more at a meal (it’s right there, so easy!) Make getting seconds more difficult — at least having to stand up and cross the room to get them.”
There are other points to consider when designing a healthy kitchen. According to indoor climate expert Robert Bean, the exhaust hood over the range should be designed and sized properly, and should not be over an island. For the counters, "health strategist" and chef Marni Wasserman suggests easy-to-clean Ceasarstone (crushed quartz in resin, like Dupont’s Zodiaq) and says you should stay away from granite (so do I).

She advocates for a clean, white, uncluttered look with stainless-steel appliances and open shelving. It’s simple, she says. “If your kitchen is inspiring, you’re going to want to cook healthy meals in it.”

A place for everything in 1917's modern house. Aymar Embury II

The kitchen evolved the way it did because women went to work and kitchen help got too expensive. A hundred years ago every middle-class house had a pantry, a door to the side for milk deliveries, and a servant’s stair. Now everyone wants to be together in one big room. (Or at least the parents want it that way.) It makes sense for families that don’t see each other all day, that mom shouldn’t be trapped alone in the kitchen doing dinner. But it’s not without its costs and side-effects. Food for thought!