There was a time in history when meals were a scheduled, structured event. That’s been long blown out of the water — today, meals are at all hours, come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and might be at the kitchen table, in the living room or in the car. We grab them on the go, take them at restaurants, microwave them. And of course, cook them at home.

Eating for many today — regardless of what it is, when, how or where — means anything but inflexible.

But, that’s no excuse, really, for poor eating habits — or for neglecting to treat eating as any less of an experience. The days of heavily processed convenience foods and stiff, bland TV dinners are long gone. For the home, there are hundreds of ready-to-serve, fresh meal and food options, along with a broader category of minimally processed frozen products. On the go, there is the new era of fast casual restaurants, and more fast food and traditional eateries are offering ultra fresh, healthy options.

Everyone has a busy schedule and hectic day-to-day — doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur, executive, stay-at-home mom or student. With all the options and tactics available to make your food and meals special, there’s simply no reason not to. It’s not just good for your body and health — but good for you everywhere else.

In fact, infusing a little style and sophistication to even the most simple of things you eat every day can make things easier, more efficient and even a bit relaxing.

Know Your Go-To Food Favorites

We may love a large variety of foods, but everybody gravitates towards their favorites. Make it a point to keep these types of items in your home, handbag, wherever you are, on a regular, ongoing basis. By knowing what you reach for the most, and keeping it at reach, you eliminate having a pantry or fridge full of things you don’t have the time or interest to make.

The same applies for your eating on the go — if you catch meals and snacks out, take a mental note of your favorite sources.

You can always work in the one-off items you sometimes crave, or like to eat as you want to. But having your favorites locked down and readily available will make your eating experience easier and more efficient.

If your go-to foods and meals aren’t healthy, take some time to think through either what you can replace it with, or what you can substitute. For example, rather than fried chips when you want something crunchy, bake your own using flour or corn tortillas — whatever tortillas you don’t bake up can be used for other meals and snacks.

Don’t forget all the new meal delivery services! They can be an excellent (and simple!) alternative.

Invest In And Create An Eating Experience At Home

The food you eat is a major part of your culinary experience, but so are other elements. What’s around the food you eat plays as much of a factor — and it’s easy to elevate to give you a more decadent experience.

The plates, flatware, glassware and other tools involved send your brain visual cues, and if they’re a little unique or special, all the better. We all purchase these items for the home with our personal style or decor taste in mind. But if you haven’t, or your selection could use a refresh, consider doing so. Not only will it serve the purpose of feeding you, it can make your meal and snacks feel more like a treat — with very little effort on your behalf.

Housewares today run the full range of personal taste, style and budget — different shapes, colors, sizes, finishes, prints, metals. You name it. Even if you snap up a chic coffee mug or a giant goblet for water, coffee, tea, etc. it can add an element to your experience while eating or snacking.

Think about how great it feels to sit down at a holiday table, or a beautiful restaurant. You don’t have to go quite that big at home — but drawing from that same methodology and mindset can make a bigger difference to your experience than you might imagine.

Shop And Prep Strategically

Separate of your food go-to favorites, you can benefit greatly from incorporating a little shopping and food prep strategy into the picture.

Rather than cooking by single recipe, focus on individual ingredients and what you can cook or create from them each week. Build your recipes and meal ideas from there. For example, if one meal you want to make is pasta with red sauce, pick up either ready-made or ready-bake pizza crust and some cheese as well. Make the pasta earlier in the week, the pizza later, and so on.

Meal planning doesn’t have to be a lot of work — think it out while making your grocery list. Once you return home from shopping, do all of the meal prep you need immediately after. The hour or two it takes will save you far more time the rest of the week when life is really hectic.

If you’re buying fresh for a week’s worth of meals or longer, freeze half of the items you’ve purchased using freezer bags or containers while you prep. It’ll help keep items from spoiling, fresh frozen is always a bit better than frozen, and when you need to cook, all you’ve got to do is take items out of the freezer.

Get Creative

Restaurants make ordinary food and meals seem extraordinary simply by getting a little creative. Or, they utilize unique ingredients. Either works to help create a culinary experience without a lot of effort.

Tap your go-to food favorites, but then work them in new and unusual ways — rely on spices, herbs, and other additions. For example, if you love salads with a little chicken or other protein, consider adding sliced fruit to the mix. Dried parsley is delicious on eggs at breakfast.

More groceries than ever have unusual items available — skip regular pasta for black bean, or use quinoa instead of potatoes. Explore the strange produce that you’re not familiar with. You’ve got a smart phone with you most of the time — if you’re not sure how to use something, you can search it right in the store on your phone before you buy it.

Don’t forget to consider getting a little creative with your food as you serve it. Even if you’re the only one at the table! Slice pizza or toast a little differently, cut veggies and fruits in thin slices, or on an angle. It’s really no extra work to make little steps like this — but it can make your meals and snacks look and feel a little more fantastic.

See this month’s edition of Condiment Magazine for more foodie tips, favorites and ideas here

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