You’d think healthy eating would be its own reward, but even at this time of year, when so many of us are resolving to do more of it, we still totally fail. But if you’re looking to make healthy meals taste better (and maybe keep that New Years resolution a few weeks longer), psychologists believe they’ve come up with a simple trick to help: make the food yourself.
A study recently published in the journal Health Psychology looked at 120 women who were asked to taste milkshakes. Participants drank either a healthier, low-calorie raspberry milkshake or a not-so-healthy high-calorie chocolate milkshake, which they either prepared for themselves or had someone else make for them. Despite knowing everything that went into the milkshakes regardless of who made them, researchers found that the women enjoyed the healthier milkshake when they made it themselves. Making the unhealthy chocolate milkshake themselves, meanwhile, had no effect on how they thought it tasted.
This result “suggests that self-preparation increases the health salience of foods, because when people prepare foods, they become more aware of the ingredients that constitute a food,” wrote the study’s authors. But there’s another factor as well. “People like self-made objects more than objects that were created by someone else because they have put more effort in these self-made objects,” the authors also state. “In addition, these efforts feel rewarding, because self-created products also signal competence to the self and others.”
The researchers think these findings might be put to practical use by adding more “build-your-own” sandwich or salad bars in offices and schools. Though there’s another important takeaway they’re not mentioning: Unhealthy food doesn’t taste any better when you make it yourself – meaning your habit of ordering in has just been totally justified.