Perfect portions that satisfy
I just returned from skiing in Switzerland over my son’s school holiday. Well, more accurately, skiing was a handy way to spend time between meals. I’ve visited over 15 times and keenly anticipate each delicious food and drink experience. This trip was again stellar including the breakfast birchermuesli, on-piste bratwurst and tartiflette and every vin chaud and caffè crema in between.
And again, I noticed how portion sizes were smaller than at home. Even the generous alpine servings were less than the portion-distortion in US restaurants (portion sizes have more than doubled over the last 20 years).
I never noticed the amount ‘missing’ off my plate and was always satisfied. While not a surprise, I decided to investigate the Swiss mindset that supports this ‘less is enough’ approach to portions.
Three insights about why perfect portions are valued above quantity
Local food is prioritized and has value
Portion size is often related to value and America’s “bigger is better” mindset is different from Europe where space is at a premium. Here, local identity is more important than size. “The Swiss appreciate fresh local and regional food. Even villages have identities and the story of the food is front and center,” shared Nicolas Godinot, a researcher and Curator of the Alimentarium, the world’s first (and coolest) food museum. “Small can be beautiful. Local products have value beyond size.”
Selina Herzog, dietician and marketer at Nestlé, confirmed that research shows buying local in Switzerland is the #1 value in food choice. Their MAGGI soup and Hirz yogurt brands both sell canton (region) specific varieties using local farmers. “There is tremendous local pride. Every town has “the best” recipe,” she told me over a smallish, but perfectly sized coffee.
I heard this “local is valuable” theme repeatedly. “All our food is local,” said a slender waitress where we enjoyed a raclette dinner. “The food we eat (as staff) is different from the menu but is all fresh and local. I never tire of it, especially the cheese.”
Food is prepared to be eaten with all the senses
The variety of tastes, smells, and the beauty of food gives sensory pleasure to which the Swiss are attentive. “We can be satisfied with not much because it looks good! Our food is nicely prepared, we look and then start to eat,” stated Godinot.
There is considerable research backing this up. Paying attention to the sensory aspects of food while eating correlates to smaller portions and even weight loss.
With the Matterhorn in the distance, we ate one alpine lunch at 12,739 feet – so high I got lightheaded in the cafeteria queue and had to sit down to breathe. Given the extreme journey ingredients take to this tiny high altitude restaurant, I thought the food may be underwhelming. Instead, the lady who made our rarebit (an open-faced grilled ham and cheese sandwich) took extreme care to cut the fresh bread a perfect toothsome thickness, grill the cheese a crave-worthy color, add the egg on top like an Instagram pro and precisely place pickled onions and cornichon. Our perfect portions cried out to be visually devoured and fully enjoyed. “It must look good if it is to be good,” she shared.
They differentiate between fullness and satisfaction
There is an important distinction here between relieving hunger (satiation) and fulfilling desire (satisfaction). In the States, we use “satisfaction” to mean both. But perhaps parsing the difference is key to perfect portions. How often has your stomach been stuffed but somehow you aren’t satisfied and continue to seek more?
Godinot highlighted this, “To satisfy is different from the relief of hunger, rather it is to enjoy the taste, flavor, and experience of food. Less does not have to be less satisfying. We can be satisfied with smaller portions when we take a moment for ourselves, eat slower, enjoy food together with friends. Take more sensory pleasure.”
And embracing pleasure means all food can fit.
“The Swiss greatly value taste,” Herzog shared. “Research shows they won’t cut out what they like but will do with smaller amounts.” Then she observed that the new smaller-size desserts at Nestlé headquarters seem to be a hit.
Locally produced and mindfully eaten, of course.