Food Choices Rules and Reasons

— Written By Lethia Lee and last updated by Cindy Nance

People take into consideration many aspects of their lives when creating the rules and reasons for making food choices. These different rules and reasons, or personal food systems, fall under several categories:

Ideals – these are the desires, expectations or wishes that people have for the way that meals or foods should be.

Food Enjoyment – this includes the flavor, color, texture, and eye appeal of foods. Most people say they will not eat things that do not taste good.

Cost – this can mean the income people have to spend on food OR how a person perceives the value of the food they buy compared to its price. For example, even wealthy people may not be willing to buy certain foods at a price they think is too expensive for what they are getting. And, people with limited incomes may be willing to spend quite a bit for the food that they think is “worth it.”

Health – this involves the nutritional value people think foods have or how digestible certain foods are to them. Health can also involve food allergies.

Quality – tends to have a very individual meaning. It relates to the expectations that a person has for how an individual food or dish should be and may be linked to taste, freshness, amounts of ingredients, or other factors.

Convenience – this can also mean different things to different people. For employed people and students, convenience may mean time or energy involved in cooking. For older or disabled persons, convenience may relate to the effort it takes to open a can or lift a heavy pot, or the difficulty they have in getting to the store.

Space and Equipment – these rules are linked to the amount of space and equipment there is for cooking or food storage (e.g. having a freezer or not, having baking pans or not, having a table to sit down and eat).

Safety – these rules include how people think about the risk associated with eating.

Family Relationships – most people eat with other people and many prepare food for other people. So cooking or eating usually involves some consideration of others -their preferences, schedules or feelings. Family relationships and other household issues are often raised at meal times. Much parenting also occurs in food settings.

So how do you decide what to eat? Think about how these Food Choices Rules and Reasons influence the amount of positive behavior change you have?

Information adapted from Food Choice: A Life Course Perspective

For more information contact Lethia Lee, EFNEP Assistant with the North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service at 910-592-7161.