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Benefits of Healthy Home Cooked Meals

by Kay Easton
CulinaryEd Columnist
May 10, 2013

"The most important and the most powerful tool you have to change your health … is your fork," according to Mark Hyman, MD (huffingtonpost.com). Preparing healthy home-cooked meals rather than dining out can bring about a whole bread-basket-full of benefits, including improving health and longevity and increasing family social community.

Healthy home cooked means can improve health and longevity

The global cancer rate is projected to increase to 15 million new cases every year by 2020, up 50 percent from 2000. The World Health Organization tags unhealthy diets and inadequate exercise as major contributors (who.int). A mostly plant-based diet can help prevent cancer as well as other chronic diseases, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which suggests three tips for eating healthy (choosemyplate.gov):

  1. Focus on foods you need: Vegetables and fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products and lean protein foods are more nutritious and generally lower in calories than other options.
  2. Eat fewer empty calories: Empty calories are those from solid fats and/or added sugars: i.e. cakes, cookies, pastries and donuts; sodas, energy drinks, sports drinks and fruit drinks; cheese; pizza; ice cream; sausages, hot dogs and bacon.
  3. Decrease portion sizes: Make a practice of cooking "no leftovers" meals. This doesn't mean finishing all of the food on the table, but instead cooking smaller portions.

Wake up call: Nightmares or dreams?

The recommended daily average calorie intake for an adult is 2,000 calories with 56 to 78 grams of fat (preferably from "good" sources such as nuts, avocados and olive oil) and approximately 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of salt depending on health and age (cnpp.usda.gov).

  • 1,631 calories, 81.6 grams of fat and 2,212 mg of salt in a fast food meal with a Whopper with cheese, medium fries and a medium vanilla shake
  • 571 calories, 6.6 grams of fat and 933 mg of salt in a home cooked meal with half a roasted chicken breast, medium baked potato, ½ cup of peas, 1 cup of 1% milk and 1 cup of unsweetened applesauce

Do the math and think about whether you want fast food nightmares or home cooked dream meals (caloriecount.about.com).

Easy home cooked meals can increase social community

"Teens who regularly have meals with their families are less likely to get into fights, think about suicide, smoke, drink, and use drugs," according to Child Trends' original analysis of data from the National Survey of Children's Health (childtrendsdatabank.org).

Involving the entire family in selecting recipes, food shopping and preparation as well as sitting down together for dinner looks like a tradition worth starting.

Where change begins

  • Start small and cook one more meal at home each week.
  • Work up to preparing healthy home cooked meals on a regular basis.
  • Drag out your old crock pot.
  • Don't just watch cooking shows on TV; take a cooking class. When Chicago-based Kendall College offered a Groupon deal for its recreational cooking classes; buyers bought 2,993 cooking classes in less than a day (northwestern.edu).
  • The American Institute for Cancer Research offers a series of brochures with helpful information about preparing easy home cooked meals that are nutritious, as well as other topics related to health and cooking at home.
  • Cook with your favorite foods or try a new ingredient each week. Use all fresh food or rely on frozen vegetables, chicken or fish for convenience.

It doesn't have to be difficult to cook healthy (preventcancer.aicr.org). And if you think the cost of eating at home seems higher than eating out, consider how you calculate "cost" in terms of health.

Sources:

  1. "Calorie Counter," About, Inc., http://caloriecount.about.com/
  2. "Cook more often at home," USDA, http://www.choosemyplate.gov/weight-management-calories/weight-management/better-choices/cook-home.html
  3. "Educational Brochures," American Institute for Cancer Research, http://preventcancer.aicr.org/site/PageServer?pagename=aicr_publications_brochures
  4. "Family Meals," Child Trends, http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/?q=node/197
  5. "Frequent cooking will help you live longer," Cambridge University Press, Jo Rennie, May 15, 2012, http://blog.journals.cambridge.org/2012/05/frequent-cooking-will-help-you-live-longer/
  6. "Global cancer rates could increase by 50% to 15 million by 2020," WHO, April 3, 2003, http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2003/pr27/en/
  7. "Home Cooking Increases Longevity, Cambridge Study Shows," Huffington Post, May 18, 2012, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/18/cooking-longevity_n_1518466.html
  8. "How Eating at Home Can Save Your Life," Huffington Post, Dr. Mark Hyman, January 9, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-mark-hyman/family-dinner-how_b_806114.html
  9. "Michael Pollan: Home Cooking Will Solve America's Obesity Epidemic," Yahoo Finance, Aaron Task, April 25, 2012, http://finance.yahoo.com/blogs/daily-ticker/michael-pollan-home-cooking-solve-america-obesity-epidemic-174714334.html
  10. "Rise in home cooking, once recession-driven, now the hip thing to do," Northwestern University, Emily Co, March 18, 2010, http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=162396


About the Author

Kay Easton graduated from the State University of New York with a BA in English Literature. As a freelance and technical writer with more than 20 years experience, she writes articles for the Internet on a variety of topics.
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