The time has come. You have been putting healthy cooking off for long enough, citing time, hassle, and general disinterest, but here are 10 reasons why you (yes, you!) should be cooking.

1. Your family will be healthier with healthy cooking

Julia A. Wolfson, MPP, a CLF-Lerner Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future had this to say about healthy cooking at home:

“When people cook most of their meals at home, they consume fewer carbohydrates, less sugar and less fat than those who cook less or not at all — even if they are not trying to lose weight.”

These findings come from a study that found that people who cook at home not only eat healthier at home but also consume fewer calories when they eat out. Even though a healthy diet isn’t all about calorie consumption, this study definitely lends credence to the idea that a lower calorie diet can help maintain good health.

2. You can protect your kids (and yourself!) from obesity

Jerica M. Berge, PhD, MPH, LMFT, CFLE, and colleagues from the University of Minnesota and Columbia University recently published the results of their most recent study on obesity in The Journal of Pediatrics. This study found that families that frequently ate meals together were less likely to have overweight family members. Adolescents were also less likely to be overweight as they moved into adulthood. Family meals cooked at home tend to include more whole grains and fresh vegetables and have lower calorie counts and less fat. Even a couple meals per week had a protective effect across race and income.

As Dr. Berge said, “Informing parents that even having 1 or 2 family meals per week may protect their child from overweight or obesity in young adulthood would be important.”

3. Healthy cooking is a great money-saver

When you eat out frequently or rely on prepackaged food at home, your food bills can skyrocket. The price of preparing a dinner of roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and fresh green beans for four costs about $20 to prepare at home, but at a restaurant you would probably spend at least double that. Vegetarians can save even more money, and careful planners can stock a monthly freezer full of meals for around $200. When you add all of the health benefits to this simple financial health benefit, it’s a no-brainer.

4. No more mystery ingredients

Want to know exactly what’s in your food and how to pronounce all of the ingredients? Cooking for yourself is the way to go. Nothing ruins healthy eating faster than a handful of unwanted chemicals and artificial ingredients, yet we continually put these things in our bodies when we rely on other people to make our food. Basic bread requires only four ingredients (yeast, flour, water, salt), but a cursory glance at a loaf of store-bought bread listed no fewer than 25 ingredients.

5. Healthy cooking for yourself makes managing a pain or other health condition easier

Chronic pain and other health conditions are hard enough without the added stress of wondering whether or not the ingredients in prepared foods will trigger a painful episode. When you cook for yourself, not only can you eliminate inflammation-causing ingredients, but you can also incorporate natural anti-inflammatory foods and those high in antioxidants for pain management.

6. You can trust what’s in the food you make

Recent analyses of restaurants that have low-calorie meal options found that calorie counts for some of the foods may be off by as much as 100 calories. If you tend to eat your meals out, this can really add up.

The study from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging (USDA HNRCA) at Tufts University and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) looked at 269 samples randomly collected from both fast-food and sit-down chain restaurants.

Senior author Susan B. Roberts, PhD, director of the Energy Metabolism Laboratory at the USDA HNRCA found that “On average, the food items measured ten calories higher than the restaurants’ stated calories.” She notes that this is “essentially accurate” but went on to say that, “…19% of food items contained at least 100 calories more than listed, which suggests calories for individual foods can be unreliable. One item contained 1000 calories more than listed.” When you cook at home, you know how many calories you are putting into what you make and can predict how much is in each serving.

7. You gain independence for yourself and your family

When you rely on another person to supply your food for you either because you don’t know how to cook or just choose not to, you are giving up a large part of your independence. This may not seem like much, but what happens in the event of a natural disaster (e.g., snowstorm, flood) that closes the restaurants you rely on? Would you be able to feed your family? Learning to cook a few simple meals (and teaching your children to do so as well) is a valuable survival skill that will serve you (and them) well.

8. Healthy cooking is fun and a good creative outlet

One of the reasons that people don’t learn to cook is that they feel intimidated by cooking shows that throw cooking terms around like beach balls. What’s a chiffonade, and what’s the difference between a braise and a stew? While these are good questions, ultimately, healthy cooking should be less about building a vocabulary and more about learning what foods taste good together. Every beginning cook has kitchen failures, but the point is not perfection but fun and creativity. Soups are a great place to start for this because you can add only what you like and taste and season as you go. If you can manage to make cooking fun and approach it as a creative outlet, you may be more likely to cook for yourself.

9. It’s a good family bonding experience

Kids love to cook, and they love to eat what they cook. Beyond this simple fact is something deeper and more valuable, especially for families with adolescents. Cooking together can be an excellent time to catch up with your kids. You can even be sneaky about it if you have an adolescent who would rather die than talk about anything personal. Somewhere between chopping the carrots and mixing the vinaigrette you may find them letting a few personal facts about school and their friends slip into the conversation. This is an excellent time to enjoy their company and let them talk. Letting them plan the menu is an even better way to get them to open up as they boss you around in the kitchen.

10. Cooking for yourself saves time

You may think that swinging through the drive-thru is a timesaver, but in truth it is not. If you can utilize meal planning tools and cook several meals in advance, your time investment for cooking at home may be less than it takes to decide on a drive-thru, drive across town, wait in line, order food, and pay. A fajita kit freezer meal that you make in advance takes five minutes to throw together for dinner and is healthier and fresher than anything you could order in a drive-thru.

So enough with the excuses; it’s time for healthy cooking. What will you be making tonight?

Image by Marjan Lazarevski via Flickr


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