Did you know cooking at home is one of the best ways to promote health in your family? While we all enjoy eating out occasionally, there are some compelling reasons why making meals in our kitchens is one of the best things we can do for our health. And yes, you’ll save lots of money 💰 too!
We also get that cooking at home regularly isn’t always easy. We often hear from people who say they find cooking dinner and preparing meals stressful, not fun, and even their least favorite activity of the day. Although we can’t make someone love cooking if they truly don’t, we gently suggest that it might be the lack of planning that’s the real issue, not the actual cooking. The mental load of figuring out dinner is undoubtedly stressful when you don’t have a plan. Scrambling at the last minute to get healthy meals on the table is not fun for anyone. If you’re not planning your meals, that’s problem #1 to solve. If you need help with this, start here.
And this is not just The Dinner Daily talking. Extensive research conducted by prominent health and research institutions supports this idea. Their message is clear: cooking at home significantly improves our overall health, longevity, and the well-being of our children. Some of the stats that have come out of this research is very compelling.
One note regarding the benefits listed below: when we discuss cooking at home, we are referring to preparing meals using healthy whole ingredients, such as lean proteins, whole grains, vegetables, fruits, etc. While putting a frozen pizza in the oven may be considered ‘technically’ cooking at home, that type of cooking is not the focus of the health benefits discussed below. 😉”
Six Reasons for Cooking at Home More Often:
1. You Control What You Eat 🍽️:
What you put into your body has real power…to keep your body healthy and optimize your health, or to make you feel less than great. After years of running The Dinner Daily and being immersed in the power of food for health, I prefer to have most of our meals come from my kitchen.
When you cook at home, you gain full control over the ingredients that go into your meals. Unlike dining out, where you might not know the quality of ingredients, how they are cooked, and what other additives were used, cooking at home allows you to select fresh and wholesome ingredients. According to a study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, homemade meals tend to have fewer calories, less saturated fat, and lower sodium content compared to restaurant meals
Also, if organic or specific dietary preferences are important, you can ensure your meals align with your needs. Plus, you decide how to prepare your food when you’re the cook. You can use healthier cooking methods, limit oils, fats, salt, and sugar, and season your dishes with your preferred spices.
I recently experienced this while dining at a local health-focused restaurant that promotes its menu as wholesome and packed with clean ingredients. I ordered a salad that seemed to be loaded with healthy ingredients (no crunchy bits, bacon, etc.); when I reviewed the nutritional values (after I had eaten the entire meal), I was shocked. That one salad contained a staggering 1100 mg of sodium! This is a significant amount of sodium for a single meal, especially considering that we are advised to limit our daily sodium intake to 2300 mg, or ideally 1500 mg. 😲 It was truly eye-opening! When you cook at home, you gain control over your eating and nutrition.
2. 🏋️♀️ Helps with Weight Management:
When you cook meals at home, you have a greater say in portion sizes and ingredients, leading to better control over calorie intake. This control can result in maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI), lower body fat percentage, and a reduced risk of conditions like diabetes. Our research at The Dinner Daily found that individuals who plan and cook their meals at home consume an average of 200 fewer calories daily. Over a week or month, that adds up!
Research conducted by the National Institute of Health (NIH) highlights the positive impact of cooking at home on weight management.
“Overall, a higher frequency of consuming home-cooked meals was associated with markers of improved cardio-metabolic health, including lower risk cholesterol ratio, normal range BMI, lower percentage body fat, and lower risk of diabetes”.
Restaurant meals, even ones that sound healthy, can have an unhealthy high number of calories, sugar, fat, and sodium. If you cooked a similar meal at home, you would most likely end up with fewer calories on your plate.
The study also indicated that the best outcomes were observed for those who ate at home five or more times a week. That leaves two meals you can eat out. That seems doable, right?
3. 🍬 Less Sugar Intake:
We’ve all seen the headlines about our excessive sugar consumption. And this isn’t just about sugar from the obvious sources like cookies, cake, ice cream, or sugar-laden coffee drinks. We all indulge in sweet treats now and then, and that’s perfectly fine. Personally, I can never resist a slice of key lime pie!
Hidden sugars in restaurant meals and processed foods can often go unnoticed. Sauces, dressings, and even savory dishes may contain added sugars to enhance flavor. When you dine out frequently, you may be unknowingly consuming excessive sugar. The consequences of excessive sugar consumption are well-documented, including weight gain, increased risk of chronic diseases, and dental issues.
According to the American Heart Association, the average American consumes over 60 pounds of sugar annually- that’s a lot of sugar!!
By cooking at home, you gain greater control over sugar levels in your meals. You can choose healthier alternatives and reduce the use of hidden sugars, promoting better health and balanced nutrition.
4. 🥦 More Veggies:
We all know that having more veggies is a good thing. They provide essential nutrients, fiber, and antioxidants that support overall well-being. We also just feel better when we load our bodies up with fresh fruits and veggies regularly.
However, when we eat out frequently, we might not get enough healthy veggies. Restaurant meals often come with fewer vegetable options or, in some cases, unhealthy and tempting side options (yes, we are looking at you French Fries!). Of course, it depends on the restaurant, but when we cook at home, we can ensure we get enough.
In addition to the quantity of veggies we consume, cooking at home also means we are more likely to eat a variety of veggies more consistently. You will also be unlikely to use as much butter, oil, or salt as a restaurant meal. All good reasons to make your kitchen table the best restaurant in town!
5. 🍽️ Smaller Portions:
Eating out more often means eating more food than if we were preparing meals at home. Some restaurants are known to offer large portion sizes to keep their customers happy and coming back. They want their customers to feel like they got their money’s worth, and that often means portion sizes that are too large. And if it is in front of you on your plate, you are more likely to eat more than you need.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), portion control is crucial in managing calorie intake, ultimately contributing to healthier weight management. Cooking at home empowers you to control portion sizes, reducing the risk of eating too much food.
6. 🧒 Sets a Healthy Example for Kids:
I love this reason. When you consistently cook at home, your children witness the importance of healthy eating as a regular part of daily life. They observe you shopping for nutritious foods and preparing meals from scratch. This hands-on experience sets a strong foundation for them to develop healthy eating habits that can last a lifetime.
Beyond the immediate benefits of healthier nutrition, children growing up in households that eat more home-cooked meals tend to experience lower rates of depression, engage in less substance abuse, and perform better academically. That’s pretty powerful stuff.
Of course, there are numerous other benefits of cooking at home beyond the health benefits:
I am always curious when people tell me they go to restaurants to save time. I wonder if they are factoring in all the time it takes in the lead-up to the actual meal: driving to the restaurant, waiting to be seated, ordering and waiting for food to come to the table, eating, paying, then driving back home…how is that saving time? So many amazing 30-minute and healthy recipes at The Dinner Daily (and cookbooks and online resources) can be made in your kitchen, in your pj’s if you wish! You can try some of them for free HERE.
No doubt about it, cooking at home will save you a ton of money. Considering that food is the next biggest budget item for most families after rent or mortgage, what you spend on food is worth paying attention to. We have many posts on this throughout the blog, so if you need some motivation and tips, you could start HERE
Promotes Family Closeness:
If you make cooking at home a regular part of your week and get everyone involved, you also make time for special family connections. When you take the time to cook together (turn off the tv and put on some music), you are creating an easy way to hear about each other’s day. What is going on at school, a funny or challenging thing that happened at work, something someone is struggling with…you will be amazed at what you hear when you create the time to make sharing easy. And those small moments of connection really add up.
Incorporating more home-cooked meals into your daily life benefits your health and well-being in many ways. If you struggle to make cooking at home a regular part of your life, we encourage you to keep trying. Use a meal planning tool to help keep you consistent (of course, we would recommend The Dinner Daily) but the key is to find one that works for you.
Lastly, be patient with yourself. Setting up new routines is hard and can take time, but the rewards of better health and feeling great are so worth it!