The Importance of Home Cooking

People nowadays are spending less and less time cooking at home.  This is connected with a decrease in the nutritional value of one’s meals week to week.  Not only are home cooked meals healthier for you and your family, but they are also easier on your budget.

A snapshot of my semi-stocked pantry.

Home cooking is a win-win, as the Director of University of Washington’s Center for Public Health Nutrition states, “by cooking more often at home, you have a better diet at no significant cost increase, while if you go out more, you have a less healthy diet at a higher cost” (University of Washington, 2017), yet less of our meals are cooked at home.  

Dining out adds novelty and excitement to eating.  A lot of people may think that their skill at cooking is limited to only a few dishes which, repeated week after week, do not seem so appealing.  Dining out gives you the option to eat cuisines and dishes that are unfamiliar and exotic.

Skill, therefore, prevents a lot of us from cooking at home.  Many recipes are overwhelming and contain so many ingredients to wrap your head around.  Not to mention the difficulty in finding some of those ingredients and, once purchased, finding other uses for them.

Time presents another hurdle to home cooking.  One 2013 study found that on average, Americans are only willing to spend about an hour a day on cooking (Smith, Ng, Popkin, 2013).  After dedicating a large portion of your day to work and getting a workout in, the last thing you want to do is spend an additional hour or two “working” in the kitchen.  Not to mention the cleanup.  Having to do the dishes after cooking a meal is the worst!

Skill and time may keep a lot of us out of the kitchen, but the benefits of becoming a confident home cook outweigh the challenges.  

When you cook something yourself, you can add anything to it you want and cater it to your exact tastes.  The more you cook a particular dish, the more it becomes your own as you are able to add your twist to it, making small changes each time.  Once you become confident cooking for yourself, you can start sharing your food with others. For me, there is nothing more rewarding than sharing food with someone and having them be as excited about it as I am.

Cooking at home is easier on your wallet and your waistline.  Consider the average cost of a meal at a restaurant. A 4-6 ounce hamburger with a handful of fries or a side salad will usually come out to around $12.  Yet a pound (16 ounces) of ground beef at the store is around $4.99, that could make two burgers (at least). Plus a $2 pack of eight buns, various toppings (that get more than one use out of them).  Add a potato or two for $1 and you’re looking at less than $12 to feed the whole family.

The health benefits can be seen as twofold.  Without even trying, home-cooked meals are associated with diets lower in calories, sugar and fat (University of Washington, 2017).  Foods that are eaten at restaurants often contain a lot of “hidden” calories for the sake of increasing flavor. For example, there is probably butter on the bun, mayonnaise sauce and the burger itself could be cooked in a pan with vegetable oil.  All of these unnecessary additions skyrocket the fat content.

Additionally, cooking at home gives you the opportunity to completely tailor your meals to your dieting goals.  If you have ever attempted to track your macros and calories using an app such as MyFitnessPal, you already know how hard it is to estimate the calories in a restaurant meal.  When cooking at home, you know EXACTLY what you are putting into your food, and what you are putting into your body.

In the kitchen, I challenge myself to make great tasting food without unnecessary “cheat” ingredients such as extra oil or sugar.  This usually requires a little creative problem solving but the benefits are well worth it.

There is also another benefit that a lot of people do not consider.  Once you become comfortable in the kitchen (and maybe find someone to clean up for you…) cooking can also be very therapeutic.  For me, after working in stressful restaurant kitchens for years, I didn’t think I would be able to find cooking relaxing. Yet you can really lose yourself in your cooking once you become passionate about it.  Besides, how many other tasks yield immediate benefits. After 20 to 30 minutes in the kitchen, you have a tangible, delicious meal in front of you.

So how do you start?  If you have never cooked before, I would suggest starting small.  Buy a pack of chicken breast and a few dry spices. To use them as a marinade, simply mix with a little salt.  Basil and oregano for a classic Italian combo, paprika and cumin for latin flare or ginger and a soy sauce for an Asian touch.  Let the flavors set in the fridge for a couple of hours or overnight.  Dry spices add little to no calories and offer near infinite combinations so they are a great way to start.  

For vegetables, the oven and grill are your best friends.  Start with asparagus, as this requires the least amount of preparation.  Break off the lighter green ends and toss in a little fat-free cooking spray or olive oil, salt and pepper and throw on the grill until charred and tender.  Don’t have a grill? No problem!  Simply utilize your ovens “broil” setting.  This can be done with pretty much any vegetable, and whenever I prepare vegetables this way for a crowd, everyone wants to know what the secret is.  Sometimes keeping it simple brings out the best flavor!

Another good thing to master is the art of making rice.  It may sound simple, but you’d be surprised at how many professional cooks I have trained who can’t make a good pot of rice, so if you can get this down it is no small feat!  The trick is rinsing the rice a few times to remove the excess starch. You can do this over a fine mesh sieve or simply fill the pot with water, swirl it around and then carefully pour the water off.  Follow the water to rice ratio on the package as it can vary by style.  I would suggest making at least 2-3 cups and saving the leftovers for later!

To help you all on your cooking journeys, I hope to continue sharing and promoting healthy recipes with the goal of demystifying specific recipes and cooking in general.  The best advice I can give is to put care into whatever you make. You can cook a two-ingredient recipe with care and it will taste better than anything else.  Fitness and food are intricately linked, and gaining the ability to cook the meals your body needs for quality fuel will help you reach your goals faster than any other factor.  

For our easy to follow healthy recipes, click here!

For links to references, click here!

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