As families gather around the table on Thanksgiving to share their own traditional fare, a thought may cross their minds: “We should do this more often.”
They’re right. They should cook at home more often.
But as the holidays pass and the busy routines of life arrive again, it’s easy to slip into old habits of stopping to pick up pizzas on the way home from work, or pulling into the drive-thru to have a meal delivered to their vehicle in a matter of minutes.
Convenience does come at a price, however, and if families truly analyzed their eating habits, they might not like what they see. Take out is frequently less healthy, less personal, and more expensive. Taking a closer look might finally get folks to trade the greasy paper bag and foil wrappers for a nice plate and napkin. Here are three reasons to eat a home-cooked meal:
1. Home-cooked meals are healthier
Although many fast food restaurants now put their calorie counts right next to the menu items, options are still limited for those who desire to get a filling meal without overshooting daily totals. Home cooks control exactly what is on the menu, and can substitute lower fat or lower sodium options as substitutes in their recipes.
Children are also much more likely to eat and enjoy fruits and vegetables if they help grow, prepare and cook the items themselves. Unprocessed produce is a key ingredient to fight off several ailments, including hypertension and type II diabetes, as prevalence rates continue to spike.
2. A home-cooked meal is more personal than take out or fast food
A recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics argued that eating family meals together decreases childhood obesity, especially in cases of lower income homes. When parents have a vested interest in their children and spend quality time together, children have a greater sense of self-worth.
Busy schedules are an easy excuse for avoiding family time, especially when it seems each member is in a different place at a different time. But making a conscious effort to share a meal together each day provides a much-needed routine that can be a welcome respite from an otherwise chaotic life.
3. A meal cooked at home is more economical
According to the American Diabetes Association, average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than those without. That 99 cent cheeseburger seemed like a good deal at the time, but enjoying it too often can quickly translate to expensive health complications.
Let’s not forget that although high calorie food is often cheaper than fresh food, grocery shopping allows you to shop for multiple meals at a time and ingredients can be used to prepare several different meals.
If your main excuse for not cooking at home is lack of time during the week, invest in one night and cook enough food for several meals. Leftovers might not be the most popular choice, but they are very cost-effective and arguably take less time to reheat than waiting in the drive-thru.
It may seem strange to look at Thanksgiving as an opportunity to eat healthier. The thought of homemade pumpkin and apple pies makes my mouth water just as much as the next person. And with more than 45 million turkeys that are eaten in the U.S. each year, the holiday doesn’t exactly scream moderation.
But the vices we enjoy once or twice a year are not nearly as concerning as the decisions many of us make several times per week. Avoiding the extra time and preparation of a home-cooked meal is taking the easy way out.
Thanksgiving obviously is a special occasion. Very few families can afford to spend an entire weekday in the kitchen preparing for a meal without having the entire schedule cleared.
Use the holiday as an opportunity to get into the kitchen with friends and relatives who are eager to pass along their treasured recipes and skills.
Just remember, you can and should use those skills on a regular basis. Don’t wait another 364 days before using them again.
Kathy Wright is a registered dietitian and the nutrition program director at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pa.