The Health and Social Benefits of Home-Cooked Meals

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Celine Spino enjoys cooking and eating out a lot. However, the mother of two and accountant from New Jersey determined a few years ago that she was doing a bit too much of the latter. Many evenings, eating out was the easier option due to lack of time and preparation, but eating out meant she had less control over her family’s nutrition. Celine started organizing meals in advance in order to guarantee that homemade food would be served virtually every night. Celine reports that cooking at home has greatly improved her physical and mental health, proving that her decision was well worth it.

She is not alone. For many reasons, increasing the amount of home-cooked meals you eat each day and decreasing the amount of packaged goods and restaurant food you consume are excellent for your health. These are a few of the health advantages of cooking that are often disregarded.

1. You eat fewer calories without even realizing it.

Meals at restaurants are frequently very high in butter and salt, and packaged foods are usually high in chemicals and sodium. However, meals prepared at home are typically lower in calories and higher in nutrients. The reason for this is that when you cook for yourself, you have more control over the foods and amounts you use, says Sarah Jacobs, a nutritional counselor and cofounder of the Wellness Project NYC, a company that helps businesses encourage their employees’ health.

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It’s also less common for you to treat yourself to a dessert or a cocktail, or to serve yourself restaurant-sized servings, which are frequently big enough to satisfy two or three people. “We approach meals differently mentally at home, which reduces the likelihood of adding unnecessary items that should only be consumed in moderation,” the speaker continues.

Even your between-meal eating habits can be enhanced by a consistent diet of wholesome, home-cooked food. After all, you might find that you seek out nutritious, healthful cuisine elsewhere if you’ve grown accustomed to eating it at home. “My kids tend to snack on fruits or carrots during playdates or parties, even if they are offered junk food, no matter how tempting it may be,” Celine observes.

2. You’re more mindful of what you’re putting into your body.

Many individuals eat quickly or while multitasking, so it’s likely that they’re not paying attention to what they’re eating. However, the chances are that when you’re eating from a plate that you’ve made, you’ll be more conscious of what goes into it and will notice every taste and ingredient you included. “Cooking involves being involved in the entire meal process, from the grocery store to the plate,” says Rachel Brown, who is also a cofounder of the Wellness Project NYC. “It greatly increases your awareness of the food you’re putting into your body.”

Being mindful of and enjoying the act of eating can also aid in feeling centered. According to Andy Lee, chief mindfulness officer at Aetna, “eating mindfully for even one bite can help us to come back into the present moment, to let go of the swirl of thoughts that we are often caught up in, and to remember that a more clear, simple, and connected way of being is only a bite, or a breath, away.”

3. You can socialize with loved ones.

Everyone benefits from spending time with friends and family. It can prevent loneliness, which has been connected to heart disease, depression, and other illnesses. Cooking can facilitate social interaction if you put in the effort. If your kids are younger, ask them to help you in the kitchen with easy activities, or have them cook with friends. Consider enrolling in a cooking class where you may form bonds with other students while learning new skills if you’d like to meet new people.

Furthermore, after dinner is ready, you profit socially. For instance, Celine likes to provide her family and friends homemade meals at different events. “The food is usually met with smiling faces and a desire to come back,” she explains. Meanwhile, Scranton, Pennsylvania resident Petrona Núñez Montúfar makes it a point to give away wholesome food prepared at home to those in need. She states, “I feel like I’m helping myself when I help others.” “Giving makes me happier than receiving.”

Not feeling like cooking for a big crowd? Several of the same advantages can be obtained by hosting a potluck with friends. Jacobs suggests, “Ask friends to bring simple, healthy dishes.” “Making these events as easy as possible for friends to attend is key.”

4. You stimulate your brain.

Celine acknowledges that her day job doesn’t leave much opportunity for creativity. She quips, “I’m not a creative accountant.” Cooking gives her the opportunity to express her creativity, though, since she can play around with ingredients and modify recipes to suit her tastes. “It gives me some enjoyment because I do feel like I’m using a different part of my brain.”

According to Aetna medical director and senior health specialist John Moore, DO, seniors may find even greater cognitive advantages from cooking. ” 

Cooking is a good, mentally engaging hobby for seniors to stay occupied and engaged, he adds, adding that picking up new skills and jobs, such as cooking a new recipe, can help prevent cognitive decline. Additionally, seniors who cook can become more confident in themselves. According to Dr. Moore, “it gives them a sense of independence that they appreciate when they’re not relying on their family for meals.” (He says that, among other safety precautions, caregivers of elderly people experiencing cognitive decline should make sure that gas stoves are turned off when not in use.)

Cooking has benefits beyond just satisfying your hunger, whether you do it in a group or alone. Long after the meal is finished, it might improve both your physical and emotional health.

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