After a long day of work, the last thing I want to do is cook a meal for my family.
The washing, the chopping, the boiling, the sautéing, the serving and the dreaded clean-up … it can be pretty overwhelming. Even when I didn’t have an entire family to feed, I’d often find myself wishing I could just order take-out instead of preparing a meal at home.
Despite how time consuming and exhausting cooking at home can sometimes be, it’s a rare treat that I eat out or order in. It’s not just because I can’t afford to eat out as much as I wish I could. There are substantial benefits to cooking at home. Although I don’t always feel motivated to cook, sitting down to a home-cooked meal is something I rarely regret.
Here are a few reasons to try cooking at home most of the time:
1. Better For The Environment
These days, we’re more aware than ever of how our lifestyle choices affect the environment. Given the threat of climate change, it seems like a no-brainer that we’d do everything in our power to make more sustainable choices. Cooking at home is one of them.
Take ordering take-out. Most restaurants use a massive amount of plastic, Styrofoam, and other other non-recyclable materials to box up food. Then they throw in a couple plastic utensils and straws, and send your food over in plastic bags. Sure, you can choose take-out places that utilize more environmentally-friendly practices, but it can be difficult to find such options near where you live and at affordable prices.
Eating at a restaurant isn’t much better. Restaurants often use plastic straws and other non-sustainable materials. It’s unlikely the restaurant has purchased sustainably-grown produce or meats. And chances are, the restaurant is going to serve you more than you can eat, which will mean wasting the food or packaging it up in plastic or Styrofoam.
2. Better For Your Health
A 2017 study from the University of Washington Health Sciences found that people who ate at home at least three days per week had an overall healthier diet and made healthier food choices than those who did not. Other studies have shown a link between eating home-cooked meals and decreased rates of heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
It makes sense when you think about it. When you eat out, you can’t control what ingredients are used in the food you eat. You are more likely to choose fatty, fried foods and sugary foods, because eating out is thought to be a “treat.” Portion size in restaurants is usually much bigger than it is at home.
3. Budget Friendly
I don’t know about you, but eating out is one of my biggest expenses — and I don’t even do it more than once or twice a week. Taking my family of four out to a restaurant can easily cost $50, and that’s on the low end. Doing this a handful of times a month (or more!) can really add up quickly, without me even realizing it.
I’m not alone. A Gallup poll from 2017 determined that 6 in 10 Americans eat out at least once per week, and 16% eat out more than 3 times a week. According to the Bureau of Labor, the average American household spends $3,008 a year at restaurants (I tend to think this number is much higher in cities and certain parts of the country).
It’s not just those full meals you purchase at restaurants. Think about the times you go out for a bagel, a quick coffee or pick up a bottle of water at the corner store — $5 here, $10 there. You can easily find yourself spending hundreds of dollars a month consuming convenience foods, in addition to any restaurant-going you may indulge in.
4. Less Wasteful
37 million people experience food poverty in America, yet restaurants trash 84.3% of their excess food, according to a 2014 study by the Food Waste Reduction Alliance. 1.4% is donated to people in need, and only 14.3% is recycled.
It’s no wonder so much food goes to waste. Again, think about the ridiculously large portion sizes most restaurants offer. Restaurant goers usually have to choose between overeating, taking their food home in non-sustainable, single-use containers, or leaving their food at the restaurant, knowing it will likely be thrown away.
When you eat at home, you have a lot more control over waste. When cooking for yourself or your family, you are less likely to cook too much in the first place. Storing leftovers is easy, quick, and can easily be environmentally-friendly (use Pyrex or glass over plastic!).
5. More Joyful
Cooking isn’t just good for your physical health the planet — it’s good for your morale.
Making a meal gets us off our screens, on our feet, and gets our creative juices flowing. Even if you make the same sort of foods each day, cooking can be a time for quiet reflection — a simple daily ritual that can be grounding.
Cooking for others is the ultimate act of love and nurturing; it makes everyone involved feel good. Preparing and eating home-cooked meals can bring families together. Getting your kids involved in cooking teaches them good lessons about healthy eating and offers them the practical skills they need to grow up and live well.
Keep It Simple
I know cooking at home isn’t always as practical or enjoyable. For some of us, there is simply no time to cook for ourselves or our families. It’s important to realize that cooking at home doesn’t always mean cooking elaborate meals.
My advice is to keep it simple, have easy and healthy food staples on hand, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to make elaborate meals every night. Even a quick grilled cheese sandwich or microwaved burrito is likely to be better for your health, the environment, and your budget than getting that same food from a restaurant.
Of course, there are times where it makes sense to eat out, if it fits your budget. You can make eating out a healthier, more sustainable practice by bringing your own take-out containers to restaurants, requesting that your favorite take-out place deliver your food with as few single-use plastic items as possible, and choosing restaurants known for environmentally-friendly practices.
But for most of us, eating out should be a rarer delicacy than it usually is. I encourage everyone to make a little more time and space to enjoy the many pleasures and benefits of eating at home. It’s good for your wallet, your body and your soul. The planet will thank you, too.
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