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(Updated 4/5/2011)
Turn Your Kitchen Into Your New Favorite Restaurant!
Cooking at home with bulk foods can save you time, money and unwanted pounds


A home-cooked meal is something that many of us enjoy, but few have time to prepare. The normal lifestyle today is one that is fast paced, making it easier to dine at a restaurant, grab some food to go, or heat up a frozen prepackaged meal instead of making a meal from scratch. These are all convenient options, but the trade off for the minutes that you save is often hitting you where it can hurt the most–in your wallet and on your health chart.

Studies have shown that people eat meals with 50% more calories, fat and sodium when they dine out at a restaurant compared to when they prepare meals at home. Large portion sizes also make it easy to over eat when dining out. When you cook dinner at home, you are the one in control not only of the portion sizes you serve, but also the ingredients that make up each meal. However, don’t be fooled into thinking that just because you prepare a meal at home automatically means it’s healthier. Many frozen and prepackaged meals that are prepared in the comfort of your own kitchen are full of salts, sugars and preservatives in order to keep meals full of flavor for months at a time. It is easy to consume over half the recommended amount of daily sodium (salt) in one prepackaged meal. If you choose to take the prepackaged route, be sure to look for meals that say “low” or “reduced” sodium or check out the nutrition label on the back of the package. The American Heart Association recommends eating less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium each day.

If you’re still convinced that cooking at home is too time consuming, then you may be surprised to learn that a team of researchers at UCLA found otherwise. In their 2002-2005 study, over 30 families were videotaped preparing dinner at home. Dinners included meals made from scratch as well as prepackaged meals made at home. Results from the study showed that making meals from scratch took on average only 10-12 minutes longer than it did to prepare the prepackaged meals.

There are a number of ways to make it easy to fit home cooked meals into your busy schedule. Start by setting aside a couple of minutes each weekend to plan the meals for the week ahead. Figure out a menu and create a shopping list that includes the ingredients you will need to make the meals for the week. Having a list to refer to when you’re at the store will keep you from missing needed items, which will prevent you from making last minute stops at the store during the week. If you have a recurring ingredient in a number of your meals, shop for that item in the bulk food aisle. Buying a larger package of an ingredient for use in numerous meals will save money compared to picking up several single serving packages. Also, incorporate recipes into your menu that require the use of only one or two pots and pans. There are many meals that are easy to prepare in one skillet, helping to save you time not only in preparation but in clean up too!

Most importantly, remember that home cooked dinners don’t have to be lavish multi-course meals. Keep things simple by making use of fresh fruits and vegetables for fillers, appetizers or sides to accompany your main meal. Mealtime should be enjoyable for the entire family, chef included.


Sources:
Szabo, Liz. “Health Experts Recommend that Good Home Cooking.” USA Today, May, 2004. http://www.usatoday.com/life/lifestyle/2004-05-05-home-cooking_x.htm

Katz, David, MD. “Are Prepackaged Meals Okay?” O, The Oprah Magazine, January, 2006. http://www.oprah.com/health/Are-Prepackaged-Meals-Okay-The-Way-to-Eat

Sullivan, Meg. “What’s on the dinner table when mom and dad both work?” UCLA Today, August, 2007. http://www.today.ucla.edu/portal/ut/070807_cooking-with-convenience.aspx

Collins, Karen, R.D. “Should you defrost your diet?” MSNBC.com, April, 2006.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/11992264