Once upon a time, eating out was an event that even the wealthy only participated in rarely. But as time passed, eating out became easier and more affordable, and thus more popular than ever before. Indeed, researchers report that Americans are eating out more than they ever have before.
In and of itself, it’s not a bad thing. In fact, on some evenings, the fact that you can pay someone else to cook for your family is a sanity-saver. But cooking and eating at home brings with it a host of advantages that eating out simply can’t offer, at least not to the same extent. For that reason, it’s worth investing the time and energy needed to include it in your balancing act as a parent and working professional.
Watch any cooking show, wait for the judge to ask a contestant where they learned to cook, and listen to them fondly refer to one of their family members. That’s a common theme among all cooks, talented or less so. You’ll often hear artists or musicians talk about being self-taught. It’s rare among cooks.
Matthew Riccio, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow, said of cooking to the Huffington Post, “It’s a very intimate activity. And providing them (people you love) with something that they potentially need, you’re really showing them that they have your support, your love, your backing, and that’s the kind of thing that really, really promotes well being, positive growth and closeness within relationships.”
And beyond what happens in the kitchen, the natural end result of cooking a meal at home, especially together, is that you then sit down and eat that meal with the important people in your life. Cooking breeds togetherness, which is why home value experts note, “The kitchen is central to the home.”
Better Physical Health
The vast majority of restaurants are sacrificing wholesome ingredients and meals for efficiency. The drive-thru may be easy on your schedule, but it’s not easy on your body. Again, it’s all about balance. There are days when that teenager handing your meal through the window is a beautiful sight to behold.
But a lot of eating out will inevitably take a toll on your health. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reports that, “Home cooking is a main ingredient in healthier diet.” What they found specifically is that those who cook at home consume less calories, carbs, and fat than those who eat out.
Additionally, “The researchers also found that those who cook at home more frequently rely less on frozen foods and are less likely to choose fast foods on the occasions when they eat out.” Thus, cooking at home makes it easier to choose healthy greens and proteins when you do eat out.
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Better Mental Health
Cooking often produces better nutrition, which we know is good for our bodies and our brain function. It also requires mindfulness: you can’t cook well without paying close attention. It builds relationships. Cooking can create a sense of accomplishment and pride. Plus, cooking and taste help us remember, and memory can be a tool to combat depression.
Combined, those components become a powerful way to practice self-care and enjoy enhanced mental wellness. Not only are you thinking through things critically, you’re also relating to others, which research says makes us happier and can even lengthen our lives.
For those reasons, therapists are now utilizing cooking to combat depression and anxiety among other psychological issues. Thus, it’s a great option for all ages to combat those types of challenges. You can take a class with your child and then continue to implement some culinary therapy, right in your own home.
Better For Your Budget
Most of us familiar with the grocery store are unsurprised to hear that cooking at home saves money. Even for the most math-challenged among us, it is clear that when you eat out you are, at the very least, paying not just for the ingredients but for the labor needed to make the meal.
Often it’s far more than that. Forbes reports eating out is a whopping five times more expensive than cooking at home. Even using a meal service is three times more expensive than buying and cooking your meals from scratch.
Additionally, small investments can reap rewards in terms of introducing a diverse array of foods and cooking skills to your family. For the same amount (or less) as a meal out, you can purchase items like pasta makers or cast iron skillets, to allow yourself more options in the kitchen.
Plus you can teach your family the value of cooking creatively and safely in an effort to save money. There’s potential everywhere. You can cook corn on the cob on your wood burning stove and fire grill your pizza in your smoker.
Cooking in your own home also has a special ability to grant awareness to those who participate. It demands that you pay attention in a way that you never do when your meals are prepared in their entirety for you.
Primarily, this is because those who cook are those who have at least some familiarity with the ingredients they use. You have to become aware, even at a very basic level, of what supply and demand and production translates to in the aisles of the stores you frequent.
If you go to local farmers’ markets, your awareness of local products and efforts grows. Similarly, cooks are most likely to produce food themselves, again providing the foundation for more awareness of what food actually requires, as well as its relationship to the seasons and the earth.
Lastly, for some, one of the primary ways they’re able to interact with their heritage and the culture their family hails from is through cooking traditional meals. Even far from the birthplace of ancestors, cooking can provide a means to remain connected.
This is in no way meant to condemn all eating out, but instead, it will hopefully encourage those who have fallen out of the practice of home cooking to remember that the energy and time devoted there is rarely in vain.
A lot of parenting is outside the realm of our control. But cooking with and for our families is a simple way to work towards stronger relationships, better health, and better food, too. Not only right now, but likely for years to come as our children learn with and from us.
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Avery T. Phillips is a freelance human being with too much to say. She loves nature and examining human interactions with the world. Comment or tweet her @ataylorian with any questions or suggestions.