Does Healthy Eating require cooking on a regular basis?

Our very short answer to this question is "yes!" We deliberately put an exclamation mark here, because of trends that we have seen in recent research studies involving food preparation, meals at home, cooking skills, diet quality, and disease risks.

Let's start with the current realities of home cooking in the U.S. Studies show that fifty years ago, approximately 1.5 hours per day was spend on food preparation and cleanup in the home. Today, that number has been cut in half. Since women in the U.S. have traditionally played a more prominent role in home cooking than men, researchers have looked especially closely at changes in women's lives that might accompany this trend. What they have found in this context is a significant change in the number of women working at jobs away from home. During this same time period, approximately 45% more women have jobs away from home. This change in the everyday activities of women in the U.S. is believed to account at least part for drop in home cooked meals.

Other factors also appear to play an important role in the loss of home cooking. But for the moment, let's turn our attention to the consequences. Virtually all studies show that meals away from home are associated with unwanted changes in nourishment and health. In one study, each meal away from home was associated with a calorie increase of 130 calories. In that same study, each meal away from home was also associated with a measurable loss of diet quality as measured by a 2-point decrease in an assessment tool called the Healthy Eating Index Scale. Other studies have linked meals away from home to increased risk of obesity and higher BMI (body mass index). In short, there are unwanted consequences when we move away from home cooking on a regular basis.

Studies also tell us that what happens in the kitchen is important. When a meal at home involves nothing more than fast food take out, the benefits of home meals are lost. In other words, increased risk of obesity and higher BMI cannot be prevented simply by driving back home with fast food take-out. In order for these health benefits to be realized, actual preparation of meals in the kitchen is required. One of the study findings that we found most interesting was the presence of increased protein, vitamin C, iron, zinc and magnesium when home meals involved "cooking from scratch" with individual ingredients.

Study findings about home meals and cooked versus raw vegetables are also quite interesting. In one broad-based study in the State of Washington, researchers found that 86% of all participants agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that "almost all cooked vegetables taste good." Similarly, 92% of the participants agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "I like the taste of raw vegetables." Yet in sharp contrast, over half of all participants said that they rarely or never ate a cooked vegetable at lunch. And at dinner, while the balance between raw and cooked vegetables was more even, the total number of participants usually eating a vegetable "other than green salads" was still only 46%. These findings show a clear disconnect between the degree to which people enjoy both raw and cooked vegetables and the degree to which they actually eat them. And this disconnect is especially strong in the case of cooked vegetables.

Studies on home cooking show three basic reasons for the decline in this practice: (1) lack of cooking skills and knowledge about food preparation, (2) lack of confidence, and (3) lack of time. Studies also show the fascinating (and incorrect) belief that homemade meals are generally more expensive than frozen dinners or restaurant take-out. One study involving middle and higher income families showed the perceived cost of homemade meals to be approximately $10, which the actual cost was about $3.50. For frozen dinners, the perceived cost was about $7.50, and the actual cost about $6.50. And for restaurant take-out, the perceived cost was $8.50, and the actual cost about $6.25. So you can see that study participants greatly overestimated the cost of home cooked meals in comparison to both frozen dinners and restaurant take-out. You can also see that the actual cost of the homemade meals was the lowest in these three particular categories.

At WHFoods, we believe that there is no better way to overcome virtually all of these roadblocks than by stepping into the kitchen with both feet and trying your hand at a simple recipe. We have no doubt whatsoever that everyone has the skills to master nutrient-rich cooking and healthy eating! And not only the skills, but the time and the budget as well. Everyone is up to the task, because none of the skills are complicated and they can be learned with a minimum of practice. And it won't take more than a couple of meals to convince you that you can accomplish nutrient-rich cooking without sacrificing taste. We encourage you to hold off on any assumptions about home cooking being too time consuming or too expensive, as well as any doubts you might have about your own ability to cook delicious meals from scratch. And we encourage you to use our website (and our World's Healthiest Foods cookbook) to start bringing the benefits of regular home cooking into your own household.

For more on Great Healthy Eating Habits:

  1. Are grocery lists and organized food plans required for Health Eating?
  2. Does Healthy Eating require three meals each day?
  3. Are snacks a good thing or a bad thing for Healthy Eating?
  4. Does it matter if dinner is the largest meal of the day?
  5. How consistent does my diet have to be in order for me to stay healthy?
  6. Is it possible to create a well-balanced diet without paying attention to portion sizes?
  7. Is Healthy Eating possible on a tight budget?
  8. Is it okay for me to "eat on the run?"
  9. Just how common is "eating on the run?"
  10. Problem 1 with "eating on the run"—getting distracted from the process of eating
  11. Problem 2 with "eating on the run"—eating too quickly for our body systems
  12. References for "Is it okay to "eat on the run?"


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