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Cooking is an essential part of life. The “cooking hypothesis,” although controversial, is believed to explain why Homo erectus emerged in our evolution with larger brains and smaller teeth than earlier species (Miller, 2013).1 Cooking makes nutrients more available—meat and other tough foods (like fish and some raw vegetables) can be chewed, digested, and absorbed more easily into the body. Some foods must be cooked to get rid of toxins and be edible in the first place, such as raw lima beans. When nutrients are abundant, growth and development is possible.

Today, nutrients are extremely abundant, and have been for a while, which may be partly to blame for the rise in obesity. Although we haven’t stopped cooking the food we eat (for the most part), why have we stopped cooking for ourselves? Cooking requires time and knowledge, but the more we leave any and all cooking to the pros, the less knowledge we have of our own and the more time we allocate to other activities (including watching TV). In addition, it seems that the less we cook and prepare our own food, the less we seem to understand overall about the food we eat. Cooking for yourself or others creates an intimacy with food and different ingredients that is difficult to get with pre-cooked or professionally prepared foods.

When fresh foods are prepared in the home, not only is it clear what ingredients we are putting in our bodies, but it also helps give us a sense of proper portion sizes and an overall greater appreciation for fresh, wholesome ingredients. Eating out has consistently been associated with higher calorie intake along with lower nutrient intake (think essential vitamins and minerals lacking in processed or fast foods) (Moreira et al., 2015).2

A recent study investigating the effects of children eating > 80% of meals at home versus <80%, with the remaining at preschool, restaurants, or elsewhere, found that children who ate the most meals at restaurants had the lowest value for dietary adequacy and the highest consumption of cakes, salty snacks, fruit juices, and sodas (Moreira et al., 2015).2 Eating at mostly home or with other meals at preschool was associated with more fruit and vegetable intake. Although the study did not look at BMI or weight data, these results are especially concerning since overweight or obese children are likely to be overweight or obese as adults and subsequently suffer the associated health consequences.

Preparing foods in your own home may not only be waistline friendly, but also essential for you and your family’s health in the long run. It can seem almost impossible these days to find time to cook, or some of us simply just don’t know where to start. However, you can follow these simple tips to get you started:

  1. Wash, chop, and/or prepare fresh fruits and vegetables immediately after grocery shopping. Short on time? Buy pre-chopped if you’re willing to splurge a couple extra dollars.
  2. Always cook for one or two more people than you need, and package up the extra servings to place in the fridge and enjoy at a later time. Prepare a whole meal or extra portion of your main ingredient such as rice, quinoa, chicken, or fish.
  3. Buy ingredients like canned beans that won’t go bad for a while as long as you don’t open the package, that way you can wait until you’re in the mood to eat these items and don’t have to worry about throwing anything out.

References:

Miller, K. (2013, May). Archaeologists find earliest evidence of humans cooking with fire. Discover. Retrieved from http://discovermagazine.com/2013/may/09-archaeologists-find-earliest-evidence-of-humans-cooking-with-fire

Moreira, T., Severo, M., Oliveira, A., Ramos, E., Rodrigues, S., & Lopes, C. (2015, June). Eating out of home and dietary adequacy in preschool children. The British Journal of Nutrition, 1–8.