By Callie McBride
Folks, it’s time for a weight-loss challenge: cook every meal at home for one week! Don’t get me wrong; as a self-professed foodie, I love dining out more than anything. The atmosphere, hushed buzzing of other restaurant-goers, and the lovely company all add up to what is my personal favorite social activity.
Yet, I can’t always be sure that what I order off of a menu is the healthiest choice, even if it seems that way. Sometimes I think about how I only know part of what goes into making my dish. What are the veggies marinated in? What are the sweet potato fries prepared with? Is the fruit organic? Are the greens fresh? Is the food local!? True, I could obnoxiously grill my waiter for the answers to my endless questions, to the frustration of the rest of my party…or I could get down and dirty right at home. And that’s what I plan to do: at least for now, I am challenging myself to cook entirely at home in order to be positive that my meals are fresh and natural.
A friend of mine recently confided in me that she wouldn’t mind dropping a couple pounds this summer. One of the first things I asked her was how often she eats out versus how often she cooks at home. It turns out that it’s split right down the middle: a couple of lunches during the week and both weekend nights she’ll take to the local restaurants to get her fix, but the rest of her meals are eaten at home. I told her that if she really wanted to kickstart her health and drop some pounds, it would be beneficial to try cooking her own food for every single meal, even just for a week. Here’s why: when my friend cooks at home, she is completely in control of what she puts into her body. She gets to choose to purchase local and organic groceries, she is able to bake or steam foods, as opposed to frying (which many restaurants automatically do), and she can decide how much dressing, marinade, and “extras” go into her meal.
Perhaps if she were dining out and ordered a veggie burger, her meal would end up consisting of a thick, buttered bun, loads of condiments, and a too large serving of fries. Of course, the beauty of the restaurant experience is that one is able to ditch, switch, replace, and add on to a meal; no bun, a side salad instead, veggies roasted in olive oil, etc. But, not every restaurant is always accommodating. If my friend were to pick up all of the fresh ingredients needed to construct her own burger, she could create exactly what she wants: the patty, topped with avocado, sitting on a bed of greens with a side of steamed brussels sprouts. Not only is she aware of exactly what went into the making of her meal, but she did it all herself, which only adds to the satisfaction of the culinary experience. The end result feels more like a reward for hard work in the kitchen, and that could very well lead to a better connection between food and the body. This connection turns into mindfulness, which combats pesky habits such as rushed eating or overeating.
An important component of cooking at home is planning. I’ll admit, it isn’t always easy to do my own cooking all the time, but I always feel better when I plan everything out ahead. If you’re one of those ridiculously busy people who has to pencil in time to even eat a meal, one easy way to plan is to select a couple of recipes for the week to prepare on a Sunday night so that all there is left to do is reheat and plate! Make a huge batch of steel cut oats so that your breakfasts are quick and delicious; prepare a good amount of quinoa or brown rice to have on hand around dinnertime. I love to cut up and marinade tofu strips, place them in plastic baggies, and throw them in the fridge to then pull out and grill during the week. The more prepping I do ahead of time, the healthier I feel throughout the week.
Another benefit of cooking at home is that it’s sure to help out your waistline. Rachel Brandeis, a registered dietitian of the American Dietetic Association, revealed in an interview with USA Today that “people consume 50% more calories, fat and sodium when they eat out than when they cook at home.” That makes sense, right? When dining out with friends or family and having a good time, it’s much easier to select the not-so-healthy choice off the menu–you want to enjoy your meal and get your money’s worth! That’s not to say that dining in has to be bland and boring, though. It’s up to you to find or create delicious and flavorful recipes that aren’t beer-battered, deep-fried, or stripped of their nutrients. You are completely in control of what you want to make, how much of it, and how great it will be for your body.
My friend has decided to stop swiping her credit card at her favorite downtown restaurant and start using it at the grocery store; she is vowing to plan out her meals, cook everything at home, and see whether or not she can zap those extra pounds by mindfully eating her own culinary creations. I am joining her, and I encourage you to consider doing the same!
So tell me, what are your favorite time saving tips for cooking at home?