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March 28, 2011

Eat Well Monday

The amount of money spent on foods prepared outside of the home grew from 34 percent in 1974 to over 50 percent in 2006, according to the USDA. Numerous studies have linked a high prevalence of eating away from the home (at fast food establishments, restaurants, etc.) with an increased risk of weight gain, overweight, and obesity.

A 2007 analysis published in the International Journal of Obesity found that individuals who consumed at least 25 percent of their total daily calories from foods and beverages away from their home were more likely to be sedentary and to have a greater daily energy intake. Similarly, in a 2005 Lancet study of adults aged 18-30 found those who frequently visited fast-food restaurants (more than twice a week) gained 4.5 kg (~10 lbs) more than, and had an increase in insulin resistance twice that of, less-frequent visitors.

Home-prepared meals provide a opporttunity for more balanced and better-portioned meals with fewer calories, sodium and less saturated fat. They can also help you incorporate healthier whole and unprocessed foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and lean meats, into your daily diet. More often, they save you a few extra dollars.

However, reliance on pre-made meals and convenience foods (i.e., frozen meals, take-out, “box dinners,” etc.) at home will generally not offer the same benefits as meals prepared from scratch. Pre-made foods are usually packed with excess calories, sodium, and chemical additives and lthey ack essential vitamins and nutrients that are present in fresh, wholesome food items. Making meals from scratch allows you to control the ingredients that go into your meals so you can ensure that you are achieving your and your family’s nutritional needs. By taking just a little bit of time each week to plan ahead, you can have fresh and healthy home-cooked meals ready-to-go in no time!

Here are some simple steps to bring out the cook in everyone.

  • Find some good recipes: look online or in cookbooks for recipes consisting of primarily whole, unprocessed foods. Try various ethnic cuisines to mix up the flavors and diversify your weekly menu.
  • Make your own frozen meals: wrap up and tightly seal food in foil, plastic wrap, or containers and store in the freezer at a temperature less than 0 degrees Fahrenheit. With liquid foods, be sure to leave room in the container for expansion upon freezing. Put frozen foods in the fridge the night before in order to let them defrost.
  • Plan for leftovers: make large batches of the meal you are cooking and leave some to use throughout the week. Be creative! You can create many different meals with the same few ingredients. 
  • Learn to use spices: spices enhance the flavor of your foods without the cost of added sodium. If you do choose to add salt your food, do so once your food is on the plate and you will use much less to achieve the same desire.
  • Get the whole family involved: When your kids help prepare meals, they can learn and become excited about nutritious meals, as well as build healthy habits for life.

For more information on healthy cooking, visit www.eatright.org/Public, www.dnrc.nih.gov, http://www.whfoods.com, or http://www.mypyramid.gov/.Visit http://www.ers.usda.gov/Briefing/CPIFoodAndExpenditures/Data/ to see details of U.S. food expenditures throughout the past century. To find out more on the relationship between eating out and body weight, go to http://www.cspinet.org/new/pdf/lit_rev-eating_out_and_obesity.pdf or read the full studies described above: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17582244 and http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15639678.

Every Monday, the Johns Hopkins Healthy Monday Project, part of the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, offers tips for preventing disease and injury, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Check back each week for new tips or visit our archive.