Habits of Healthy Eaters: Cook at Home

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By: , SparkPeople Blogger
2/11/2009 4:21 PM   :  201 comments

I didn't take home ec and never took a formal cooking class. I didn't buy a cookbook until I got to college, but I've been cooking for as long as I can remember.

Baking blueberry buckle, picking cherries and making applesauce with my Gramma Willie and watching Papa Jim make ground beef stew, roast beef and macaroni and cheese are among my earliest memories. They, along with my mother, invited me into the kitchen, gave me an apron and put me to work from the time I could walk.

I don't remember going out to eat unless we had gone to the mall (also a rarity for this small-town kid). Instead, I remember home-cooked meals for special occasions, with vegetables from my granddad's garden.

Growing up, my mom cooked dinner from scratch every night (She had a 101 ways to cook chicken cookbook, and I think she tried them all!), and we had family dinner at my grandparents house every weekend (roast beef or ham, mashed potatoes, a salad and a big plate of raw vegetables).

Today, we eat a home-cooked, nutritious meal at least six nights a week. People like me--and maybe you--have become an anomaly.

As obesity rates have risen, Westerners have become kitchen illiterate at alarming rates. Reacquainting ourselves with the kitchen--meaning the stove and oven, not just the microwave and refrigerator--is an important part of a healthy lifestyle.

Forget becoming the next Top Chef. Can you cook to save your life?



The New York Times recently ran an article about how contestants on NBC's weight-loss reality show The Biggest Loser have to learn to cook, sometimes for the first time in their lives, after they leave the show.

“Twenty minutes in the kitchen will save you three hours on the StairMaster,” said Devin Alexander, a chef in Los Angeles who developed the recipes for the [Biggest Loser] cookbooks. “You can’t trust restaurant food to be low fat.”

Think that not knowing how to cook or cooking very infrequently doesn't have an effect on your life? Then take a look at these facts, from that same NYT article:

"It is difficult to quantify a decline in cooking skills, but many studies show that time in the kitchen has declined steeply since 1965, when American women spent a weekly average of 13 hours cooking. Last month the government of Britain, where obesity is spreading rapidly, passed a law requiring all secondary-school students to attend cooking classes.

"Today, women in the United States report spending an average of 30 minutes a day preparing meals. The percentage of women who are overweight has risen to about 65 percent from about 30 percent in the 1960s."


The solution is both simple and complex: We need to learn how to cook. And if we know how to cook, we need to do it! That's easier said than done, I realize, and a task that would require more than a singular blog post to remedy.

Today, I'll offer a first step: If you never cook at home, do it once this week. If you already cook at home, try a new recipe.

For you newbies, your challenge is the simplest recipe I know:
Salsa chicken (or tofu for us vegetarians!) This recipe isn't fancy, but it's delicious, nutritious and easy!

Ingredients:
4 3-ounce portions of chicken breast (skinless and boneless)
2 cups salsa (any variety)
1 cup brown rice, uncooked

Directions:
Bring two cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add rice, cover the pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 30 minutes, or until rice is tender.

Saute chicken breasts in a nonstick pan set on medium-high heat. Cook about 6-8 minutes on each side. Add salsa to pan and heat through.

When rice is cooked, place 1/2 cup of rice on a plate and top with one piece of chicken and about 1/2 cup of salsa.

Serve with a green salad, broccoli or green beans.

You can also make this dish with 12 ounces of shrimp or tofu.

Makes 4 servings: 1/2 cup brown rice, 1/2 cup salsa and 1 piece of chicken.

Nutrition info:
220.9 calories
2.1 g fat
27.7 g carbs
5 g fiber
24.1 g protein



Did you have to learn to cook as an adult? Are you someone who doesn't know how to cook? Don't be ashamed. Speak up and ask questions. We're here to help!


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Comments

  • 151
    I love to cook, and eventhough I am alone now, I still cook every day. I am a food network junkie and I tweek a lot of the recipes to better fit my healthier plan. I have a nice collection of cookbooks and recipes. When I cook I know what I am getting on my plate. - 2/13/2009   4:19:58 PM
  • IRISHWC07
    150
    I have to say that I completely agree that cooking your own food (that means not using the microwave!!) leads to healthier eating habits. I've seen it in myself and others. When you have the ability to eat whatever at a restaurant, it is too easy to pick some kind of greasy, fatty comfort food if you're not already in the mindset of enjoying healthier options. Thanks for pointing this out! I do however have to express my irritation that the NYT article seems to imply that since women have now "left the kitchens" they, and perhaps the rest of their family, are now fatter. Everyone should be cooking for themselves if they can, not just women. =) - 2/13/2009   2:38:14 PM
  • 149
    Growing up in the 50's I don't remember 30% of people being "overweight." But, maybe that was rather than obese. - 2/13/2009   12:54:17 PM
  • 148
    Growing up, we raised almost everything we ate (big garden, lots of "free range" chickens and a cow). We were organic and local and to us kids, it was work and it was because we were poor, not trendy organic! LOL However, despite the freshest ingredients, we never really learned how to cook - HEALTHY. Everything was coated in butter, rolled in white flour; and sugar was a huge treat so we ate as much as we could when we got it.

    As an adult, I am learning how to try new things with foods and new ways to prepare them: steamed veggies instead of boiled to mush, romaine lettuce or spinach instead of iceberg. These are relatively simple changes, but with a lifelong history of being told to "clean your plate" whether you like something or not makes it a challenge to boldly try new things.

    I see results of quick foods with my nieces and nephews, for them, everything comes in a box (Hamburger Helper, for example). It its very sad to see the weight pile on them at such a young age, knowing how difficult it can be as an adult to lose weight and the negative emotional as well as physical impact of being over weight starting from such a young age.

    I have started teaching my own children (3 year old twins) how to cook since they were old enough to stand on a chair a pour out a measuring cup. I try to serve only fresh, from scratch meals (Im a stay at home mom, so I have the benefit of ample time). We once again have a big garden, but I'm trying to teach them the joy of growing things rather than making it something to dread. My hope is to give them a legacy of health. - 2/13/2009   11:33:09 AM
  • 147
    having 5 kids i cooked everyday when they were home...then i cooked on weekends and stockpiled for the week...then i kinda quit cooking...just ate what was ready and microwaved...and now i'm back to cooking more but having lots ready to make meals on the run....we eat out maybe once ever 3 months or so...my husband likes my cooking more : )
    and i have started enjoying cooking by trying out new stuff... - 2/13/2009   10:41:40 AM
  • 146
    JoAnna Lund cookbooks have been a tremendous help in my healthy cooking for my whole family. Highly recommended. - 2/13/2009   10:18:02 AM
  • 145
    My fiancee and I almost always cook at home. I think we only go out to eat maybe 2-3 times a month. I do all the baking and about half of the cooking, he does the other half. And i'm always trying new recipes or finding ways to improve an already favorite. I also grew up in the kitchen. I made my first lasagna when i was 8 and i almost always prepared lunches for my brother's and myself on days we didn't have school. if my parents were gone i also made dinner. i love cooking, it is one of the things that is relaxing to me. - 2/13/2009   9:45:44 AM
  • 144
    I really try not to eat out so often, it's not only expensive but hard to control portions and as the article stresses, fat content, etc. Wish I could get my husband to do the same, I know his weight is up from eating all his big business lunches and dinners. - 2/12/2009   8:51:01 PM
  • DITRYING
    143
    I did not learn how to cook and have existed on fast food and junk food since I left home with occassional attempts to eat more healthily. I am cooking for one. I would like to do more batch cooking, but I get a bit overwhelmed because I do nto know what will keep for how long in teh 'fridge and what will freeze and reheat well. My goal is to follow a healthy vegan diet, but .......... - 2/12/2009   8:23:21 PM
  • 142
    I cooked with my my occasionally as a child. As an adult, I had to learn when I moved out. Many phone calls were made to Mom to ask how to do something in the recipe I was making. I most especially did not know how to appropriately cook meat. UGH! Those first years were rough. Now, I love to challenge myself with new recipes. I use the library to shake things up with my diet. - 2/12/2009   8:09:49 PM
  • 141
    A lot of food and recipe websites feature sections of relatively quick, easy meals that are also healthy. www.kraftfoods.com (as was mentioned in an earlier comment) and The Food Network's site are two go-to sites for me when I'm looking for new healthy recipes that won't take forever to prepare. - 2/12/2009   7:54:21 PM
  • 140
    Since starting here at Spark People, I have been cooking more. I used to cook when we were first married because we couldn't afford to go out. Then the chilodren came and I had to cook because it was more cost effective for our family to cook from scratch than to cook ready made things. But as the kids got older and I began working more, I stopped cooking because I didn't have time.

    Now I'm back in the kitchen and loving it! I have tried so many new recipes and use the recipe calculator on Spark Recipes all the time for my long time favorite meals. It has become a fun creative challenge and the best part is that I'm losing weight. - 2/12/2009   6:35:31 PM
  • 139
    Cooking at home not only is healthier and saves calories it also saves money! In these tight economic times that's a 2fer! What I love about Sparkpeople is I can enter my own recipes to make it easy to track them in the nutrition tracker!! You are right, too few people know how to cook these days. I hope we relearn. - 2/12/2009   5:45:35 PM
  • 138
    When my three children lived at home I cooked 7 days a week until they were older then I cut it down to 5 nights a week. Now I cook about 4 nights a week, sometimes less. But many working Moms, even then, relied primarily on take out food, which every one knows is usually high in fat with almost no green, or healthy vegetables. I think the reliance on take out food is one of the biggest reasons for obesitiy in America. The other reason is that most families buy tons of junk food! When I was raising my children, I rarely bought junk food. To this day, none of my kids are junk food junkies, and they are all thin. - 2/12/2009   5:44:32 PM
  • ASZUREDEE
    137
    I love to cook I just have not found a way to make my southern style cooking taste as good without using all of the fattening techniques - 2/12/2009   5:31:18 PM
  • 136
    I never really cooked with my mom growing up. I did take cooking class in school probably a few years so got the basics down. For years I just cooked basic stuff: meat, potatoes, veggies - but in the last few years I've really took to trying new recipes and making lots of different types of food.
    It's funny how when I'm really being conscientious about diet and exercise/fitness I really get into cooking and eating well. When I'm being lazy in life and not taking care of myself, I have no desire to cook anything creative, just the basics again! I'm extremely happy right now that I'm "into" cooking and eating well and hope that it lasts for the rest of my life.
    We don't eat out very much at all. I'm a stay at home mom and we don't have a ton of extra money so we try to limit going out to eat to a few times a month or so. On special occasions we'll go for a nice dinner but usually if it's the family going out we just hit Subway or Boston Pizza. - 2/12/2009   5:04:01 PM
  • BUSBYBOTTOM
    135
    I have been cooking since I can remember. And a recipe that starts with 1 can cream of something soup and 1 can of anything else is NOT cooking in my book.
    - 2/12/2009   5:00:27 PM
  • 134
    High schools dont even teach home economics anymore due to budget cuts. I think this is such a shame. Kids still need to learn to cook and shop for themselves. We wonder why no one can cook. Half of our young kids these days are growing up using drive through eateries as dinner time places and not sitting down as families. I know I am even guilty of this on some nights because we had so many after school activities such as soccer and scouts we didnt have time for dinner time as a family. It is beccomming the norm now and not an emergency deal. - 2/12/2009   4:59:23 PM
  • 133
    I started cooking at home mainly to save money on eating out--and wow, is it cheaper! I used to spend around $20 a day on food and have cut that down significantly since starting to prepare meals at home. It is a little more time-consuming (which is a problem for a grad student) but well worth it... - 2/12/2009   4:55:00 PM
  • RAVENLAUGHING
    132
    Was the study looking at men at all? I'm willing to bet the reason women don't spend more time in the kitchen is because we actually tend to work outside the home now. Perhaps if society was more willing to put an emphasis on equal labor division in the home, it wouldn't be such a problem to cook at home. If you work all day and someone expects you to cook as well when you get home, then no, it's not something you want to do as much.

    On a positive note, if we didn't eat outside the home as much as we do, think of all the wonderful multicultural food experiences we'd be missing! It's by going out that I learned I want to KNOW how to make things like curry, yakisoba, Kefethedes, or Kotebullar. - 2/12/2009   4:53:21 PM
  • STRAWBERRY*MOON
    131
    My mother taught me to cook. She was a stay-at-home mom, and we always had delicious meals made from scratch. I've always loved to cook. For me it's truly a form of meditation. The other day I was dealing with some business problems, and I couldn't wait until I could go to the kitchen and start making soup. Because I live alone, people are surprised that I cook for myself. The more care I take with feeding myself lovely food, the better I do. Deprivation does not work for me. My challenges are portion control and exercise. - 2/12/2009   4:39:14 PM
  • 130
    Thanks to those of you who suggested websites with quick and easy meal ideas, and for those who gave me other suggestions as well. We do eat in most nights during the week but I feel like I'm always making the same things due to time constraints. I'll definitely try doing more on the weekends, using my crock pot more often, and checking out those websites. I knew I could count on people here on Spark for great ideas! - 2/12/2009   4:18:38 PM
  • PHYLLISPETERS
    129
    If you want to build a strong marriage or a strong family start cooking (and cleaning up) together. You will have the best conversations you've ever had, your children will learn valuable life skills and you will be healthier. It's win, win, win! - 2/12/2009   4:15:15 PM
  • 128
    Learning to cook has been a fun way to enjoy different foods. Trial and error isn't that terrible......... new recipes are a challenge. - 2/12/2009   3:51:59 PM
  • 127
    We enjoy going out to eat, but have cut way back on that thrill this past yr because of healthier choices at home & economic stability. Fortunately, my Hubby loves to plan meals, shop & cook. He is the cooker, I am the cookie - I eat & clean up. It took years for me to learn to stay out of his way in the kitchen. I can cook (sorta) but am not passionate about it like he is. - 2/12/2009   3:33:05 PM
  • TRYINGHARD1948
    126
    I've always cooked for the family, my mother did before me and it is just the way things are done. Going out can be disappointing sometimes because the meals are not as good as home cooked and also so expensive calorie wise and money wise. - 2/12/2009   3:24:55 PM
  • 125
    I was born and brought up in India till I turned 19. Those were the good old days when Mom cooked on an open, wood burning fire 5 meals per day! A breakfast, a oat meal or something of the sort for snack, a big lunch ( which was called Dinner - British style) and supper. No matter what time of the day someone arrived to each others' homes, women were always found in the kitchen except the siesta time! We children watched her sing ( she was a classical vocal artist who loved to sing) cook away happily. This has left a good taste in my mouth in spite of not helping or cooking until I got married, I have learnt to be a good cook and most of my guests go home happily and recall and ask for recipes or more of this or that. Suddenly one day, we got gas fuelled stove. The food taste was never the same, however, time it took to cook, was much less!

    I count my blessing for the beautiful set of kitchen appliance we are blessed with ( in India too these days, although, nobody wants to cook there either!) for the fact that I only have to cook one simple meal a day and am happy to cook daily under 30 minutes a healthy, nutritious, low sodium meal listening to music as I do! - 2/12/2009   3:22:33 PM
  • RAMPANTPANDA
    124
    I'm forbidden to do any serious cooking at home because nothing I make turns out very well. Fortunately my husband is an excellent chef, and we make the vast majority of our meals at home. - 2/12/2009   2:48:51 PM
  • 123
    We have a family dinner 6-7 nights a week and we cook most meals. This family time is crucial to us! It's a treat to eat out. I work full time so planning is important. I plan meals on Saturday - do the shopping and we are set to go. - 2/12/2009   2:40:34 PM
  • GKIBIGER
    122
    My job as a psychologist can be quite stressful. Therefore, I use cooking as a means for "de-stressing." I enjoy creating new recipes, trying other people's recipes, trying new ingredients, and challenging myself to cut fat and calories while creating a dish that is enjoyed. Cutting, chopping, measuring, and weighing while cleaning as I go leave little time for worrying about things that have occurred at work. The wonderful bonuses are that I am eating healthier, feeling better, and saving money. I even turned down a dinner at our local Mexican restaurant (I adore Mexican food.) because what I was making for dinner that night seemed so much more enticing. - 2/12/2009   2:23:20 PM
  • 121
    Our New Year's resolution was to eat at home more often - really only eating out on Saturday night and maybe Sunday lunch. It really has made a difference in the way we feel and I notice it on the scale also. - 2/12/2009   1:48:03 PM
  • 120
    My mother taught me to make my own bread, not "break" - no edit on these comments! - 2/12/2009   1:39:24 PM
  • EMILYBEMENT
    119
    I love to cook, I guess it has a lot to do with my generetion. It is so much cheaper than going out to eat. I have been teaching my daughter that is 10 years old how to cook. Besides I trust what I put in a meal and I am not really sure what you see is actually what you are getting. How much added fats are put on or in the foods we buy at restaurants or salt. Don't get me wrong I love to eat out , but for special occassions not as a 'norm'. It isn't that hard. I would love to help anyone out if they need. I am an e mail away. Em - 2/12/2009   1:38:32 PM
  • 118
    I had 4 years of home ec in hs, not because I wanted it, but because it was better than sitting in study hall, and girls couldn't take shop! I ended up winning the Betty Crocker Homemaker of Tomorrow award at graduation, along with a 3-ring Betty Crocker cookbook, which I still have, despite the fact that the cover is held on by duct tape and all the pages have hole reinforcers! I've cooked since I was little; my mother taught me how to make my own break without measuring anything, tho I wouldn't try that now.
    With SP, I've gradually come to the conclusion that it's time to do all of my own cooking once more - no reliance on things from bottles, cans, boxes if I can do it myself. I've managed to cut my sodium intake in half just by cooking more! - 2/12/2009   1:38:21 PM
  • 117
    I learned to cook as a child and have continued to do so. We never went out for dinner and never had any processed food either. My mother wouldn't think of opening a can of soup! My husband and myself have diet restrictions for health (sodium, cholesterol, etc) so eating out has become a chore. It is also very expensive. We would much rather spend extra dollars on a special treat at home, for example a better cut of meat, a nicer bottle of wine than spend it at a restaurant. - 2/12/2009   1:35:13 PM
  • PIPPAUK87
    116
    I love to cook, but don't really have the money to make the stuff I really fancy. But I try to treat myself to an extravigant ingredient every now and then. then i make alot of what ever it is I'm cooking and have left overs - 2/12/2009   1:28:44 PM
  • 115
    My Mom tried teaching me to cook when I was a child but I refused and said my husband would cook.....Well, now I'm 36 and never married. I learned how to cook from boxes and a few dishes from scratch.
    Now I've been diagnosed with Celiac disease(the inability to eat/process wheat, barley or rye) and can't cook conventional boxed meals anymore because they all have gluten in them. I'm slowly learning how to cook, I tend to make a recipe until I have it perfected or until I tire of the dish. Hopefully the next GF pizza will be right - 3rd times the charm. The 1st time I accidentally put 3 - 1/3 cups of rice flour instead of 2/3 cup - oops gotta keep track of ho much I put in. :) - 2/12/2009   1:25:34 PM
  • SERENITYXI
    114
    I taught myself how to cook as a child. My mother hated cooking and we couldn't afford to eat out all of the time. Now as an adult I don't cook as much as I would like, but that's just because I HATE doing dishes and I don't know how to cook for just one person. What I've been trying to do this year is freeze some of my leftovers so that I have healthier meals to eat when I don't feel like cooking. - 2/12/2009   1:12:19 PM
  • 113
    I have been cooking since I can remember. We rarely ate out as a kid growing up. More to do with my mother's depression mentality than eating healthy, although the meals were nutritious wtih salads, vegetables, and meat. I love to cook for big ocassions, but my DH does most of the day to day cooking and he cooks low fat for the most part. He only works a half day and has time since I work full-time. On weekends, I frequently get into the kitchen and cook because it feels good! I like to set a pretty table when I cook too! I find it rather amazing that so many people are out there who don't know how to cook. I used to love cooking a meal with my father or my mother (but Dad mostly). - 2/12/2009   1:04:33 PM
  • BLUEBERRYHILL
    112
    When I got engaged I told my then-fiance you better get used to Mickey Ds and Burger King. As soon as we said our "I dos" and I realized I was someone's wife and sooner than later, someone's mom...I was a cooking fiend. I was even a Pampered Chef consultant at one time. Now I cook with my 3 daughters and we love to try new, nutritional dishes to fool my husband into eating healthy. I LOVE TO COOK and I get great recipes from sparkpeople. - 2/12/2009   1:02:05 PM
  • 111
    I hate every single thing about cooking. Which is why my husband does most of it. Although I do help. We know how to make the things we like to eat. And we eat at home basically seven nights a week. Maybe once or twice a month we go out. But it's because it's SO expensive! I can't believe that before sparkpeople we ate out probably five days a week! We could never afford that now. - 2/12/2009   12:58:29 PM
  • 110
    When first married I was Queen of tv dinners.....Mom did the cooking all by herself and I was left to the cleaning up...I learned way too soon that hubby was used to BIG homecooked meals.....I can now whip up a batch of homemade bread without looking at recipe....it is inbeded in my brain. I try to cook more healthy than before.....no frying.......it is baked or grilled....and I have learned to cut back on portions........getting hubby to stop raiding the fridge at night is not something I have got a handle on yet.....but still woking on it - 2/12/2009   12:52:32 PM
  • 109
    I think this is a big one for me - women are working outside of the home more often, and the restaurants are so easy - don't we all deserve a treat after a hard day at work ;-). It's one of my goals to eat in more often, and also to try more recipes. - 2/12/2009   12:50:58 PM
  • RONSTAC26
    108
    I've always liked to cook. When I was growing up, my mom cooked every night, until she had to start working. Even then, she made sure that there was something ready and easy waiting to be cooked in the frige when we got home from school. She even would tape record the directions for my older brother and me so we knew how to cook it. She started teaching me when I was young. Even as adults, we would all meet at home and eat family dinners with my mom and dad on Sundays. This continued even after we kids got married and had children; the crowd just kept growing. Sadly, my mom passed away unexpectedly 3 years ago, so we don't eat as often as a family now. I do try to cook at home for my family as much as possible. - 2/12/2009   12:40:34 PM
  • 107
    I love cooking and eating but don't like the dirty dishes! - 2/12/2009   12:39:13 PM
  • QWERTYZ13
    106
    I can cook fine, it's just figuring out WHAT to cook that's difficult... - 2/12/2009   12:36:39 PM
  • 105
    I've never had much interest in cooking but since I retired, I certainly have the time and I'm really excited about the Spark Recipe site - I've tried several and appreciate the ratings from others as I'm selecting ones to add to my personal cookbook. This cooking business is turning out to be kind of fun. - 2/12/2009   12:26:49 PM
  • 104
    I love to cook and we usually have maybe a meal a week in the restaurant. I like to be in control of what I put in my food, so I usually go from scratch and build my dishes. - 2/12/2009   12:07:29 PM
  • 103
    I know how to cook to a certain extent. I could learn much more though. I’d like to develop a much wider variety of skills and experience in the kitchen.

    I have a split personality when it comes to cooking.

    Sometimes I really enjoy making something and enjoy very much the accomplishment of presenting people with a meal or a dish that they can really enjoy.

    But most of the time it’s just another relentless chore, and my favorite techniques are those that will get me out of working in the kitchen as soon as possible and let me do other things with my time instead.

    But there is no question that it’s important to eat at home. In fact I’m utterly certain that without my efforts in the kitchen my Grandmother would not be healthy enough to live in her own home. Diabetes, Congestive Heart Failure, Kidney Disease, Hypertension, Anemia… The effort we put into controlling her diet for the benefit of her immediate health concerns is undoubtedly paying off every single day. That said, it’s embarrassing to me how even knowing that, and seeing with my own eyes how controlling her diet has helped her, I’ve only just started going to some of the same lengths to do the same for myself.
    - 2/12/2009   12:02:09 PM
  • SBATES63
    102
    I have always loved to cook, and it is quite easy to make favourite recipes more healthy by reducing the fat, switching to low fat milk and cheeses and using whole wheat pasta, etc. I was one of those who had to take home ec in school, and grew up with a gourmet cook for a Mom, so cooking is easy to me. Eating out is so difficult because I don't know what they are doing back there in the kitchen. Anyways, I can usually make a better version of what they are serving me. I make a version of the featured recipe except that it has cumin and a few raisins and slivered almonds. I serve it over cous cous and every one loves it. So easy and so healthy. - 2/12/2009   11:56:08 AM

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