There’s no end to the list of things that have changed for Americans as a result of COVID-19, both big and small.
Although not all the adjustments have been positive, some changes could have a beneficial impact on people’s health. Millions of people spent a lot more time at home due to the pandemic, and many restaurants were shut down for a time. For better or worse, that means a lot of people have been cooking at home more than ever before.
While more home cooking could equal a dramatic increase in burnt toast and a few extra bowls of cereal, in the long run, it can help people be a little more healthy. Once you get the hang of cooking for yourself, you might find your dinners are more well-rounded and flavorful than you thought you could manage.
If you are begrudgingly throwing together a lot more meals than you were in 2019, take consolation in the benefits home cooking provides.
Eat fewer calories
Eating at home will likely lead you to eat fewer calories, even when you do go out for a meal. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that people who cook at home six or seven nights a week eat less than people who don’t cook at home much. The differences in calorie intake held true even for people who weren’t trying to lose weight. Eating at home simply leads to better choices in what you eat.
“Cooking your own meals gives you a chance to make conscious choices about what you are eating,” says Scott Morely, dietary manager at Cedar Crest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. “Understanding the ingredients you are using enables you to make healthier substitutions and eat more sensible portions than you might if you eat out.”
Perfect portion sizes
How many servings of meat and potatoes did you eat at your favorite barbecue restaurant? Chances are that if you ate everything on your plate, you had more than one serving. Even if you like to order salads, you may be eating more than you realize. A benefit of cooking for yourself at home is that you can learn appropriate serving sizes and exercise more portion control.
Consume more fruits and vegetables
Did you know that you should eat at least four and a half cups each of fruits and vegetables each day? It’s not impossible to get that much into your diet when you’re eating out, but it can be a lot easier when you are picking your groceries and creating meals on your own. Blend some spinach and blueberries into a smoothie, nibble on carrots throughout the day and make a tasty side salad for dinner. When you are the cook, the sky’s the limit.
Give your mental health a boost
When you eat better, you feel better. As a bonus, cooking your own meals can be good for your mental health as well. A variety of studies have found a connection between home cooking and improved mental health. People who cook for themselves may have better self-esteem, less anxiety and depression and increased socialization. More research is needed in this area, but it seems that good cooking and good company are a recipe for better mental health.
You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to prepare healthy meals at home. Take advantage of your time spent eating at home and learn to create delicious, wholesome food. You’ll find your new skills will help you eat better at home and when you eat out.
A version of this article was published by The Daily Herald. It has been republished here with permission.