Home-cooked meals are becoming a thing of the past. Long work days, time-consuming commutes and busy after-school schedules make it challenging for families to cook and eat together. As a result, Canadians are relying more and more on pre-prepared, pre-packaged and processed convenience foods.
But there are good reasons to embrace your inner chef and cook more often.
Healthier diet, healthier you. Home cooking is linked to both a more nutritious diet and better health. In one study conducted among 11,396 adults, those who ate home-cooked meals frequently were more likely to eat a Mediterranean-style diet. People who ate home-cooked meals more than five times per week – versus less than three – consumed more vegetables and fruit and were more likely to have a healthy body weight.
Research also shows that kids who eat dinner with their families consume more fibre, calcium and iron. Doing so also seems to guard teenagers from overweight and obesity in young adulthood.
Strong family bonds. The benefits of sharing a home-cooked family meal go beyond nutrition. Research suggests that the more often families eat together the more likely are kids to open up about bullying, “say no” to smoking and drugs, and excel academically. Regular family dinners also seem to shield kids from developing eating disorders.
Food savvy kids. Experts worry that our increased reliance on ready-to-eat meals means that kids won’t be equipped with the knowledge they need to make healthy food choices.
Cooking meals from scratch allows parents to transfer basic cooking and food preparation skills to their children, the primary way kids learn how to cook. Sharing home-prepared meals also provides an opportunity for parents to pass on cultural food traditions to their children.
If “what’s for dinner?” is a daily question, the following tips will help you get a home-cooked meal on the table, fast.
Establish a day and time of the week to plan your weekly menu, perhaps on the weekend or a week night after thekids are in bed. Once meal planning becomes integrated into your schedule it will seem less like a chore.
To keep meal planning easy, map out a simple framework that’s based on meal categories for days of the week. For example, plant-based Mondays, chicken Tuesdays, stir-fry Wednesdays, pasta Thursdays, slow cooker Sundays and so on.
Then, when planning for the week, assign a recipe to each category. Include breaks from cooking such as a day for leftovers or, yes, take-out*.
As you plan your meals, think about how you can cook once and make two or more meals out of it. Leftover roasted chicken, for example, can be made into salads, wraps and tacos.
Engage your family in the meal planning process. When everyone has a say about which meals they’d like to eat, they’re more likely be open to eating other people’s selections.
Once you’ve planned your meals, prep some of them in advance.
Cook a batch of soup, pasta sauce or chili for later in the week, or freeze for another week.
Batch cook whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice and oats. Make a bean or lentil salad for a meatless lunch or side dish for dinner.
Chop vegetables for snacks and salads during the week. Hard boil a bunch of eggs or make frittata muffins for a quick breakfast protein. Grill or bake salmon, chicken or tofu for a few days’ worth of lunches.
Have kids help in meal planning, grocery shopping, meal prep, even setting the table and clean up. Children who help prepare healthy foods are more likely to eat them and are more accepting of new foods.
Take advantage of time savers at the grocery store that require zero or minimal prep such as pre-washed salad greens, pre-cut fresh vegetables and chopped fresh fruit.
Stock your freezer with frozen vegetables – broccoli, cauliflower and butternut squash can be roasted from frozen for dinner. Keep frozen kale or spinach on hand to add to smoothies and pastas.
When it is your day off from cooking, choose take-out options with care. Ideally, you want to know what’s in the food – are you getting too many calories or too much saturated fat, sodium or added sugars? Does your meal offer enough protein, fibre and antioxidant-rich vegetables?
As a co-creator of Nourish by Medcan, I give my stamp of approval to its menu. These delicious and nutritious salads, bowls and sandwiches are available for purchase in our retail kiosk on the 14th floor, or by ordering through our corporate catering menu.
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