Could the simple—but forgotten—art of home cooking be the answer to society’s obesity woes?
By Sue Radd
Decades ago, dinnertime meant a simple home-cooked meal (usually meat and three veg) on a pre-set dining table, surrounded by family. Protein powders, health bars and frozen dinners were unheard of and slogging it out at the gym was still something of the future.
The number of people considered overweight and obese was significantly fewer than today. Data from the Preventative Health Taskforce shows that in the 1960s about five per cent of children were overweight or obese; nowadays 25 per cent are above the healthy weight range—that’s one out of every four children!
Why have rates of obesity risen so dramatically? Look no further than your dinner plate (or lack thereof). Home cooking has vastly become a thing of the past. Convenience foods and takeaway dinners have become our saviour, but also our biggest health danger.
An opportunity to improve our health is right in front of us and it’s simple: Go back to basics and start cooking at home. No diet pills, ab-workouts or gimmicky meal replacements required. Just eat real food. This will naturally increase your intake of vegetables (think about how many fit into those frozen meal containers) and ensure you consume less salt, sugar and fat. You also gain more awareness and control of your diet because you’re the cook, not the big food companies whose only goal is to profit financially.
A big barrier to home cooking for people is confidence. However, often, it is not your lack of knife skills but your perception of your own ability that stands in the way. Following a recipe is the best way to improve your confidence. A step-by-step guide guarantees better results than making it up as you go along.
Another barrier is cost. Many people believe healthy eating requires strolling down the health food aisle and loading up your trolley with goji berries, maca powders, activated almonds and organic goods. It’s so expensive to shop healthy, right? Wrong.
Some of the healthiest foods are the cheapest. Fruit, vegetables and legumes cost next to nothing but are staples in a healthy diet. In fact, for just under $5 you can buy the ingredients to make a meal at home for a family of four. Compare that to popular fast food meals—a McDonald’s Double Quarter Pounder with cheese meal currently costs $6.69. Multiply that by four and that’s a saving of $22! And the cost benefit to your health . . . priceless!
Cooking can be time-consuming. Time is precious for everybody. We like everything fast: internet connections, news, social media updates and . . . food. The good news is home cooking like in the good old days can be fast-tracked for this century. All it takes is some organisation and planning.
Time-saving Cooking tips
- Plan meals for the week ahead—know what you’re eating and when.
- Look for healthy convenience options, such as frozen vegetables, pre-mixed salads, microwaveable brown rice sachets or tinned legumes. Great staples for any kitchen.
- Divide out bulk buys into ready-to-use portions. If you’re not going to cook it all in one go, freeze what you don’t use for next time.
- Cook extra meals to store in the freezer—build a bank of home-cooked frozen meals. Just as convenient as the processed ones, but better quality.
- Use leftovers wisely. Extra rice? Use to make healthy fried rice. Bananas too ripe? Freeze for smoothies. Herbs about to turn? Blend and freeze into ice cubes to use to flavour other meals.
Sue is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian, founder of the Nutrition and Wellbeing Clinic in Castle Hill, Sydney, and author of Food As Medicine: Cooking for Your Best Health.