While many restaurants and fast food outlets offer us convincing marketing statements that they offer healthy and nutritional food, studies frequently find that this isn’t the case. The sugar and sodium content of most processed foods cause them to be serious threats to our health. These are also the same qualities which allow these foods to become addictive.
It’s not just fast food, either. The restaurant industry encourages overconsumption and indulgence in foods that we know to be unhealthy for our bodies. Nor is restaurant food as healthy for us as what we would make at home. At the same time, the cost of eating out puts a large strain on many of our food budgets.
Cooking at home is the best choice for having a consistently healthy, budget-friendly diet. Many find it to be a rewarding exercise, whether you’re cooking alone or with your loved ones.
Healthier Ingredients and Methods
Restaurants and prepared food often incorporate more fats, sugars, and sodium than we would normally use when cooking for ourselves. Cooking at home allows you to add only as much as you think you should, while also allowing you to use healthier sugar and fat alternatives.
It’s Easier to Avoid Food Allergies
Food allergies can cause unpleasant and even dangerous experiences, including hives and rashes, swelling, and possible asphyxiation. Common food allergies include shellfish, tree nuts, lactose intolerance, and gluten intolerance.
For those with allergies, you may not be able to tell if your food is likely to come into contact with something that you’re allergic to in a restaurant. Even when you do ask, many restaurant kitchens aren’t equipped to properly substitute for or isolate your food from every allergen.
Restaurant portions are often more than our bodies need to be satisfied. Sometimes when we’re enjoying our meals, it can be tempting to finish a large portion, even when that means over-eating. Eating at home means serving yourself only the portions that you know you need.
Enjoying a More Balanced Diet
Planning your own meals gives you the opportunity to have a more nutritionally balanced diet. Many prepared meals, such as fast foods chains, restaurants, and freezer meals, rely on filling you up and appeasing your taste buds with carbs, sugars, and sodium. Additionally, restaurants price side salads and vegetables at a premium. Fortunately, when you’re cooking at home, salads and vegetable sides can be very inexpensive and quick additions to balance out your meal.
Reduced Germ Exposure
Keeping your kitchen clean means protecting yourself from germs and contagions. You never know how clean a restaurant’s kitchen really is. This also means that you have complete control to cook your food thoroughly to prevent potential issues.
It Helps Cultivate Healthy Eating Habits
Healthy eating habits come from controlling when and how often you eat as well as what you eat and how much you eat. Practicing home cooking means you can follow healthy recipes. You can even make your own healthy snacks such as trail mixes and salads.
You Can Take Your Time
Sometimes eating in a restaurant can make us feel rushed or watched while we eat. We might be conscious of servers wanting to turn a table or we might find the atmosphere to be uncomfortable. Eating at home allows you to take your time with your food, which can, in turn, discourage overeating since it gives your stomach time to signal fullness to your brain. Furthermore, taking the time to chew your food allows for better digestion and greater absorption of nutrients.
How to Tackle Your Cooking Hang-Ups
It’s easy to explain away reasons why we might not want to cook. Sometimes we feel uninspired, fatigued, think of it as a waste of time, or just have a lot of self-doubts. Cooking your own food can easily become a habit and a skill. The more often you do it, the less taxing it will eventually start to feel.
While it may sound counter-intuitive, cooking at home can actually save you a lot of time. You don’t have to deal with transportation or waiting times. In addition, time that you’re not actively cooking at home can be put toward other tasks. While you should be around the kitchen, you don’t need to watch water start to boil like a hawk.
Elaborate, adventurous multi-course meals can be very time-consuming. However, there are plenty of recipes that take just 12-20 minutesto put together, allowing you to keep it simple or make a single skillet or single-pan dish.
Frequently, when we say we don’t have the time to cook, we are often talking about effort or motivation as well. Think of cooking as a healthy exercise. You can stand on your feet and move quickly throughout your cooking process. If it still feels like wasted time, try it listening to an audiobook or podcast.
“I’m Not a Good Chef”
Learning to properly cook, balance ingredients and spices, and create delicious textures takes practice. Fortunately, if you’re cooking for yourself almost every day, you can work your way through this learning curve quickly. You will be surprised at how easy cooking starts to feel.
Start with beginner recipes, and remember to set timers so that your food doesn’t burn. Then, as you learn from your cooking endeavors, take note of what comes out over dry or unpleasantly soggy. Also, note your favorite spice blends and cooking times, and troubleshoot your dishes to appease your own preferences.
“I Don’t Have the Amenities for Proper Cooking”
If you’re working in a kitchenette, you may find yourself having to be creative with how you cook your meals. A hot plate can become a stove, while a toaster oven can bake some of the baked goods that you want to make.
You can add versatility to your home cooking through no cook foods, which allow you to tastily and healthily enjoy grains, smoothies, yogurt cups, salads, and side dishes without an oven or stove.
Health Risks of Eating Out
Eating out is an enabler that makes us more likely to indulge in things that we might know are bad for us while simultaneously blindfolding us about other harmful ingredients that may be used in our foods.
Ordering food can make us subject to peer pressure, allowing us to overeat, desire unhealthy foods, and explain away our concerns. Additionally, we are more likely to order a sugary beverage in a restaurant, claiming it a special occasion. This goes double for what we are likely to consume in cocktails and alcoholic beverages.
Problem Ingredients Often Used In Fast Food and Restaurants
Too much sodium can cause headaches. More alarmingly, it can contribute to high blood pressure, which elevates existing heart disorders such as congestive heart failure. It also affects water retention, causing bloating and puffiness.
Our bodies don’t actually need added sugars. They get all the sugars they need for our daily energy by breaking down other foods.
Sugar is a highly addictive ingredient that causes insulin resistance, leading to Type 2 diabetes. Additionally, sugar packs on extra calories to your meal and causes dental cavities.
To put it in perspective, a 12-ounce soda contains about eight teaspoons of sugar (39 grams). The AHA recommends that a person limit their added sugar consumption to 6-9 teaspoons a day, including sugar added into bread, muffins, their morning coffee, and the honey glaze on a salmon entree.
Many fast foods use empty carbohydrates as a primary ingredient. Carbohydrates are the problem behind food-related acne and eczema. When they are broken down, they release sugars and acids that wear down dental enamel, making teeth more vulnerable to cavities.
What makes a carbohydrate “empty”?: It is so refined that it contains little to no fiber, and it is very quickly released into the bloodstream as glucose-increasing blood sugar. This can lead to frequent insulin spikes and as a result, insulin resistance.
How These Ingredients Hurt Your Body
The long-term effects of processed foods on your body normally come in the form of illnesses that are difficult to reverse or control.Overeating leads to weight gain and obesity. Having too much sugar frequently spiking your bloodstream can lead to Type 2 diabetes. Sodium’s effect on high blood pressure can lead to heart disease and stroke.
Not only do these illnesses potentially harm someone’s general health, quality of life, and ability to do the things they find valuable in life, but they are expensive diseases that often require costly long-term medications.
What is Insulin? And Why Does it Matter?
Insulin’s job is to distribute the sugar in your blood to the cells that need it for energy. Your pancreas releases insulin when it notices a spike in your blood sugar. Your cells use the sugars for energy, and excess sugars are stored. Once the insulin has transported the sugars, your blood sugar levels return to normal levels.
Eating lots of carbohydrates causes your blood sugar to spike frequently, forcing your pancreas to send out insulin repeatedly. Continuous spikes like these can cause your normal insulin response to falter, leading to insulin resistance, Type-2 diabetes, and weight gain.
Body Mass and Weight
Eating out is extremely conducive to overeating. Studies have shown that even when individuals eat at restaurants they perceive as “healthy,” they underestimate the caloric value of their meal by 20 percent. It’s also more likely in a restaurant setting to ignore the warning signs of being full and overindulge to finish unnecessarily large portions.
Overeating causes weight gain and obesity, which leads to stress on the body as a whole (especially the respiratory system). Obesity can cause reduced bone density as well as shortness in breath and asthma.
This study shows that processed foods, such as fast foods and processed pastry and bakery items, can cause depression. There is a similar link between obesity and depressions. Removing processed foods from one’s diet could be a way of improving your mental health and battling depressive symptoms.
The Reproductive System
Many processed foods contain phthalates, which are hormone disruptors that can cause infertility or birth defects. Phthalates don’t just come from processed foods. Many of the main sources of phthalates are food wrappers, takeaway boxes, plastic containers, gloves, and kitchen equipment.
How Are Restaurant Foods and Fast Foods Different from What I Make at Home?
Why Can Restaurants Be Bad For You?
Restaurant food wants to keep our taste buds excited. This means that, while it may contain fewer preservatives and chemicals than fast food, it is still higher in sodium, fat, and sugar than we would normally allow ourselves to eat.
What Goes Into Fast Food?
Fast foods are produced and chemically altered in a factory setting. In the factory, these foods are pumped with artificial and natural flavors, which keeps the food standardized and tasting exactly the same, every time. They are frozen, shipped, stored, and reheated when ready. Within the speedy kitchen of the fast food restaurant, all the cooking processes and times are exactly the same.
In general, fast foods are higher in fats, sugar, and salt than their fresh equivalents, making them altogether higher in calories. They are also lower in fiber due to the production process, meaning that they make us feel less full than they should.
Major and Common Ingredients:
- Salt – Salt is the most commonly used preservative in processed foods. While it inhibits bacteria growth by restricting water to their cells, it also introduces harmful amounts of sodium into our bodies. Salt is found in every item of fast food, even the sweet ones. It’s there to make the food more palatable. It seasons hamburgers, bacon, chicken, and the bread as well.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – HFCS is the most common sweetener in fast food. It is also among the most harmful. This artificial sugar involves altering the glucose sugar present in cornstarch into fructose. HFCS is much cheaper to process than sucrose (cane sugar), while also being sweeter. HFCS also provides a preservative effect that helps to extend the shelf life of foods. HFCS is an added sugar that is unnecessary in many foods, giving them a high caloric value and low nutritional yield.
- Food Coloring – It’s a well-known maxim in the food industry that people eat with their eyes. The freshest foods have the most vibrant natural colors, in which case fast food particularly needs a helping hand with food coloring, since the food is so heavily preserved, mass-produced, and frozen. Food coloring has become a necessary part of fast foods’ ability to compete. While red food coloring is the most vilified in common knowledge, the most often used food coloring ingredient is actually caramel color. Common additives are yellow no. 5 and yellow no. 6, which are used to make cheese look golden-yellow, and red no. 40 which is used to brighten cherries, jellies, and pastries. Caramel color is made from heating carbohydrates, but it doesn’t add to a food’s flavor profile.
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – While many associate MSG with Chinese restaurants, it is commonly used by almost all fast food restaurants as a flavor enhancer. MSG has no flavor of its own, but it’s used to strengthen the flavor of ingredients such as chicken or beef. This ingredient is mass-produced through a fermentation process using carbohydrates, including starch, sugar beets, sugar cane, or molasses. This ingredient has been under scrutiny for many years. However, it has been found harmful primarily for those who eat it on an empty stomach and for those with severe asthma. All the same, MSG is additional sodium added that can put individuals at risk for high blood pressure and other heart problems.
- Niacin (Vitamin B3) – Niacin is an added nutrient that we would normally find in fruits and vegetables. These natural vitamins aren’t part of the usual fast food meal since mass manufacturing generally eliminates these important nutrients. The industry answers this through replacing the nutrients with enhancement and fortification. The breads in fast food are commonly enriched with riboflavin, folic acid, iron, and niacin. While this looks like a positive for fast food, there is no way for food manufacturers to completely replace all of the lost nutrients.
- Soybean Oil – Soybean oil is used for deep frying, as well as producing margarine, pastries, cookies, soups, and non-dairy creamers. Normal soybean oil on its own is full of saturated fats, which is better for our bodies. However, this also means that soybean oil doesn’t have a long shelf-life. To work around this, the mass food production industry hydrogenated soybean oil, converting it into a trans fat. New and better versions of soybean oil (partially hydrogenated) use fewer unsaturated fats.
What are Processed Foods? And Why are they Harmful?
Many of the foods we eat are processed in some way, and much of it is repackaged for selling. In general single ingredient foods, meant to be cooked at home, are good for us.
The problem is chemical processing. Chemically processed foods are made from refined and artificial ingredients. While they may be enriched with vitamins and minerals, enrichment is incapable of giving us all the nutrients that we would get from fresh or natural foods, since many of these are still being studied by nutritional scientists and do not have artificial versions yet.
- Processed foods usually have unnecessary added sugar, and to minimize the cost of production, many use HFCS. If you have too much sugar in your diet, it’s most likely coming from processed foods. We’re not just talking about cookies and ice cream. Sugar is also unnecessarily added into basic foods such as bread products and salad dressings.
- They have addictive qualities, being salty or sweet, that make us binge on them and want more. These foods reward our brains with their intensified flavors, therefore incentivizing our overconsumption in order to sell the product.
- Artificial ingredients often incorporate chemicals. These will often be preservatives, colorants, flavors, and texturants, nor can you be sure that all the chemicals are listed on the label.
- Processed foods are high in refined carbohydrates. These are simple carbs that are quickly broken down, depositing sugars into the bloodstream. They also hold fewer of the nutrients and fiber that your body can get from whole carbohydrates. It’s also a good idea to be suspicious of highly processed foods that contain whole grains since overly pulverized or fiberless whole grains will have the same empty carb problem.
- Refined carbohydrates require less time and energy to digest. This means we are able to eat much more than we need because we stay full for less time. We also burn fewer calories in digestion than we would whole food.
- Mass production of foods generally eliminates many of the nutrients in the food.
- Processed foods are low in fiber, and much of the fiber they cite for their nutritional facts is added fiber. Fiber is a prebiotic that helps the good bacteria in our stomach. It also slows the absorption of carbs and can help us feel full sooner, and it aids regularity in the digestive system.
10 Processed Foods to Avoid
- Bacon: For many, this might be one of the most heartbreaking processed foods to avoid. One of the reasons our taste buds love bacon is that it’s salty, leading us to want to over-consume it while threatening our blood pressure. Bacon contains saturated fats, which lead to heart disease. Store-bought bacon also contains a lot of preservatives which are related to a number of health concerns, including headaches and potential increased cancer risk.
- Granola Bars: All the marketing behind granola bars tries to convince us of how healthy they are. While they might contain whole grains, they also contain a lot of added sugar. This means that in spite of the whole grains, granola bars don’t satisfy us for long.
- Ramen Noodles: Ramen noodles are jam-packed with sodium and little else. The noodles are simple carbohydrates. In other words, ramen noodles offer no nutritional content at all.
- Dried Fruit: Dried fruit is considered to be a healthy snack. They offer vitamins, minerals, and a decent amount of fiber, as all fresh fruits do. However, dried fruits are often packed full of sugar, and they are often preserved in sugar syrup. A little dried fruit sprinkled among a healthy trail mix can offer a quick bit of energy, but it is not a good sedentary snack.
- Flavored Nuts: Adding flavor to nuts usually implies adding sodium or sugar, and sometimes, when it comes to candied nuts, both.
- Fruit Snacks: Fruit gummies, like all gummies, are little more than well-marketed candy. Not only are they pure sugar, but like other candies, they are the common culprit of dental cavities.
- Margarine: Once marketed as healthier than butter, margarine is now under attack for containing a lot of trans fats.
- Microwave Popcorn: Air-popped popcorn can actually be a great snack, containing fiber and few calories, especially if you don’t pour on the salt and butter. Microwave popcorn, however, becomes damaging because of chemicals in the bag, including perfluoroalkyls which have been found responsible for kidney disease and infertility.
- Ketchup and Other Condiments: Condiments are meant to be used in small amounts. If you read the serving size on the bottle, it’s usually measured by the Tablespoon. Commercial ketchup has very little natural tomato in it, but a lot of salt and sugar.
- Frozen Dinners: While frozen dinners can offer you complete meals with vegetables and proteins, and starch all included, most of them are loaded with sugars, unsaturated fats, and sodium.
7 Processed Foods You Can Eat
- Natural Probiotic Yogurt: Yogurt comes from a long tradition, and the live bacteria inside of it can help to stimulate your digestive health. Natural yogurt, as in yogurt that isn’t sweetened with fruit or sugars, has minimal processing. If you need a little sweetness to make plain yogurt more palatable, try it with a small amount of raw honey.
- Canned Salmon: Like fresh salmon, canned salmon has a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, which truly are brain food. The edible bones in canned salmon offer a source of calcium. Canned salmon is good to have around in a pinch since it has a longer shelf-life than fresh salmon and requires no cooking or preparation.
- Canned Beans: Canned beans are inexpensive and they pack a lot of protein and fiber. Beans can be used as a fast protein option for many dishes, including salads, soups, dips, and stir-fries. Make sure to pick beans there are tinned in water, as opposed to baked beans tinned in sugary sauces.
- Tomato Puree: Lycopene is the natural chemical that produces the tomato’s red color. It is an antioxidant that may lower the risk of cancer and strokes. Our bodies are better able to absorb lycopene from tomato purees than from fresh tomatoes.
- Frozen Fruit and Vegetables: Frozen produce is often harvested at its peak and quickly frozen so that it retains its nutrients and flavor. This means that they actually lose fewer of their nutrients than fresh vegetables, which can take weeks to get to the supermarket.
- Peanut Butter: Peanut butter combines protein and fiber that helps you feel full. It is also good for the heart and contains a significant amount of vitamin E. When buying peanut butter, make sure that it doesn’t contain added sugar.
- Plain Oatmeal: Oatmeal is made of whole grains and it full of fiber. Avoid the sugary flavor packs and pick out the plain stuff. Doing so, you can control your ideal amount of added sugar, milk, and other carbohydrates.
What to Look for When You’re in a Hurry
Many processed foods that are safe for your body are single ingredients that you could use to prepare your own meals, as well as lightly processed foods.
- Minimally processed foods, such as fresh fruits and vegetables, bagged or prepared salad (though you’ll want to check the ingredients on the dressing), and roasted nuts (keeping an eye on the sodium content).
- Frozen veggies that you can steam in the microwave, canned tuna or salmon, and frozen fruits to brighten up oatmeal.
- Whole grain breakfast cereals without a lot of added sugars.
Always check the ingredients on:
- Foods that have ingredients added solely to flavor them, such anything that says “sweetened” and spiced roasted veggies or nuts.
- Jarred convenience foods, such as pasta sauce, dips and salsas, and salad dressings.
- Pre-made meals, such as frozen pizzas and microwaveable dinners.
Can Eating Out Be Healthy?
Eating out at restaurants can be very enjoyable, especially when it’s done infrequently. Eating out too often can make you lose appreciation for the things that you enjoy about eating out, such as its variation on your favorite foods and ability to offer you a new experience. In some cases like if you’re on a wonderful vacation, you might not have much of a choice to eat at home.
Eating out can be enjoyed healthily, but you do need to be careful.
Picking the Spot
- Pick restaurants with a full kitchen, as these are less likely to use pre-frozen foods.
- You can also do yourself a favor by saving your dining out budget for local farm-to-table restaurants. Pick farm-to-table restaurants and those with a good reputation for sourcing good ingredients without pesticides.
- Remember that just because it comes from a restaurant doesn’t mean it’s healthy. It’s true that restaurant meals are often more well-rounded that fast foods, and they offer more vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. However, restaurants will frequently add more salts, sugars, calories, and saturated fats than you’d normally allow yourself to prepare at home.
- Read the menu before you go out. This will save you from panicking while ordering and picking the first comfort food that you see.
- Ask about how your food is cooked or prepared. This will tell you a lot about its caloric value.
- If you’re not very hungry, opting for a side will get you a smaller plate and less temptation.
- Keep in mind that the indulgence mentality of eating out makes perfectly good options that you would normally be happy with, such as a salad, feel less substantial.
- Pick a side of vegetables or fruit to round out a protein and carb dominant meal.
- Don’t just choose the least expensive option. Usually, it is loaded with empty carbohydrates to make you feel full. Instead, pay a couple dollars more to pick a fish or other more well-rounded option.
- Ask for a healthy swap. Most restaurants will sell you a side salad to replace fries and other starchy or fatty sides.
- Pick whole grain options for rolls, bread, and pastas when available.
- Skip appetizers. They’re often lower nutrition and fried, and they encourage overeating. Additionally, they can quickly add up on your bill.
- When in doubt, ask your server. A helpful server knows most of the options and can help you pick something healthy that suits your tastes.
Helping Out Your Impulse Control
- Eat a healthy snack before you arrive. Spoiling your appetite can save you from overeating carb-padded entrees.
- Turn down the bread and other fillers.
- Skip alcoholic drinks to save calories and money.
- Drink water, which is normally free in the U.S., or unsweetened tea to avoid added sugars. If you still need some extra flavor, ask for a slice of lemon to squeeze in your drink, which most restaurants will provide you for free.
- Eating a side salad first will fill you with fiber, making you feel more satisfied before you begin eating your more calorie-intensive meal. Asking for dressing on the side will help you control how much fat you’re adding to your salad.
- If you really want a certain dish but know it will be too big, share it with a family member or friend.
- You don’t have to clean your plate. Taking some home for later can save you from uncomfortable binging.
- Slow down and chew, even if you’re very hungry.
- If everyone’s ordering dessert, have a coffee or some tea so you aren’t empty-handed.
What About When You’re Bored of Salads?
There’s no substitute for leafy vegetables in your diet. However, you can certainly cook those leafy vegetables along with some of your favorite squash and peppers in healthy oils. Salads aren’t the only healthy foods. Dishes that include steamed and roasted vegetables, egg whites, low-fat chicken and fish entrees, wraps and English muffins, can all be healthy. If you’re in a restaurant looking for your best chances for a healthy meal, take a look at these picks.
Say You’re in an Airport or Traveling?
- Bring an empty water bottle and fill it up after security.
- Vegetable soup will offer more nutrients and fewer calories than a creamy soup.
- If you’re eating fast food, pick the grilled chicken option over the fried.
- Grab-and-go bistro settings can offer whole grain oatmeals, granolas, and yogurts. Just be sure to check the sugar content.
- Flatbread sandwiches help to limit the amount of filler carbohydrates you’re taking in.
- One of your best lunchtime or dinner options will be a healthy protein, such as grilled chicken, offered on a flatbread.
- Fresh fruits and cut vegetables.
- Smoothies with healthy, whole ingredients.
- Raw nuts and seeds to get plenty of protein and fiber.
Try to Avoid
- Pastries and sweets like cinnamon rolls and sugary pretzels.
- Greasy pizza.
- Breakfast food croissants. These can be tempting as they look more refined than normal sandwiches, but a croissant offers no additional nutrition and adds to your load of fats and carbohydrates.
- Fast food deluxe burgers.
- Protein and starch bowls. Usually when fast foods label something as a “bowl” they are marketing it as healthier than the sandwich alternative. Beware of bowls, however, which have few vegetables and a lot of starch and sodium.
- Food that your body isn’t used to.
- Salty snacks, such as potato chips, crackers, or baked pretzels.
- Instead of eating out, go to a grocery store and stock up on road snacks such as fresh fruit or even hot food items.
- Pack a picnic and set aside time to go eat it. Try making your own wrap. These are easier to eat on the go, since they are less messy than sandwiches and have fewer carbohydrates.
- Opt for foods on the menu that are baked, steamed, or grilled over anything that’s fried.
- Drink lots of water on the road.
- Make your own granola or trail mix to snack on.
- Know ahead of time if where you’re staying has a mini-fridge, so that you can pre-pack more of your meals.
- Digestive problems on the road are not only really uncomfortable but also quite common, since traveling often slows our digestive systems. Support your digestion by drinking lots of water and eating probiotic foods.
- When you do need to stop into a chain restaurant, plan it out ahead of time so that you can easily scout for your best options.
The Perks of Eating at Home
If you’re new to eating at home, you might first experience a detox phase. Your taste buds might be used to the exaggerated flavors of chemically processed foods. You might expect everything to taste sweeter than it is, or find that many dishes taste under-spiced as your body learns more normal levels of salt and sugar intake.
Once you become more used to cooking at home, these instincts will quickly disappear. In contrast, dishes out at restaurants might taste overly greasy, or in some cases, everything might taste a little too sweet.
While it may not sounds as glamorous as eating out frequently, eating at home gives you some of the best benefits when it comes to your dietary and nutritional health. As your cooking skills grow, you will be able to tailor healthy meals to work with your particular preferences and favorite flavors. This means less compromise and more control.
You Completely Control the Ingredients
Eating at home means that you can buy fresh ingredients and single-ingredient products from the store, allowing you to control the amounts that you cook with.
You have the freedom to use only as many fats and oils as you’re comfortable with, and you will be able to use salt for spicing without worrying about it being too much. Cooking for yourself will also help to show how unnecessary added sugars are in most dishes.
Each meal can inexpensively be well-rounded with the addition of produce, protein, starch, and fruit. In many restaurants, ordering sides that make your entree into a full meal can cost a hefty price.
This also means you can tailor dishes to be just what you like, so you don’t have to worry about an eating establishment not carrying your favorite salad dressing, you can add your favorite vegetables to just about every dish, and you can combine whatever themes you want in experimentation.
You Choose What to Eat According to the Following:
Cooking for yourself means that you can choose to make meals that work for your lifestyle choices.
- Vegetarians and vegans are more likely to cook at home, due to the difficulty of finding a wide variety of vegetarian dishes in most restaurants.
- Athletes, bodybuilders, and fitness enthusiasts will find cooking at home to be crucial to their ability to fix balanced meals according to their training regimen.
- Home-cooked meals benefit the environment since it allows us to choose local food, including farmers market-sourced vegetables and grass fed beef, while cutting down on wasteful packaging.
Many individuals realize that they need to begin making their own meals after experiencing physiological problems.
- Those who are diabetic or prediabetic require a low-sugar diet. This means that many processed foods exceed their dietary need for sugar. Cooking at home is the surest way to eliminate unnecessary added sugars from your diet.
- It can be difficult to find restaurants that have offerings for celiacs and gluten-free diets. These diets require alternate grains as opposed to wheat, such as rice, quinoa, almond flour, and cornbreads. Flour is used in restaurant dishes that don’t even use bread, often as a thickener for soups and sauces, and as breading for pan-fried foods.
- Low sodium diets become necessary for individuals with high blood pressure or who are at risk for heart disease. This can also be difficult for those used to consuming processed foods, since many of those processed goods use sodium to enhance flavor while also acting as a preservative. One of the best ways to control your sodium intake is to make your food yourself.
Cooking on your own means that you have the opportunity to eat local goods. Farmer’s markets are an amazing place to find minimally processed foods while decreasing the carbon footprint of the transportation of your food, as well as helping farmers and small business owners in your area.
Another reason for cooking at home is that secluded towns and areas may not have as many options for healthy eateries and farm-to-table restaurants as the downtown of a larger city. There are many locations where the only restaurants available are chains that serve chemically processed, preservative-packed, high-sodium foods.
What Does this Mean for Your Budget?
The Cost of Eating Out
Eating out is expensive. When eating in a restaurant, you find yourself paying not just for your food but also prep, rent, storage, and a part of the business’s cost of operation. These inflated costs also translate to increased taxes and tipping costs. This is not a sustainable daily, or even weekly, expense for many individuals and households.
- On average, individuals spend $36.40 per meal at a restaurant.
- This quickly adds to the average American spending over $3000 a year prepared food.
- Since food establishments routinely charge a markup as high as 300%, restaurant-goers frequently spend $15 on a meal that only costs $5 to make.
- Even basic cocktails can cost $10-$12 in a restaurant setting, $6 on happy hour at a bar and $1.50-$2.00 at home, granted you aren’t mixing from airplane bottles.
- A single upscale beer can cost $6-$9 in a restaurant, while you can most often buy a whole six-pack of the same brew for that same price. And even if you’re buying the mass-produced beer on tap, you’re still paying a 400% markup.
- A basics glass of red wine can cost $9-$12, when you can buy the bottle (5 glasses) for $20.
- For those who don’t order alcoholic beverages, a soda or iced tea that costs the restaurant $0.12 per cup will still cost the consumer $2.00 on average.
Eating establishments encourage consumption and indulgence so that you spend more on sides, appetizers, sodas, and especially alcoholic beverages. These extras may not only overshoot your daily budget but may also push you over your calorie count.
Even in the grocery store, ready-to-eat foods such as microwave dinners and snacks, are more expensive than their ingredient counterparts. This is not evident when it comes to the individual meals, but becomes obvious when you’re buying enough food for a whole week.
What About Eating at Home?
Home cooked meals and healthy eating are sometimes stigmatized as being more expensive or only attainable to a luxury lifestyle. This myth has been dunked, however, since eating healthier has no significant cost over eating processed goods.
The thing you have to think about when comparing the cost of a meal eaten in a restaurant and a meal eaten at home, is that buying the entire ingredient list might shore you up to the same cost of consuming the food in a restaurant but at home, these ingredients will go much much further.
For instance, buying a whole head of romaine for a single salad is expensive, but when you consider that the same head of romain will make six or more salads, then you’re by far extending the value of the grocery goods. Check out this calculator to see how you can tighten up your own budget by cooking at home.
The other benefit you might derive from eating at home is that it’s an investment in your health. Illnesses that you can contract from eating out frequently, including weight gain, high blood pressure, or insulin resistance, might all cause potentially expensive health complications and the requirement of long-term medications.
How to Save Money by Eating at Home
The One Week Challenge
If you’re still skeptical about the money-saving benefits of eating at home. Try a one week challenge, where you keep track of the money you spend for a full week on foods that you didn’t buy on your grocery trip.
Using this method, we found that our expenses came out to around $70 per person, in addition to our weekly grocery spending:
- $25 for a happy hour meal and drinks
- $10 for a lunch sandwich
- $8 for a lunch salad
- $8 for a lunch soup
- $12 for a sit-down salad
- $12 on black coffee throughout the week
That’s a total of $75 that could have been saved by bringing bagged lunches to work.
On average you could save:
- $936 from eating dinner at home two more times a week for the entire year
- $2,250 from brown-bagging your lunch every day for a year
- $1,100 from ordering and eating less when you aren’t really hungry
- $1,050 from eating your leftovers
As a whole, consuming fewer processed, prepackaged, and ready-to-eat foods, as well as eating out at restaurants less often can save you around $5,000 a year.
Restaurant Recipes that You Can Make at Home
Being a proficient cook means that you’ll never want to pay for restaurant shrimp fried rice ($10) or spaghetti ($14) again. And if you’re a little addicted to your restaurant favorites, then check out a few of these simple home cooking versions of your favorite meals.
Getting your inspiration from restaurant foods can help you make inexpensive lunches, such as these bistro boxes full of healthy fruit, vegetables and your favorite ingredients for a wrap. You also don’t have to ditch burritos or burrito bowls, since it’s easy to make breakfast burritos in mass and then freeze them until when you’re ready to eat, and a good burrito bowl can help you cover all the food groups at once. Don’t forget about making yourself a nice chicken dinner. It’ll cost you less than its price in a restaurant, and you can sit down to it with a glass of your favorite wine on the cheap.
Fast Food Recipes that You Can Make at Home
If you’re used to eating out frequently, it’s inevitable to have cravings for some of your favorite fast foods. Fortunately, there is very little fast food that you can’t cook for yourself, given the right recipes, methods and spice mixes.
If you want french fries every now and then with your home-cooked meal, rather than going out and getting some, you can try making your own. It might also be enjoyable to discover that homemade tacos that use fresh vegetables, healthy proteins, and that cool it a little on the sodium can be a very enjoyable and healthy meal.
While we may associate chili with fast food and restaurants, it’s actually a staple in the American diet, for its flexibility, ability to have a lot made at once, and ability to be frozen for later. And when you really need to indulge, it’s not difficult to stuff the crust and add some extra cheese to your homemade pizza while avoiding the unhealthy cheese options of fast food chains.
Cooking at home takes commitment, since early on it can feel like it’s taking your time, cramping your social life, and making you trade delicious restaurant and fast food for home-cooked meals. Fortunately, the better you get at cooking, the better-tasting your meals become and the less your body will crave the high sugar and sodium versions offered by the food industry.
The cherry on top is that the health and budget benefits far outweigh any drawbacks you may feel by offering you a better quality of life, greater appreciation for what you put in your body, and less likelihood for contracting expensive illnesses.
- Studies have frequently found out that contrary to the assertions of restaurants about their food offerings, their offerings are not too healthy for us.
- The fact that the sodium and sugar content of foods at the restaurant are not healthy is also the reason why they are addictive.
- It is known that cooking at home has been found to be consistently budget-friendly and a healthy way of eating as well as a socially rewarding exercise.
“The restaurant industry encourages over-consumption and indulgence in foods that we know to be unhealthy for our bodies. Nor is restaurant food as healthy for us as what we would make at home. At the same time, the cost of eating out puts a large strain on many of our food budgets.”