Most parents would agree that good nutrition for their kids is a priority, but it is difficult to put that priority into action on a daily basis. Parents today are busier than ever. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that as of 2011, both parents are working in 58.5% of married-couple families (1). This is compared to 51% in 1998 and 33% in 1976 (2). Also, the labor force participation rate (the percent of the population working or looking for work) for all mothers with children under age 18 was 70.6% in 2011 (1). More time at work for parents means less time at home to make meals for the family. And of course it takes additional time to plan meals, find recipes, and grocery shop for the food.
As a dietitian, it is my job to educate families on the importance of nutrition and how to achieve good nutrition status, especially for growing children and those who have special healthcare needs. But I am also able to personally help those busy parents and families by offering in-home cooking sessions, meal planning, and grocery store visits. In this way, better nutrition status as well as nutrition education can be accomplished.
Here are 5 reasons why cooking from home is so important:
- It is almost always healthier. Cooking from home, especially when using whole food ingredients, most often means fewer calories, fat, sodium, preservatives, and other additives than eating out or eating packaged convenience foods. Alternatively, excessive calories, fat, and sodium are implicated in cardiovascular disease, hypertension, overweight and obesity, cancer, and many other chronic medical conditions.
- It is often cheaper. When you crunch the numbers, it can be much more affordable to buy ingredients to make meals from home (which may also provide leftovers for future meals) than it is to buy those same meals out at a restaurant. In other words, you could feed your whole family spaghetti with meat sauce, salad, and breadsticks for less than what that meal would cost to serve one family member at a restaurant.
- Home-cooked food instills good eating habits. When you are planning family meals, you are making an effort to include a variety of healthy foods. When you take time to make the meal and share the meal with the family, you have the opportunity to be a role model for healthy eating. You can also have positive discussions about eating well and what is nutritious about the meal.
- Cooking at home provides a platform for establishing and sharing family traditions. Food and cooking are a big part of cultural traditions. That is, if your family continues to cook and share meals that your relatives and ancestors did. If we stop making and sharing these recipes, then we lose that aspect of our family’s culture that makes us who we are. Instead we may end up aligned with the “culture” of major food corporations and their marketing efforts.
- Research shows that eating as a family has numerous positive effects on children. In fact, studies have demonstrated that teenagers who regularly eat dinner with their families are healthier, happier, do better in school and engage in fewer risky behaviors than teenagers who don’t regularly eat family dinners (3, 4). Again, the family dinner is a great platform for communicating with your kids. It is a chance to really hear about what is going with them and show them that you are engaged in their lives.
To make an appointment with a registered dietitian at North Shore Pediatric Therapy who can help YOUR family, call 877-486-4140 to schedule an appointment. Our registered dietitians offer grocery store shopping and/or education sessions, meal planning services to meet your families’ nutrition needs, and in-home cooking services. We are happy to help make your life easier and your family healthier.
2. Tamar Lewin, “Now a Majority: Families With 2 Parents Who Work,” New York Times, October 24, 2000.
3. Eisenberg, M.E., Olson, R.E., Neumark-Sztainer, D., Story, M., & Bearinger, L.H. (2004). Correlations between family meals and psychosocial well-being among adolescents. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, 158, 792-796.
4. Lyttle, J., & Baugh, E. (2008). The importance of family dinners. Gainesville, FL: Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. FY 1054, http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fy1054.