Home Cooked Meals Make You Smarter, Healthier and Thinner
“After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one's own relations.”
— Oscar Wilde
As I often discuss in my articles, I am a huge fan of healthy, home-cooked meals. The potential benefits of eating real food are endless, from personal health to improved interrelationships between family members because of discussions during these meals.
Yet, in our fast-paced world where late nights at the office happen more often than dinner with the family, oftentimes many people turn to quick fixes including take-out, ready-made meals, and worst of all, processed foods.
For those of us not engaging in cooking our dinners and enjoying them with our families, we are missing out. The benefits of cooking dinner and enjoying it with the family are extensive, and here are the top six benefits...
Having dinnertime conversations can significantly increase a child’s vocabulary.1 Studies show that during dinner conversations tend to cause children to learn more uncommon words for their age while advancing their overall knowledge, helping them with storytelling and their social interaction skills.
Family meals at home throughout childhood correlate with healthier children throughout adolescence, including lower rates of obesity or being overweight.2 The authors of this study recommended as little as one to two family meals per week for better overall health. It also emphasizes the importance of establishing routines, which leads to healthier and more productive behaviors.
Encouraging Healthy Eating in the Future:
Eating healthy meals together as a family has a lasting positive effect on children that persists throughout young adulthood when parents are not present.3 As children are bombarded with unhealthy food on a daily basis, even at school, family meals are a great way to arm them with the ability to make healthy choices throughout the rest of their lives.
Protection from Illness:
Apparently parental dinner routines with their children may help them to avoid future illnesses like asthma4 and other chronic diseases.5 This may be more from number three above, but regardless, it only stands to reason that if we feed our children (and ourselves) healthier meals and take the time to place importance on healthy food we will reap the biggest rewards.
The children of families who spend time together at meals have fewer behavioral problems.6 This begins to bring in the social benefits of family dinners along with the nutritional and health benefits. Children who converse with their families about issues in their lives have a mental reprieve from typical issues that children face throughout the day, likely leading to better responses and behaviors. It is also no surprise that parents who habitually eat dinner with their children have stronger relationships with them.
The benefits of eating real food are well-known. On the other hand, the issues of eating out are well-known, as well. Nobody has my health in mind as much as me, and few restaurants will ever make food exactly as I want it. Cooking my own food puts me back in the driver's seat of my health.
Yet, in the face of all these benefits, Americans are eating fewer and fewer sit-down dinners together due to their busy schedules and often value entertainment over a healthy meal. According to an online poll, the number of times that families join together for nightly dinners continues to decrease due to time constraints. Yet, most Americans describe family dinners as something they would like to have and even associate them with positive feelings from their childhood.
The benefits of sitting down with the family to enjoy a healthy dinner are obvious. Data also shows that most people would like to enjoy a healthy nightly dinner, but this becomes difficult with time constraints and busy schedules. Luckily we are fortunate to live in a time where healthy food delivery services can fix these problems.
This industry started out with expensive services that would deliver your food in boxes. This was sometimes healthy and other times disastrous. I still remember the Schwan’s man driving down my street in his yellow van, ready to deliver a truckload of ice cream, pizza rolls, and processed food in plastic wrap and cardboard boxes.
Real food had never been so insulted...
For obvious reasons, this was not a hit with most consumers. However, newer companies have fixed these issues to deliver healthy real foods. My favorite service is Platejoy, which actually partners with local grocery stores to deliver the fresh, local goods, avoiding yellow vans and UPS packages. You then cook the food that is prepared for you, avoiding the pitfalls of prepackaged food.
It uses a personalized algorithm based on selected preferences, including low-carb, paleo, and gluten-free among others to deliver healthy foods right to your home.
I am still terrible with buying food and forgetting it in the back of my fridge, only to find a ball of mold weeks later. One technique that reduces waste, while helping both our wallets and the environment, is software that tracks the foods we have to include them in meals instead of letting them turn into petri dishes. Platejoy also tracks spices and ingredients available to ensure that we use them before they expire. As nearly a quarter of our food goes to waste, this is a big money saver and is better for the environment.
Focusing on what is most important:
Americans used to spend almost one fifth of their income on food (link food and money article). Nowadays, we spend around 10% and instead spend the majority on entertainment and large houses. We actually spend less on food than any other country.
Bringing dinner and home-cooked meals back into the house is one way to tell ourselves and our families that we value our health. It also tells us that healthy food is more important than those trivial aspects of modern society that so many people idolize.
Nobody has more interest in your or your family's health than you. Restaurants and processed food are rarely healthier than our own homemade meals. When time becomes an issue, turn to Platejoy and other services that are there to bring dinner back into your kitchen.
To Your Health,
Dr. Colin Champ
Dr. Colin Champ is a practicing radiation oncologist and nutritional expert. He is the author of Misguided Medicine: The truth behind ill-advised medical recommendations and how to take health back into your hands” You can hear more from him as the host of the incredibly popular Caveman Doctor podcast.
1. Snow CE, Beals DE. Mealtime talk that supports literacy development. New Dir Child Adolesc Dev. 2006;2006(111):51-66. doi:10.1002/cd.155.
2. Berge JM, Wall M, Hsueh T-F, Fulkerson JA, Larson N, Neumark-Sztainer D. The Protective Role of Family Meals for Youth Obesity: 10-Year Longitudinal Associations. J Pediatr. 2014;166(2):296-301. doi:10.1016/j.jpeds.2014.08.030.
3. Larson NI, Neumark-Sztainer D, Hannan PJ, Story M. Family meals during adolescence are associated with higher diet quality and healthful meal patterns during young adulthood. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007;107(9):1502-1510. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2007.06.012.
4. Markson S, Fiese BH. Family Rituals as a Protective Factor for Children With Asthma. J Pediatr Psychol. 2000;25(7):471-480. doi:10.1093/jpepsy/25.7.471.
5. Fiese BH. Routines and Rituals: Opportunities for Participation in Family Health. OTJR Occup Particip Heal. 2007;27(1 Suppl):41S - 49S. doi:10.1177/15394492070270S106.
6. Hofferth SL, Sandberg JF. How American Children Spend Their Time. J Marriage Fam. 2001;63(2):295-308. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3737.2001.00295.x.