Cooked: The Health Argument For Cooking At Home

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I’m roughly halfway through Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation by Michael Pollan. Although the book covers a variety of topics ranging from chemistry to religion to anthropology, the overarching theme is examining the practice of cooking meals for yourself (and your family).

Cooking food has become one of our most outsourced tasks. Everyone is busy. But is letting huge for-profit corporations prepare what we eat really worth the time savings if it costs us our health? Consider what studies have found:

  • When we cook meals ourselves, we eat less than when we outsource to frozen meals or restaurants.
  • Obesity rates are inversely correlated with the amount of time spent on food preparation.
  • Regular cooking is correlated with superior health and longevity.
  • Poor women who routinely cooked tended to have a more healthy diet than richer women who did not.

In the book, food industry expert Harry Balzer (who knows exactly how often we actually eat out, not just how much we admit to… which is a lot!) put forth some insightful diet advice:

Cook it yourself. Eat anything you want – just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.

Essentially, eating unhealthily these days is mostly the byproduct of eating out, including meals-in-a-box and frozen dinners.

There are many other potential benefits of cooking for ourselves, stay tuned for a full review. Together, I’m hoping they’ll convince me to start cooking regularly again!

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  1. Buy & Hold Blog says

    Thanks Jonathan for the review. Being strict vegetarians forces us to eat at home on most days. We mostly avoid the fast-food chains and occasionally enjoy veggie burger and Cajun spiced french fries at Five Guys. We also enjoy Thai food. We do go out to Sweet Tomatoes few times a month. The book is very much on target regarding the relationship between eating out and being healthy.

  2. I am teaching my young kids how to cook. Making chicken fingers at home is much more expensive but taste so much better and none of that McDonalds junk IMHO. I wish more folks spent time cooking with their kids.

  3. zzbottom says

    Sorry to be controversial, but this assumes that you want to be healthy. I personally would rather eat whatever junk I want and die at 80 than eat super healthy and live until 90 for an extra 10 years of watching wheel of fortune.

  4. @Buy & Hold – I would think simply being vegetarian and still eating whatever you want with that constraint would also be a pretty simple and effective healthy diet. I’ve tried it for 30 days though, I think I could do it if I had a personal chef or lived in India where there is great selection, but otherwise I like some meat in my diet. 🙂

    @Bobby – I agree, spending time cooking and eating with your kids sounds like a good bonding activity.

    @zzbottom – If it was just a matter of living 10 years longer, maybe I’d be with you, but for me being “healthy” makes every day a better experience. When I am in shape (which is not always!) I have more energy, I’m in a better mood all day, and I don’t get sweaty and winded doing simple things.

    Besides, cooking at home doesn’t mean you can’t eat tasty stuff! 🙂

  5. Thomas | Your Daily Finance says

    Not only is eating at home healthy but it also save money. I like that he mentioned about the box meals because a lot of people think just because the made it at home its good for you. Eat real food. But to each his/her own. Some people don’t want to eat healthy and they are going to eat out because they simply dont want to cook.

  6. Franklin says

    Eating anything even home cooked will not make you healthy. I if you want to be healthy you need to change what you eat:

    @zzbottom: I do not know how old you are but you will not live to 80 and what years you do live will eventually make you sick and feel awful. People who make these types of comments in my experience have never really lost their health. They do not understand what it means to be really sick, but if you keep going that way, you will. Eat right live primal and you will feel great for your whole life – you will not regret the junk food you missed. besides good food can taste good too.

    good luck.

  7. I’ve read a few Pollan books, they are always good to give me that extra oomph and eat healthier. I wanted to recommend a cookbook for you; OK, a couple of cookbooks. One is “Everlasting Feast” by Adler. She has the philosophy of cooking a whole heaping amount of vegetables in one batch (you can get this done at nap time if you only do one vegetable type per nap), then doing various easy things with them through the week. And not fussy cooking either: for example, she recommends boiling broccoli and not worrying about “shocking” it in ice cold water for color, because really, who cares about color? Unless company is coming. There’s meat in there too: I’ve been boiling rather than roasting my chicken for months now; it’s super easy, gives you stock for soup etc, and gives lots of leftovers, and is way better tasting than I thought it would be. Also “Feeding the Whole Family” by Laird. It’s got great recipes that have “modifications” for feeding an infant at the same time (i.e. take out x and puree, then make the rest for adults.) Everything comes from “whole foods” so Pollan would be all over it. They have this cookie recipe that is so simple… rolled oats, butter, walnuts, flour and maple syrup and I use it for kid snacks all the time (unlike sugar, the maple syrup doesn’t disrupt her nap schedule). And ideas like shredding carrots and kohlrabi for snacks. I swear my kid eats every vegetable I put in front of her, and I think the “Whole Family” cookbook has a lot to do with it.

  8. you can get quite a few of the recipes from “Whole Family” here, along with cute videos:

  9. One of the best reasons for cooking your own food is to reduce the risk of food poisoning not to mention hepatitis which will severely reduce your chances of living to 80 let alone 90.

  10. I think in addition to the “benefits” mentioned in the comments, cooking at home does offer the added advantage of having some quality bonding time as a family, especially with the kids. From personal experience, its also therapeutic and calming…there is something about chopping, dicing, mixing and kneading flour that leaves you quite relaxed mentally!

  11. I totally i agree, people have become so busy such that they have no time to cook for themsleves and their family. They prefer outsourcing and mostly junk food which leads to obesity. Cooking in the houses is less costly unlike in resturants. It is also fun while cooking together with family members or friends.

  12. I love home cooking. With home cooking you don’t get all the chemicals and preservatives (unless you add them) that you get with food from restaurants or fast food. Great post!

  13. Joshua Rodriguez says

    My fiancé does all of the cooking in our house. Everything that she cooks is delicious and healthy. If it weren’t for her, I would be stuck with the rest eating frozen food and McDonalds!

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