Over the last few months, my husband and I have been trying out some new recipes, making sure that, at least once a week, we cook a meal from scratch. We’ve had some amazingly tasty dishes and afterwards, I’ve typed out any that we’ve really enjoyed (making any alterations to ingredients and method) and added them to a file we keep in one of our kitchen cupboards. We’ve ended up with a personalised cook book of laminated recipe cards with both vegan and vegetarian options.
There are so many benefits of home cooking on a regular basis and for today’s post, I’m going to focus on some of them which I feel have made a real difference to me personally.
Quality family time
To ensure we have plenty of time and energy for cooking, my husband and I tend to do our cooking from scratch on a weekend, mostly on a Saturday night. On a Friday evening, we have a routine of looking online for some veggie or vegan recipes which use seasonal ingredients and are not too difficult to prepare. When we’ve found something that appeals, we make a shopping list and pop to the supermarket late Saturday afternoon to collect what we need.
When we get back, we make a start on preparing our meal together. I take the lead and my husband assists me. As well as the process helping me to develop my confidence again following months of being unwell with depression and anxiety and having poor appetite, it’s been really nice to spend quality time together in the kitchen and at the dining table enjoying what we’ve made (or pulling faces on the rare occasion when what we’ve made has ended up being revolting!) We even work as a team to load and unload the dishwasher with the vast amount of pots and pans afterwards.
Easy to adapt dishes according to your taste, likes and dislikes
When you go to a restaurant or get a takeaway, you might be able to ask for something to be omitted from the dish (such as a sauce) or swap your chips for salad, but you’re generally limited to one or two changes. However, when you cook a meal at home, you can adapt a dish in as many ways as you like. For example, you can add more or less spice and herbs, serve the dish with your favourite veggies on the side, omit the salt and pepper and change the sauce or dressing. You can use your preferred type of cheese or alter the recipe to make it less calorific. And you can easily simplify a dish that has a long list of ingredients or swap something you don’t like for something you love.
An example of this is the vegan butternut squash and chickpea tagine that my husband and I made this week. We found two different recipes online, one had some negative reviews saying it was tasteless and the other had lots of different spices in it which we didn’t have at home. I used the information from both to create a mildly spiced version which included ingredients listed in one or the other recipe and altered the cooking time as I knew the veggies would take longer to soften. We thoroughly enjoyed our food and I’ve now typed out our heavily edited recipe so we can remember the ingredients, measures and method for next time.
As you become more confident in the kitchen, you’ll learn which ingredients work together and will be able to make changes to recipes and cooking methods to suit you and your family. You might also want to do what I do and save successful dishes by copying and pasting a recipe into a Word document, editing the ingredients and method and then printing and laminate the sheet to keep to make again. I’ve also created a template on MS Word so all of my sheets are A5 with the same font type and size, margins and layout.
Often, when eating in a restaurant, the portion sizes are way bigger than you’d serve at home. Also, it can be tempting to make the most of your evening out by selecting a starter and a main course, then finishing off with a dessert. You might also choose sugary drinks, wine or cocktails to accompany your food and often you’ll have more beverages whilst you wait for the different courses to arrive. Before you know it, you’ve racked up more than your daily calorie intake in just one meal.
At home, when cooking for yourself or your family, you’re more likely to make just one dish and serve it with a side of your favourite veggies, salad or a tasty bread to fill up your plate. The portion size can also be easily controlled by you so overeating is avoided.
When my husband and I make a meal at home, we tend to serve a small portion from the pan or oven dish (putting more on my husband’s plate than mine in-line with recommended calorie intake) and then have some more if we find we’re still hungry. Otherwise, we transfer the rest to a smaller container and save the leftovers for another day. In a restaurant, it’s tempting to clear your plate, even if you’re full, either because you’re not eating mindfully and don’t notice you feel full, or because you’ve paid a lot for the meal and don’t want to leave some of it.
You can control the cost and quality
When you go to a restaurant or get a takeway, you have to pay the price stated on the menu and the chef has made choices about the quality of the individual ingredients that make up the dish. When you cook at home, you choose the price you want to pay for the items on your shopping list. You select the fresh foodstuffs which look and smell good (and are in season) and the quality you feel you deserve and can afford. If you want to choose free range eggs for a dish, you can. If you prefer organic produce, you can choose specific items which meet with your expectations. When money is a little tight, you can pick basics ingredients from your supermarket own brand collection to make budget friendly meals.
Restaurant meals, takeaways and supermarket ready meals are often loaded with salt, sugar, butter, cream or other additives that should be consumed in moderation. When you make your meals yourself, you can control exactly what goes into your dishes and this often makes them a lot healthier. You can use fresh ingredients and add herbs and spices to make your meals taste good. You can choose whether to add salt, decide between butter or vegetable oil to shallow fry and even find different ways to sweeten your dishes. Studies have found that those who frequently cook meals at home have healthier diets overall and consume much less calories per day.
Good for your mental health
It might surprise you that as well as being good for your physical health due to the nutritional benefits, home cooking can also be great for your mental health. When I was struggling with anxiety and depression a few months ago, my support worker suggested that I try planning and preparing one meal per week as part of my work on behavioural activation. There were a number of ideas behind her suggestion, including trying to find joy in cooking again, improving my appetite, having a sense of purpose when going to the supermarket (I had to challenge myself to make a list of items needed for the recipe and collect them independently), being assertive when advising my husband how to assist with the preparation, feeling a sense of achievement and confidence building. It also became a wonderful mindful activity which took me away from my anxious thoughts. Although it didn’t do much to improve my appetite at the time, it was wonderful for my self esteem and, overall, was a really positive experience.
Now that I’m feeling much better, my husband and I are continuing to try out new recipes regularly and it feels great when we sit down to enjoy the fruits of our labour. Preparing and cooking a meal is also a great way to slow down and focus on all of the physical processes involved such as weighing out ingredients, peeling, chopping, blending and stirring – all of which demand lots of attention and can help to relieve stress.
It makes you more creative
I’m used to getting creative with my art and craft supplies, but cooking at home can also make you creative in the kitchen too. When I first started making meals (back when I was at university), I tended to find super easy recipes with simple ingredients and follow the instructions carefully. Now, I look for dishes in books, magazines and online and I’m not frightened to try out new cooking methods, change up the ingredients or merge ideas from several different recipes together. The more I cook, the more my confidence grows. I also find I can throw things together to make meals using whatever is left in the fridge and kitchen cupboards and most of the time, they turn out great!
I hope you have enjoyed reading today’s post and it has encouraged you to do more home cooking. The only downside we’ve found is that the dishwasher is always full to bursting and it takes ages to dry everything and put it all away. However, if you make twice as much of the dish, you can enjoy the leftovers another day and then you have barely any washing up to do!