Which is healthier for my body, my relationships, and my diet?
By Winnie Chan
Everywhere around me, I heard people chatting in different languages with the people at their table, I smelled the sensual aroma of cooked food, and I tasted the delicious meal on the plate before my eyes. Maybe it’s because I enjoyed the convenience of having prepared meals in a short time, or because I enjoyed eating in the company of my family and friends, that I frequently ate out in restaurants. It wasn’t until I saw my money vanishing from my wallet and learned more about the origins of restaurants’ processed food that I reconsidered my options of either dining out or dining in.
I wondered to myself, is it worth eating out because it’s convenient, even though I don’t know how the food is prepared or where it came from, or is it better cooking at home, even though it takes more time?
Availability and Accessibility
In college environments, fast-food restaurants welcome students with open arms and decent prices for meals, especially since they are often available within walking distance or with public transportation.
This applies for Brenda Tran, a 4th year Integrative Biology major, who said it was hard for her to purchase whole-food ingredients without access to nearby public transportation routes. Additionally, she “enjoys eating out because it saves her time and because she hates to cook.” For her, food tastes better in restaurants, where the chefs can prepare more savory dishes.
It’s a different story when she’s at home because she can enjoy her mom’s home-cooked meals. She sees that it’s beneficial for single people to eat out because it takes too much time to prepare different food for one meal, in contrast to a larger group of people who can benefit by cooking and eating with other people.
Although some college students can’t frequently experience the home-cooked meals that Brenda could, they can have similar experiences by cooking with roommates or friends. Through this, they can learn about the food they are cooking, appreciate their meals and time with others, and save money while also eating nutritious food.
Importance of Cooking and Eating together
A 3th year Computer Science major, David Tacmo, mentioned how he has recently started learning how to cook. Through his experiences, he felt “more satisfied eating his home cooked meals than eating meals at restaurants because he did it by himself and knows that it is healthier.”
Through purchasing the ingredients at the store and browsing through different recipes online, David has enjoyed learning about the nutritional values of each produce and understanding how different items mix with others.
He feels empowered with the ability to control the fat content of each meal and the power to cook what he wants. From the click of a button, anyone with internet access has the ability to research how to cook a certain meal or how to meet their daily nutritional needs, which is difficult at restaurants.
Similarly, Johnny Wu, a 4th year Landscape Architecture major, mentioned how he cooks two to three times a day, everyday. He prefers preparing savory dishes, with lots of fruits and vegetables, at home, rather than eating at restaurants, because he knows healthier ways to enhance the food’s taste than using MSG or butter. He has been raised to understand the importance of eating well-balanced meals to have a healthier lifestyle.
Benefits and consequences
In a 2008 Rudd Report advocating for menu labeling in chain restaurants, researchers found that “Americans are consuming about a third of their calories from fast-food restaurants and food service vendors, which coincide with the rising rates of diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.”
Although restaurant meals may taste better and are more convenient, there are more advantages to devoting time to grocery shopping, cooking at home, and enjoying eating as a social experience.
One advantage is reducing your costs, since purchasing ingredients in bulk is often cheaper than buying fewer items. The price of two to three meals at a restaurant could easily be used to purchase a week’s worth of ingredients at the grocery store.
Secondly, preparing food at home is beneficial because you know what is in your food. By investing time to understand what you’re eating and what you should consume, you are reducing the chances of having illnesses or
Lastly, having a balanced diet can help you reduce stress and feel better about yourself.
All In All
Research indicates that the frequency of family meals is associated with better overall nutrition and with strengthening relationships. Additionally, studies have found that meals at home are significantly lower in calories and fat than meals eaten at restaurants and children have poorer diets on days when they eat at fast food restaurants (Fiese and Schwartz).
I was awakened to this experience when I was at my boyfriend’s place, where his family always prepares home-cooked meals and eat together. Although it takes around 1 hour to finish cooking, it was important knowing that their foods are fresh and that they have a balanced meal. Because of this experience, I began cooking for my own mother, whose arthritis had made her less able to cook and had made her reliant on Ramen noodles and takeout food. I found that cooking with my mother strengthened our relationships and improved our health.
If you’re ever looking for a way to improve your diet, strengthen relationships, and save money, then cooking is a great way of doing them all.
Fiese, Barbara H. and Marlene Schwartz. “Reclaiming the family Table: Mealtimes and Child Health and Well-Being. ” Social Policy Report, Vol XXII: No. IV (2008).
Rudd Report, “Menu Labeling in Chain Restaurants: Opportunities for Public Policy”. Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Yale University (2008).
Winnie Chan is a fourth-year Sociology Major with a minor in Public Policy. She is always interested in trying new things and constantly challenging herself. Additionally, she is passionate about promoting higher education and healthy lifestyles to underserved communities.