Are you ready for another school year and family meals? Schedules and calendars are filling up fast. Between afterschool activities for kids and hectic work commitments for parents, who has time to prepare a healthy meal, much less sit down to eat one? Yet experts tell us that eating at home is much healthier for us than eating out or grabbing a fast food meal on the road.
“Research shows that when you dine out, you tend to eat 185 calories more than when you make and eat dinner at home. Eat in more often for a slimmer, healthier you,” says Joan Salge Blake, Clinical Associate Professor at Boston University. She is the author of the book “Nutrition and You.”
So how do we squeeze quality, nutritious meals into busy schedules? One way is by using weekends to prep for the week: create a menu, shop and chop ahead of time. Another suggestion is to cook soups, stews and casseroles ahead of time. Slow cooking devices like Crock-Pots and rice cookers work well, too, with a little advanced planning. Try three-ingredient meals or pre-cooked items to incorporate into a dish such as a Rotisserie chicken, available at most grocery stores, BJs and Costco.
Helpful Appliances and Space for Family Meals
Technology plays a role, too. The latest appliances include fast-cooking ovens that use convection, steam or a combination of convection and microwave. Foods prepared in these new appliances taste good, too. Convection ovens use circulating air to transfer the heat more quickly and evenly. Induction cooktops can boil a pot of water more quickly than conventional electric or gas will so your pasta, quinoa or steamed vegetables will be ready in a snap. For more information on appliances, check out these buying guides from Yale Appliance (now in two locations: Boston and Framingham).
Here’s another tip for bringing the family together around the table: assign chores to your children such as setting the table, handling a small meal prep task, clearing the table, loading the dishwasher or taking out the trash. “Keep your kitchen table clear of clutter so that it is ready for mealtime,” says professional organizer Karen Buschini of In Its Place Organizing in Lexington, MA. “An organized fridge and pantry will help you keep track of what you already have and what you need, thus saving you money at the grocery store. It also gives you an incentive to cook at home and makes meal prep faster and easier.”
We recently built a banquette – a popular trend – for a client on the North Shore. Our clients like the versatility of a kitchen island with stools that family members can eat at and do homework. Eat-in kitchens are still in demand, especially for growing families.
Eating at Home is Good for the Budget and the Waist
Eating at home is healthier on your budget, too. A few years ago a writer for The Boston Globe compared a meal at Outback Steak House to the same meal cooked at home. The restaurant charged $23.84 per person for the meal but she was able to replicate it at home for $11.84 per person, and had more control over the ingredients and cooking methods.
“When trying to lose weight or improve your health, one of the most important things you can do is eat real unprocessed food, ideally in your home, prepared by you. No matter how good you are at choosing seemingly healthy options at restaurants, you never really know what you are actually getting in terms of food quality, excess salt, and cheap quality cooking oils,” says Lisa Lewtan, Healthy Living Coach and owner of Healthy, Happy and Hip.