Cook dinner at home – save money, eat healthier

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If you’re like many people you may think that eating a healthy diet means higher food costs, whether you eat out or cook. But a recent study finds that people who cook more dinners save $2 a day on food – and they have significantly healthier diets than those who cook less often.

This matters for cancer prevention. A healthy diet – one with plenty of vegetables, whole grains and beans, low in sugar and added fat – provides cancer protective nutrients and helps you get to and stay a healthy weight, an important step to lowering cancer risk. Obesity increases risk for many cancers, including colorectal, endometrial and liver.

In this study, researchers surveyed over 400 Seattle residents and gathered data on how often they cooked dinner and ate out, how much they spent on food and beverages, and what they ate and drank.

Their findings showed that people who cook dinner at home at least six times a week have more healthful diets – lower in calories, sugar and fat, than those who made their dinners three or fewer times a week. This was regardless of income, education and employment. The more people cooked dinner at home, the less they spent on food overall. Those cooking dinner at home almost every night of the week spent on average $9, compare to $11 for those cooking three or fewer times a week.

If you have limited time or think cooking is too complicated, but would like to cook more, here are some shopping and food prep strategies that combine convenience and time savings with homemade meals.

  1. Take advantage of supermarket salad bars to get pre-cut vegetables for quick steaming, stir-frying or stewing.
  2. Choose canned beans, seasoned tofu or prepared veggie burgers to serve as centerpieces for vegetarian meals.
  3. Look for meat, poultry and fish already cut into kebab chunks or stir-fry pieces; some grocers will even steam their fresh shrimp for you while you shop.
  4. Choose quick-cooking whole grains like whole-wheat couscous, quinoa or 10 minute brown rice. Check the freezer aisle for bags of pre-cooked whole grains.
  5. When you do cook, prepare enough stews, soups or other main courses for 2 or 3 meals and enjoy the convenience of coming home and heating up delicious leftovers for several days.

Here’s a super quick and easy main dish salad to help you get started: Southwestern Bean Salad and you can check out other recipes here.

The study was funded by a grant from the NIH National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

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    Author: Alice RD

    Alice G. Bender, MS, RDN, is the Director of Nutrition Programs at AICR. She helps put the science of cancer prevention by providing tips and tools to choose nutritious and delicious foods. Alice has guided thousands of individuals to healthier lives through diet changes and choices.

    4 thoughts on “Cook dinner at home – save money, eat healthier”

    1. Yes! I always bring my leftovers for lunch. It’s a great way to bond with co-workers since this often leads to exchanging recipes. The other thing I’d add as a tip if you’d like to cook more frequently is to take a few minutes before grocery shopping to plan out a few meals for the week. I find that I am much more likely to cook if I have a dinner plan, have the ingredients, and can mentally prepare for it on the way home from work.

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