Eating out at your favorite restaurant or ordering takeout can be an enjoyable experience as it saves us time and mess. But this convenience comes with a hefty price tag to both our wallet and our health. It is estimated that Americans spend about half of their food dollars on meals consumed outside the home, while only about one in five meals purchased meets nutritional recommendations set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A study was conducted on more than 400 Seattle-area adult residents between 2011 and 2013 who were between the ages of 21 and 55 and the principal food shopper in their household. Roughly half the participants frequently cooked dinner at home—about six times a week. One-third cooked dinner often—about four or five times a week. About 15 percent rarely cooked dinner at home—three or fewer times a week.
The nutritional value of the participants was also assessed using the U.S. Healthy Eating Index (HEI), which measures whether an individual consumes the right combination of fruit, vegetables, and other nutritional elements.
Those who cooked more frequent home meals were found to score higher on the healthy eating index and also spent less on food overall (food consumed outside and at home). The approximate cost for food averaged about $273 a month per person for home cookers, while the monthly cost for those who ate out most often averaged about $364 a month.
Choosing whether to eat out or to prepare home cooked meals is subjective, as not everyone is a chef capable of cooking gourmet meals, and a lot of people don`t have the time to cook and eat fast food out of necessity. The point of concern when purchasing premade food is the lack of knowledge of what exactly is in it, as takeout is often high in sodium, sugars, and even fat. This leads to an eventual health concern that may plague longtime outside food purchasers in the long term.
“Frequent eating out was associated with lower diet quality, more ’empty calories’ and higher diet costs” compared to home cooking, said study author Adam Drewnowski.
The researchers of this study did not set out to make those who eat out frequently feel bad or ashamed of their eating habits, but rather hope they make more informed decisions on what they choose to consume. Being aware of what is in your food, whether you are buying it premade or cooking it yourself, should be a priority for anyone. Those who choose to cook meals at home are just more privy to what they are eating as it comes with the job, and is, therefore, the recommended way for people to prepare their meals.
If you decide to turn a new leaf and make more of an effort to cook at home rather than eating out, Sandon offers some advice: “Cooking at home does not have to be time-consuming or require advanced cooking skills to make a healthy, balanced meal that meets the dietary guidelines.”
“Every meal does not have to be a masterpiece,” Sandon added. “Start simple with something like mac and cheese. Add a side of steamed broccoli and carrots with grilled chicken breast or salmon, and you have a balanced meal.”
Related: The healthiest foods in your kitchen