Cooking at home offers a number of benefits that are often cited by people who do it. These include: greater control of the ingredients used in a meal; being able to tailor meals to specific dietary needs or goals; the ability to make healthier foods more affordable; and the ability to avoid food prepared outside of the home that is high in salt, sugar, fat and saturated fats.
It has also been suggested that cooking at home promotes better diet quality and health outcomes, although these claims have been largely based on cross-sectional studies of individual’s eating patterns. Such studies have focused on specific dietary indicators such as fruit and vegetable intake, or the Mediterranean diet score or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) score. In addition, many of these studies have been small in size, and/or restricted to particular age groups or populations within a country.
A recent study among adults reported that a higher frequency of preparing and consuming homemade meals was associated with several indicators of a healthier diet, including a lower risk of obesity and cardio-metabolic health. This was particularly true for individuals who were self-described as ‘frequent’ or ‘very frequent’ cooks. Interestingly, the association was independent of the presence of other dietary factors known to be associated with diet and health outcomes such as the consumption of whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and reduced meat consumption.
In the same study, it was also found that a higher frequency of preparing and/or consuming homemade meals was associated with less snacking behaviour in people who were self-described as frequent or very frequent cooks. This suggests that the association between a greater frequency of home cooking and healthier eating behaviour may not be solely mediated by dietary changes but through other aspects of mealtimes and snacking habits, which might have more profound implications for long-term health.
Further longitudinal studies, using appropriate dietary measures and appropriate methods, are needed to assess causal relationships between home cooking and dietary indicators such as weight status. Additionally, the incorporation of questions on meal preparation into existing large scale national longitudinal surveys would facilitate future evaluation of the effectiveness of interventions to encourage home cooking.
Finally, cooking at home is a great way to bond with family over the dining table. This can help to alleviate stress and boost mental health, especially if children are involved in the meal preparation process. This is because they will learn important skills and also build up their confidence and independence in the kitchen. They may even find that they like and enjoy the food they have made themselves. Getting appreciative feedback from others on the meals that they have prepared can further improve their feelings of self-esteem and worth. This is especially the case if they have helped prepare a healthy and nutritious meal for their loved ones.