If you think fast and ready-made food is the easy way out, think again. Today, it’ll cost you in both time and money. Over the long-term, it might even hurt your health and undermine your efforts at living a healthy lifestyle. Anyone can buy “diet” versions of their favorite meals, but these processed foods are never as healthy as they could be, and balanced meals at home are the foundation of a healthy life.
Prepared Foods: Saving Time? Maybe.
There’s a reason why processed and prepared food is often called “fast food.” Mass-produced, chemically treated for long-distance shipping and long-term storage on supermarket shelves, and pre-cooked, these foods are engineered to be easy to buy, easy to heat, and easy to consume. For those with hectic schedules, this is seen as a blessing—there’s no time to cook and after a long day, who has time for anything else? It must be better than take-out right?
Maybe not! The foods you buy from a restaurant may have been made using similar techniques for similar reasons as were prepared foods on the store shelf. And similarly, you may have saved some time on it, but your body may end up working for hours (or days… or a lifetime!) trying to deal with the “food” you just ate. Artificial colors, preservatives, flavorings, and other additives, as well as undesirable cooking techniques, are just part of the equation that makes this food “quick”—as well as irresistible so you’ll buy more, but that’s a topic for another day! The repercussions of eating such a meal are rarely so conveniently dealt with.
If you had, instead, planned ahead and made your own food from healthy whole foods, without adding in the toxic soup that the factory-made food has in it, you would have had a few minutes of wait time while you heat up your own “fast food”—a meal that is healthy, designed just for you and that can be a part of your healthy lifestyle.
Plan your meals, shop accordingly and do all your cooking on the weekend. Separate it into proper portion sizes and pop it into the refrigerator or freezer so that it is ready for you when you come home. More involved? Yes. Better for you in every way? Of course.
Prepared Foods: Saving Money? Nope.
Want to save $100 a month on your lunches? Easy. In the cookbook Cool Cuisine, Chef Laura Stec claims that by making home-cooked leftovers for your work lunch can save you $100 every month. That’s not the only way that cooking helps you save though. As you get more accustomed to a home-cooking lifestyle, you’ll learn to buy foods in bulk and on sale. You’ll also learn ways of substituting expensive, out of season foods for locally produced foods that are more readily available. You can also save by freezing food and planning for more vegetarian meals. Home cooking also helps you to weed out the things you DON’T need in your diet and if you can manage to get to a farmers market you’ll save even more money, while helping out your local economy.
Suddenly, the drive to the store or the restaurant doesn’t make as much sense as it did. Yes, you have to do some shopping and cooking, but the shopping you were already doing and the cooking can be made fun- it can even be a way for your family to come together and connect. Food with Benefits!
Prepared Foods: Weight Loss? Not Usually…
Time and money may be precious commodities, but nothing is more important than our health. Eating out at restaurants or living off of the pre-packaged ready-to-eat meals might seem like the easy decision—better not to have to think at all, than to have to plan for a healthy meal right?
Food manufacturing corporations and restaurants are notorious for working against any health or weight loss goals you might have. After all, they don’t make money by filling you up with healthy and nutritious meal—they need you to eat just a little more and come back again and again.
They are watching their bottom line—not your waist line.
There are lots of ways they can do this… For example: according to Brian Wansink (author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More than We Think), people will generally finish whatever is on their plate (regardless of that plate size). Restaurants take advantage of this by serving huge portions, loaded with extra salt and trans fats to improve the taste. Additives that can also “coincidentally” make you thirsty (so you will want to order a drink) or leave you craving sweets (why not get a desert too?). There is a logic to it: one that is very good for the business, but not so good for you.
When you’re at home, and—ideally—planning your meals at the start of the week for simplicity’s sake, you have a crucial opportunity that restaurant customers have to go without. As your own meal planner, grocery shopper, and cook, you have the power to plan for meeting all your daily nutritional needs. You know when you’ll need more fiber, when you should serve potassium-rich bananas or slice up some nutritious mango for dessert…In other words, you’ll be in control. Portion control made easy and with your best interests in mind.
Home Cooking: Quality of Life
Just think about it: you can end your day alone in front of the TV with another container of “stuff” or you can end the day simply, soundly, in the comfort of your home or the home of a friend, enjoying a meal that you made, helped to make, or are being treated to by someone who is special to you. Think of the lessons you learn by doing this, and the lessons you teach to your family and perhaps even your friends. Think of the money you saved by becoming an informed shopper, and think of the time you have invested in yourself and your long term health and nutrition goals.