We love to eat out. The average American spends over $3,400 per year on food away from home (including both eat-in and takeout restaurant service). That’s a whole lot of money spent on food that, while it might taste good, often isn’t particularly healthy.

What’s wrong with eating out, and what’s right with eating at home? Restaurant food is often loaded with saturated fat and carbs in comparison with similar recipes prepared at home, and it’s tough to know what you’re actually consuming. And if you’re following special dietary guidelines, like a gluten free or low-FODMAP meal plan, it can be a nightmare to find something at a restaurant you can actually eat.

That’s why many people are rediscovering the health benefits of a home-cooked meal. What are those benefits, and how can you weave home cooking into your busy lifestyle and schedule? We’ve got five big upsides of home cooking and a few tips for figuring out this not-so-lost art.

1. Most restaurant food isn’t very good for your body

Most restaurant food isn’t very good for your body

Ever wondered why restaurant food tastes so good? In most cases, the answer is pretty simple: butter, salt and added sugar. These “magic ingredients” satisfy the deepest cravings of your brain, but they’re also loaded with calories or have other unhealthy effects in large doses. Eating out is thus one of the most frequent culprits when it comes to weight gain.

Cooking at home, by contrast, provides a level of control over your food that no restaurant can give you. You’ll have final say on everything that goes into your dish, and you might just feel more hesitant to use that whole stick of butter when you have to put it in yourself. Home cooking thus provides an excellent way to make yourself a more conscious consumer, especially once you master the art of substituting healthier ingredients in recipes.

2. You can control your portions when eating at home

Many restaurants also tend to provide big portions to communicate to diners that they’re getting a good value for their money. But those big portions also mean that people consume enormous amounts of calories just by eating a single restaurant meal. Here’s where the benefits of home cooking show up again: You have the ultimate control of your portions, just like you do with the ingredients.

Sure, you don’t have to eat everything a restaurant puts in front of you. (And you probably shouldn’t, in many cases!) But we all know that it’s hard to say no to finishing that delicious dish in front of you, even when you know you’ll actually feel worse if you eat it all. If you think you’ll be tempted to go for seconds when eating at home, use a food scale to make only the portion of food you need for your daily calorie intake, or use a meal prep plan to portion out a large serving after you make it.

3. Home cooking allows you to make healthy recipes in bulk for cheap

healthy recipes in bulk for cheap

Even if you have a healthy restaurant you love, the economics don’t add up when compared with home cooking. With a little bit of know-how in the kitchen, you can whip up healthy dishes that taste as good as (or better than) the restaurant version, without all the calories and at a small fraction of the price. That’s especially true if you master the art of healthy meal prep, in which you cook up a batch of tasty, healthy food that you can eat for several days.

Start by mastering a few simple and healthy meal prep recipes. As you refine your skills, you’ll be able to move on to more challenging (and perhaps even tastier) recipes that will give you far more bang for your buck than most restaurants. That’s the virtuous cycle of home cooking: The better you get at it, the more you’ll want to do it, and the more the greasy fast food place down the street will look like the waste of money that it is.

4. Specific diets are much easier to follow when cooking at home

Depending on where you live, it can often be tough to find a restaurant that has gluten free, vegan or low-FODMAP options on the menu. If you’re following, for example, an anti-inflammatory IBS meal plan, cooking at home can be the only way to ensure that your meals are safe to eat by your dietary standards. With the increased level of control, you can run your kitchen exactly the way you need it to in order to satisfy your dietary requirements.

Numerous cooking resources exist for every common specialty diet, and many of them will help you make genuinely delicious dishes. Cookbooks for specialty diets are obviously popular, but meal kit delivery services are also excellent for their convenience factor. A low-FODMAP meal plan delivery service can help ensure that you’ve always got delicious low-FODMAP dishes available, and you won’t even have to worry about grocery shopping after work!

5. Home cooking and dining can be a positive and enriching social experience

Home cooking and dining

Gathering to enjoy food together is a tradition just about as old as humanity itself, and it’s also one with well-documented positive effects. Eating dinner as a family regularly, for example, has been linked with all kinds of desirable outcomes, including keeping teens away from drugs and alcohol and reducing rates of depression and anxiety all around.

At the end

Remember that family dinners with your chosen family count just as much as those with your biological relatives. Invite some close friends over for a potluck sometime, or just enjoy a good meal together as a couple with your partner. Anyone whom you already have a close relationship with can make a great dinner companion, or you can invite someone you’d like to get to know better and share the common bond of delicious food!

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