Eating home-prepared food is less expensive and healthier, as we saw in statistics that emerged after the last recession: when American adults spent 13 percent less on take-out, restaurant, and store-prepared meals, and we ate less fat, more fiber, and fewer calories. After all, most people don’t use a deep fat fryer at home or pour corn syrup into every item. You’d have a hard time engineering your own efforts to be as unhealthy as most convenience foods. Commercial food is designed to push the buttons that make you want to come back again.
If you started packing a lunch or skipping Friday night at the steakhouse during a turndown in family income, consider keeping up those new habits. People who eat often in restaurants tend to be heavier, research shows. Eating take-out or store-prepared food is also tied to overeating, higher cholesterol levels, and lower vitamin intake. At home, you decide how much salt to add; you can choose olive oil over bacon fat, and include favorite vegetables that you or your kids are likely to eat. You can also try out or introduce your kids less expensively to new healthier foods.
At home, do your kids tend to eat a different micro-waved frozen item on their own schedules while watching television or texting? An abundance of research suggests that family dinner time helps kids learn to eat well. It can protect kids against obesity beginning as early as four, according to a study of 8,550 four-year olds led by Ohio State University epidemiologist Sarah Anderson, PhD. The tots who regularly ate dinner as a family, had limited screen time, and got enough sleep were 40 percent less likely to be obese.
Family meals also may protect older girls from eating disorders. Although one family meal a week is better than none, that may not be enough: In a study of 4,746 public middle and senior high school students, 18 percent of the girls who said they ate with the family one or two times a week had a dieting problem, compared to 9 percent of the girls in families who ate together three to four times a week..
Not surprisingly, parents eat better too when they’re setting an example. Mothers are less likely to binge eat if they eat with family at home more often and fathers cut back on the fast food.
When you do take your kids out, you don’t need to throw up your hands. You might explain that portion sizes in restaurants are much bigger than they used to be, and offer to share an entrée. Send away the bread basket, and share or skip deserts. In fast-food restaurants, teach your kids to notice the calorie counts by each item that came with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010. Encourage them to try a new less caloric option by choosing one yourself. Calories dropped 12 percent on newly introduced items between 2012 and 2013, according to a study that tracked the calories on all menu items in 66 of the 100 largest U.S. restaurant chains.
If planning time is an obstacle, the Internet can speed and simplify the chore. Get weekly shopping lists and meal plans from sites like EatathomeCooks, or quickly find recipes all over the Web. Get your kids involved with online searching and they may even volunteer to help cook, or clean. Kids who do chores flourish. Some old-fashioned ways such as cooking, setting the table, cleaning up —even conversation! — may seem all the more satisfying, if you happened to let them go for a while.
June 25, 2015
Janet O’Dell, RN