Just stay in: More you eat home-cooked meals, the better your diet

SEATTLE — Home is where the heart is — especially the healthy heart. Just by way of cooking your own food, you’re likely enjoying a healthier diet than those who rely on eating out, a new study finds. 

Researchers at the University of Washington interviewed 437 residents of nearby King County, asking them to fill out a questionnaire detailing their eating experiences. They compared this data to a metric devised by the USDA called the Healthy Eating Index.

The index, which evaluates one’s compliance with federal guidelines set for a healthy diet, is weighted on a 100-point scale.

The study showed that those who cooked at home about three times a week had an index score of 67. That score rose to 74, however, for individuals who doubled their at-home cooking rate to about six times a week. 

The home-cooked meals saw families enjoying diets lower in calories, sugar, and fat, the study determined, without adding any extra weight to a monthly food budget.

“By cooking more often at home, you have a better diet at no significant cost increase, while if you go out more, you have a less healthy diet at a higher cost,” notes Adam Drewnowski, the study’s lead researcher and a professor of epidemiology, in a university release. “The differences were significant, even with a relatively small study sample.”

With about half of all food expenditures being spent on food prepared outside the house, this study may help illuminate a potential cause for high rates of obesity and malnutrition more than a third of Americans are obese, while only one-fifth meet the USDA’s dietary guidelines.

Americans generally work more than individuals from other Western nations, which may lead to what epidemiologists call “time poverty,” making the habit of cooking a luxury. Interestingly, the researchers didn’t find a correlation between income or education level and one’s propensity to eat out. Common wisdom would suggest that those who are poorer might resort to eating fast food.

While the study involved self-reporting a methodology prone to faulty memory Drewnowski explained that the vast majority of nutritional research is done this way.

The study’s relatively small sample size also warrants further examination. The findings are published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

This study was originally published on March 17, 2017.


  1. Cooking at home actually takes less time than it does to eat out if you can do it right. For $30.00 one can purchase a steamer and you can steam vegetables for your evening meal, whether canned or frozen (yes, some argue that canned vegetables might have chemicals, but it is still more healthy than eating out every night). Include a piece or two of fresh fruit with that dinner, and extra time of preparation is, oh, zero minutes (unless you cut open a melon, that takes an extra two minutes). If you cook a slab of meat, like a piece of chicken, and that doesn’t take much prep. Even if you buy a store-made entree, that doesn’t take a lot of extra time of prep. Yes, this isn’t all that healthy, but if that entree isn’t a majority of the meal – the majority being fruits and vegetables – it’s healthy and saves time. And, one can make a big entree on the weekend and eat it over the week (along with the fruits/vegetable included in the meal mentioned above), the prep over a weekday dinner is minimal. This involves a microwave, which is only hazardous to your food if you buy into the myths of it being so (independent studies show no danger to your food or health if you use one).
    Let’s look at the time it takes for one to get food in a restaurant. Assuming you eat dinner before you get home, it takes around 30 minutes between the time you step in the door and you get your food – this includes seating, ordering, and waiting. And while you have to clean dishes after dinner, if you do this right, it takes just as much time to clean your dishes as it takes to wait for your check. Likewise, while your vegetables are steaming, you can use the time to do whatever chores need to be done, while this isn’t possible at a restaurant (where one is likely to waste the time on a smartphone, nowadays).
    With lunch, the time savings are much more considerable. It takes five-ten minutes to prepare a proper, healthy lunch at home to take to work, the bulk of the time making the sandwich. This is the amount of time it takes to get to the restaurant, alone. You save much more time doing this, not just save a ton of money, and eat much more healthy.
    Eating out should be reserved for social occasions. If you need to go to lunch once-twice a week to bond with your co-workers, that is an acceptable reason to do so; otherwise, it should be avoided. Like drinking, it should never be done alone. And you should never get takeout; I have provided ample reason why this is a no-no, in my opinion.
    If one has an open mind, there are few reasons to consistently eat restaurant food. It has long been known to be bad for your pocketbook and it is bad for your health. And I have demonstrated why there are no time savings. Doing so should require a certain agenda, whatever that agenda is, and it shouldn’t be to simply eat, or because you don’t feel like preparing a meal, because most people have the ability to do so at home.

  2. There is a system developed in India called the “Dabbawala” food delivery system which brings home cooked meals to the office using the British “tiffin”. It is worth quoting “They’ve been feeding the city for 127 years, but who are the food delivery people behind the system which became the envy of FedEx…the dabba’s delivery system, ferrying out an estimated 80 million lunches a year. And no better example of this intricate system shines through than in Mumbai…Every day in India alone, some 200,000 dabbas are moved by an estimated 5,000 dabbawalas” [How dabbawalas became the world’s best food delivery system]. This method assures a home cooked meal to every office worker

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