Cooking at home is generally cheaper and healthier than eating out

Going out to eat has always been more expensive than eating at home, unless maybe you eat off the dollar menu at a fast food joint. Even then, eating an organic apple is cheaper and healthier than eating something off the McDonald’s dollar menu.

A University of Washington Medicine study collected data on the eating habits of 437 adults as part of the Seattle Obesity Study. The researchers found that higher rates of fast food consumption are not linked to lower income because eating at home is actually cheaper. It becomes even more cost effective to eat at home when families have multiple kids. They also found that when people eat at home, they get more nutrients and better meet the U.S. dietary standards. The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

“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,” confirmed Adam Drewnowski, director of the UW’s Center for Public Health Nutrition.

Eating out associated with higher costs and less nutrition

The researchers conducted interviews and used a measurement called the Healthy Eating Index, which examines whether a person is eating a healthy combination of fruits and vegetables. The families who ate a home-cooked meal at least six times per week scored a 74 on the Healthy Eating Index. Families who cooked at home only three times per week scored significantly less, 67, and consequently, do not get the basic nutrition their bodies need. To make matters worse, getting less nutrition also leads to higher rates of chronic disease, which means that eating out more often could lead to more health problems and associated costs down the road.

In the 1970’s, dinners outside the home accounted for 18 percent of consumers’ caloric intake. By the 1990’s, consumers were getting 32 percent of their calories from take-out foods. In the current U.S. economy, roughly half of all food money is spent on meals outside the home. This suggests that people could be strapped for cooking time or are disillusioned by inflated grocery prices. In the process of eating out habitually, consumers are more apt to sacrifice their health, consuming more calories and less nutrients. Of course, this all depends on key decisions that consumers make when either purchasing groceries or ordering in a restaurant.

Why home-cooked meals are better most of the time

Even though a home-cooked meal is generally cheaper and healthier, consumers often load their shopping carts with junk food snacks and sugary beverages that offset any health and cost advantages of eating at home. You can substitute a greasy, fast food lunch with a handful of nuts and an organic apple, but if you’re at home drinking soda all day and cooking nothing but ramen noodles and hot dogs, you’re probably better off going out to eat at a place where you can get more vegetables, nutrients, fiber, and healthy fats. Eating out can be a healthier and cheaper experience too, if you don’t always order a soda or alcoholic beverage. Also, many restaurants offer vegetable substitutes in place of the common side of fries.

Still, home-cooked meals are better most of the time because you are in charge of what goes into the meal. Home-cooked meals are made healthier with the additions of spices such as garlic, onions, turmeric, basil, thyme, peppers, cilantro, oregano, etc. A family is more apt to consume smaller portions if they have to share a home-cooked meal with one another; whereas, in an out-to-eat setting, every member of the family gets a greater portion, especially at a buffet. Home-cooked meals are better because you can cook with healthier oils and butters; whereas, restaurants cheapen their product with hormone laded butters, or GM canola and corn oils. Ideally, home-cooked meals are made even better when fresh, organic produce is grown right at home.

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