You’ve probably heard that eating more meals at home can save you money and calories, but did you know there are many other benefits? Research shows that people who eat at home tend to have higher intakes of fruits and vegetables and also eat less saturated fat (that’s the inflammatory fat that contributes to heart disease and cancer). For families with children, more meals eaten together have been associated with better parent child communication and decreased risky teen behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse.
Despite this evidence, there has been an increase in the number of meals eaten away from home over the past couple of decades. For those working full time outside of the home, the thought of cooking a meal seems daunting.
Like many things in life, advanced planning is the key to success-and eating more meals at home is no exception. This doesn’t mean you have to plan a menu for every day of the week, nor does it mean something fancy and elaborate (a sandwich at home is still healthier and cheaper than one out). However, it does mean keeping some basic items on hand. Hence, the first step to eating more at home is a well-stocked pantry and freezer. This means having both frozen and dried foods on hand to supplement fresh foods you have in your refrigerator.
Here are a few of the basics for a well-stocked kitchen:
Whole grains like quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, and barley. They cook quickly (10-20 minutes) and can be used as the base of meal (add some lean protein and vegetables) or a side. If you don’t have time to cook them when you get home, all of these grains can be cooked and frozen in advance, and then reheated when you are ready to eat.
Potatoes are nice to keep around when you tire of whole grains. Roasting potatoes takes a little more time, but microwaves can be a lifesaver when you’re looking for something besides rice and pasta! Serve with just about anything, including your favorite style eggs or veggie omelet for breakfast for dinner night!
Dried fruit and nuts are both great to keep on hand to add to salads or grain dishes.
Canned beans can be added to rice and pasta dishes or salads. They are also great to keep on hand for spontaneous “build your own burrito or taco night.”
Canned vegetables such as tomatoes should be kept on hand to use as a sauce for pasta or homemade pizza, or to use in homemade soup.
Cooking oils such as peanut and canola oils as well as olive oil for salads and roasting vegetables.
Freezer items to keep on hand include a variety of whole grain breads for sandwiches and wraps as well as a variety of frozen fruits and vegetables.Take out as much as you need at a time and store the rest in back in the freezer.
Once you have your kitchen stocked with some of these basics, you’ll always have something to pair with fresh food purchases. If time permits, you may also consider doing a few other things to make evening meal time even easier by chopping vegetables a day or two in advance or doing some cooking and freezing for later in the week.
Start making these small changes today, and you’ll soon discover that you can throw together a healthy meal quicker than the pizza delivery will get to your house!