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Can’t go out? Let’s get cooking

During a discussion with a friend about the recent pandemic of COVID-19, she states “I have never cooked at home so much!” When the recent social distancing guidelines closed the restaurants dining in services, many of us have dusted off our cooking equipment. The good news? There is a growing body of evidence to support that cooking your meals at home provides a healthier diet.

A few benefits include eating fewer calories and socializing with loved one. Additionally, you stimulate your brain by preparing new recipes, which may help prevent cognitive decline. When cooking at home, you are more mindful of what you eat because you are a part of the meal process from grocery store to the plate, maybe even from garden to your plate. When cooking at home, you can re-create recipes to be lower in fat, lower in added sugars, and lower in sodium. Time in the kitchen can be as valuable as medication for some people with chronic diseases, such as Diabetes.

However, “time” is often fleeting. Keeping your pantry, fridge, and freezer stocked with simple items to make quick healthy meals is a great step in saving time. For example, canned salmon can be quickly and simply turned into a delicious hot salmon patty in minutes. Serve the salmon patty over a salad for a complete meal. You can use your crock-pot to create two or three healthy dinners in one pot without spending a lot of time or effort in the kitchen. For example, a pork roast can be served with brown rice and vegetables one night, and the next night you can shred some of the pork roast, add black beans, onions, peppers, and taco seasoning to create pork tacos. Additionally, leftovers can be frozen for a third meal to be used later. Above all, planning is the ultimate time-saver. By planning your meals out for the week, you will spend less time standing in your kitchen staring into your pantry while asking yourself “What should I make for dinner tonight?” With a plan in place, you will make sure you have all ingredients on hand with one trip to the grocery store and can be sure to pull items out of the freezer in advance. With a plan in place, you can save money by using up items you have in your pantry and reduce food waste by using or freezing those leftovers you may have in the fridge.

As a dietitian-nutritionist, I have often counseled individuals on “what” they should be eating and they will say, “I know what I should be doing, but I can’t cook! I get to the grocery store and I just don’t know where to start.” It is no surprise that research shows practicing cooking skills increases a person’s confidence in food preparation, which translates into eating a healthier diet. You can get healthy meal and recipe ideas on the internet at MyPlate Kitchen or at SNAPedNY.org that are easy to practice AND easy on your budget. To learn more about following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans as well as cooking recommendations on saving time, money, and eating healthy; contact the Office for Aging and ask for SNAP-ed Nutrition Education from one of our Registered Dietitians.

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