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Embrace your inner chef to slim down

If your refrigerator has more takeout menus taped to the door than actual food inside, it’s time for a change. Even if you work long hours or think you can’t boil water, it’s possible to cook your own healthy, delicious meals – saving you time, money and calories. And there’s plenty of evidence why you should: studies have shown that people who prepare their own meals at home tend to weigh less than those who frequently dine out.

By embracing your inner chef, not only will you have control over what you eat, you’ll also save time and money.

The benefits of a home-cooked meal

Chef Nancy Waldeck of Cancer Wellness at Piedmont says cooking your own meals at home gives you more control over your health and your palate. “You get to use ingredients that you like,” she says. “You can customize your meals to what you and your family enjoy. That’s the most important thing when cooking healthy – if it doesn’t taste good, you’re not going to eat it.”

Another bonus of cooking at home is that you can make healthier swaps for common ingredients – something most restaurants don’t do – which can save you hundreds of calories. For example, Waldeck substitutes egg whites for whole eggs whenever possible, reducing calories and cholesterol.

If you’re trying to cut back on salt, fat and sugar, cooking at home is a great way to control what goes into your dishes. Those steamed veggies at your favorite restaurant may taste delicious because they are topped with melted butter. “If you go to a restaurant and something takes really good, it probably has butter on it,” says Waldeck.

Waldeck works with cancer patients who need at least nine to 11 servings of vegetables and fruit each day. Preparing your own meals allows you to slip more nutritious ingredients to classic meals. One of her favorite tricks: when you’re making chicken noodle soup, swap half the noodles for broccoli or cauliflower.

Preparing your own meals also guarantees portion control. “Look at meat as more of a side dish and add extra veggies to your diet,” she recommends.

Make cooking work for your hectic schedule

If you have a busy schedule, think about how long it actually takes to place a takeout order, wait for it to arrive or drive to pick it up. You may find that in those 30 to 45 minutes, you could actually whip up a nutritious, cheaper meal on your own. Waldeck recommends planning ahead and starting with small, manageable goals. You don’t have to cook three meals a day, seven days a week.

“Pick your battles,” she says. “Decide what you’re going to do and look for recipes that are easy to make with ingredients that are easy to find. Double your recipe and freeze half of it to enjoy next week, or pack leftovers for lunch the next day. Be realistic.” 

Look for dishes you can cook once and eat two or three times. Plus, packing your lunch and cooking your own dinners will save you money in the long run. Pick a convenient appliance, such a slow-cooker to lighten your load and do a lot of the work for you.

Finally, don’t let hunger sabotage your healthy-eating efforts. “If you’re trying to cook while you’re hungry, you’ll eat your portion before it even gets to the table,” says Waldeck. “Eat nuts or an apple. That way you’ll enjoy cooking and be able to enjoy dinner when it’s ready.”

For healthy recipe ideas, click here.

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