cook from scratch

back to basics | cook from scratch

Cook from scratch?!? But that’s so much work….

Last week, we kicked off the “Back to Basics” series by talking about whole foods and how as a health coach, I sift through all the nutrition info out there so you don’t have to. This week, we’re taking on my second food rule: cook from scratch.

If you recall, my “food rules” are as follows:

  • Eat when you are physically (not emotionally) hungry. (Lots more on that in the months to come!)
  • Focus on whole foods,
  • Cooked from scratch,
  • Eaten in moderation,
  • With mindfulness and gratitude.

When I do workshops on healthy food choices and meal planning so that we can cook from scratch more regularly, I often start with some unscientific research about the audience.

It all begins with a poll. “Raise your hand if you eat family dinners at home (this includes takeout) at least 1 night a week?” Followed by, “Keep your hand up if you do it [2,..7] nights a week.” Yeah, by 3–4 nights a week, I’ve lost more than half of the audience.

Why is that? Well, for starters, we’re busy: jobs, school, extracurriculars, sports….

And secondly, food is everywhere—and until recently, it’s been fairly affordable if not downright cheap. (One could argue that we’re not talking about real food here.)

where is food sold now?

I ask my audience to list some places they’ve seen food for sale recently where it didn’t used to be available. (You have to be at least 50 to answer this question in a meaningful way, I think.)

Frequent responses include:

  • gas stations
  • convenience stores
  • hardware stores
  • sporting goods stores
  • department stores
  • home goods stores….

My favorite answer comes from my own experience in Ann Arbor. The newest branch of the public library prominently featured a café—and you could take your coffee and snacks into the stacks.

Little old library ladies were fainting all over the place, for sure.

eat at home

Not-so-fun facts (many taken from Dr. Mark Hyman and The Family Dinner Project) about food available outside the usual places it used to be found, namely grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and restaurants:

  • In 1900, 2% of meals were eaten outside the home. In 2010, 50% were eaten away from home.
  • Most family meals happen about 3x a week, last less than 20 minutes, and are spent watching television or texting.
  • Often, each family member eats a different microwaved “food,” or as nutrition professor Marion Nestle says, a UFO—an unidentifiable food-like object.
  • In 2010, more meals were eaten in the minivan than the kitchen, and 1 in 5 breakfasts came from McDonald’s. If you think I’m making this up, I’ll point to my experience of dropping my kids off for early elementary school classes in Los Angeles. At least 1 in 5 (if not more) kids showed up with fast food breakfast in tow. At lunchtime, Mom would show up with another fast food bag rather than getting the kids school lunch or packing one.

What are the benefits of eating family meals at home (whether you’ve cooked the meal or not)? In children, we see:

  • Better academic performance
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Greater sense of resilience
  • Lower risk of substance abuse. Kids who eat family meals regularly are:
    • 42% less likely to drink
    • 50% less likely to smoke
    • 66% less likeky to smoke marijuana
  • Lower risk of teen pregnancy
  • Lower risk of depression
  • Lower likelihood of developing eating disorders
  • Lower rates of obesity

In summary, children who have regular meals with their caregivers do better in every way, from better health to better grades, to healthier relationships, to staying out of trouble. And adults see similar benefits.

cook at home

The next question I ask: “How many of you cook at home at least 1 night a week? Keep your hands up if you do it [2,..7] nights a week.”

Pre-pandemic, I lost most of the audience around 2–3 times a week. During the height of the pandemic, it went up slightly (you could see the resentment in people’s faces). Now it’s back down.

And yet, just about everyone loves a cooking show.

  • In his book Cooked, Michael Pollan writes that when we cook, the average American spends 27 minutes making dinner. That’s far less time than it takes to watch an episode of Iron Chef! America has become a nation of people who love to watch cooking as a spectator sport. And we don’t engage in it regularly ourselves.
  • According to Sophie Egan in Devoured, March 2015 was a watershed moment in the eating lives of Americans. For the first time since the government began tracking our spending habits around food (1970), we spent more money on food prepared outside the home (restaurants, takeout, etc.) than on groceries that we cooked at home. Take a moment and let that sink in.

And finally, taking us back to last week’s topic—whole foods, a finer point on the question of cooking at home.

“How many of you cook from scratch at home?” (Before you answer that, cooking from scratch means no mixes, cans, spice blends, prepared salad dressings, pre-marinated cuts of meat, etc.)

cook from scratch at home

Remember what a whole food is? Here’s why this is such an important concept! Let’s take a look at some of the dangers in our reliance on processed foods.

  • Americans increased their away-from-home share of calories from 18% to 32% in the three decades between 1983–2013.
  • From the FDA: In today’s busy world, Americans eat and drink about one third of their calories from foods prepared away from home. In general, these foods provide more calories, sodium, and saturated fat than meals consumed at home.
  • For the average adult, eating one meal away from home each week translates to roughly 2 extra pounds each year. Over the course of 5 years, that’s 10 extra pounds.
  • In 2013, calorie intake had risen over 3 decades from 1,875 calories per person per day to 2,002 calories per day. That’s 127 calories extra per day, about 1 snack pack, or about 1 lb per month if we consider 1 lb contains about 3,500 calories. Wonder what the pandemic has done to that figure….
  • Now let’s take a look at some stats from CDC:
    • Between 2000–2020, US adult obesity rates jumped from 31%–42% of the population.
    • Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death.
    • The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the United States was nearly $173 billion in 2019 dollars (up from $147B in 2008).
    • Medical costs for adults who had obesity were $1,861 higher than medical costs for people with healthy weight (up from $1,500 in 2008).
    • And for any HR people out there, the annual costs of obesity-related absenteeism range between $79 and $542 per obese individual, so if you have 1,000 obese employees, your productivity costs could be between $8000–$542,000 per year.
    • National productivity losses range from $13.4 to $26.8 billion in 2016. Trends in state-level estimates mirror those at the national level, varying across states.
    • And that doesn’t include “presenteeism”—lost productivity even though they are at work! Makes you rethink that vending machine….

cook from scratch + eat family meals

I think you can’t really dispute that the rise in obesity and related health issues is traceable to our eating habits—and cooking practices or lack thereof.

And besides, doesn’t mom’s/grandma’s food (I guess now I might want to say grandma’s/great-grandma’s food) always taste better due to that dose of Vitamin L (Love!) she adds?

So can we agree that cooking from scratch and eating family meals are two very important health goals? (Don’t worry, “family” can be you, you and your partner, you and your kids, you and your friends, even you and your cat. (And if you like a bit of wine with your dinner, it’s not drinking alone if the dog is home with you.)

make the connection

Well, you might be thinking, that’s all well and good. But I have no clue how to cook from scratch and/or no time to do it on a regular basis.

Have I got news for you! Part of my work as a health coach is rooted in my education in culinary arts. Yup, I actually studied how to cook. And as I mentioned last week, a big part of my coaching practice consists of setting you up for success—including in the kitchen. And my goal is to make that feel easy.

If you’re starting to think there’s something to cooking from scratch using whole foods and you have no clue how to begin, join me for my monthly virtual cooking demos! If you’re an employer who wants to empower your team, group rates are available. And you can choose whether your employees are paying for the demo or you want to cover it. Send me an email and let me know you’re interested! Individuals can register on Eventbrite.