Want to be healthier? Learn to cook!

Cooking at home is the ticket to healthier, more affordable meals, which in turn means a healthier you! When you cook at home, you control the ingredients and avoid consuming the cheap fillers, flavour enhancers, and added salt or butter that end up in most restaurant and take away meals. Cooking also nudges you to move naturally, requiring you to stand, stir, mix, knead, chop, and lift.

Children who more frequently eat home-cooked meals are less likely to be overweight and they tend to consume more fruits and vegetables than children who frequent restaurants and eat take aways. Children who regularly have family dinners, research shows, do better in school, have healthier relationships, and are less likely to drink, smoke, or get into trouble.

For busy parents, inexperienced home chefs, and full-time working couples, planning meals can be a daunting task, but here are 5 tips to make cooking at home easier and more enjoyable:

Plan. By planning out meals you have a roadmap to not only the grocery store, but also to the week ahead. Try making Sundays a meal planning day so you can get organised. Involve kids so they have an active role in choosing the vegetables or helping to plan their lunches. Double or triple recipes you know you like so that you can make them once and enjoy them throughout the week. You can also do this for staples like brown rice, beans, and dressings so that you can create fast meals in a pinch.

Prep veggies in advance. You can also buy pre-cut veggies, like shredded carrots or broccoli that’s already in florets. Like with frozen vegetables, you lose a small amount of nutrition, but it’s better than ordering a take away or having no broccoli at all. If you’re prepping in advance, just slice and dice your veggies, then store in glass containers in your fridge. This way, you can throw together an easy salad or toss already-chopped veggies into the pot for a simple soup on nights when you would rather not spend a lot of time in the kitchen.

Learn how to cook quick, low-maintenance meals and get comfortable in the kitchen.Every home chef should have a few basic skills: how to wield a knife to chop vegetables; how to make simple soups, salads, and salad dressings; how to make a few whole-grain dishes like brown rice or quinoa, how to prep, soak, season, and cook healthier protein options like black beans, lentils, or tofu. With these basics and some prep time, you can build healthy salads for lunches and heartier grain bowls for dinners all week.

Eat together. As a rule, don’t eat alone, standing up, or with the other hand on the steering wheel or the remote control. Aim to eat slowly while holding conversations with your friends and family, a ritual good for building stronger family ties and healthier bodies. Elevating the act of eating to a social event may help you enjoy and digest your food better by making your meals a time of sharing and being with friends and family.

Always eat breakfast at home. As easy as it may be to stop at Costa to grab a coffee before your first meeting, eating breakfast is a great way to save on calories and start the day with a nutritious meal that will fuel you until lunch time. And it doesn’t have to take you any extra time. Overnight oats, chia pudding, and green smoothies are all fast and portable.

Embrace leftovers. Leftovers are your friend, so aim to work one or two ‘leftover meals’ into your week. That leftover soup or stew; stick it in the freezer for a quick meal after a long day. You can also remix your leftovers into a whole new meal. Whenever you make beans and rice to go with a meal, make extra so that you can have bean and rice salad the next day. Having a plan for your leftovers gives you a break later in the week, and it’s a good budget plan. Otherwise, those leftovers end up in the bin and that’s food (and money!) down the drain.

Build a bowl of healthy food. Bowl meals are great to fall-back on when you don’t feel like cooking. They’re handy for using up produce that’s about to go out of date, and you can incorporate leftovers into the mix. Here’s how to do it:

• Bottom layer: salad greens, a grain like brown rice or quinoa 

• Middle layer: cooked and/or raw vegetables 

• Top layer: protein of choice such as beans, lentils, chicken, fish or tofu 

• Very top layer: home made dressing plus any toppings you like such as avocado, nuts or seeds, pickled veggies or sauerkraut.  

Get the hang of these bowl meals and you’ll be making a meal out of a virtually empty fridge!