If you were planning on Seamless-ing dinner tonight, you might want to reconsider. New research from the University of Washington School of Public Health found that people who cook at home more often are likely to eat a healthier diet overall and — most unsurprisingly — save a few bucks while they’re at it.
The study, conducted by Professor Adam Drewnowski of the University of Washington, proved what most of us know already, but seem to conveniently forget when time is short and our stomachs are screaming for food: “By cooking more often at home, you have a better diet at no significant cost increase,” says Drewnowski. “While if you go out more, you have a less healthy diet at a higher cost. The differences were significant, even with a relatively small study sample,” he adds.
So just how did these researchers prove that we should be spending more time in our kitchens? They used a measurement called the Healthy Eating Index, which gauges whether a person’s diet is giving them the right combination of fruits, vegetables and other elements. What they found is pretty convincing: Participants who cooked at home three times a week registered a score of 67 (weighed on a scale of 100), while those who cooked at home about six times per week had a score of about 74.
But it’s not just the increase in healthy foods we consume at home that’s worth noting. It’s also the money we can save. Sure, high-quality foods (especially organic ones) can be pricey, but overall, grocery shopping and cooking your own ingredients in your own kitchen is a more cost-effective choice than constantly eating out. The more often you eat in, the more chances you have to use up the veggies, spices and non-perishables you’ve purchased, which adds up to a lot of savings over time.
While it may not seem groundbreaking, this message is one that Americans need to be educated on when it comes to how they budget for food. As it stands now, roughly half of food dollars in the U.S. are spent outside of the home. Yikes — no wonder there are such high rates of American obesity and malnutrition (more than a third of Americans are obese, while only one-fifth meet the USDA’s dietary guidelines).
What’s more, millions of people falsely believe that the drive-thru is a cheaper option when trying to pinch pennies, but the study found quite the opposite. “There was no increase in costs for eating a healthier diet,” says Drewnowski. The study also debunked the idea that eating fast food is more prevalent in lower-income households — it turns out, people of all salaries are tempted by the drive-thru.
The one exception: Large families. As much as kids love the salty fries and kids’ meals at McDonald’s, the study found that the more mouths you have to feed, the likelier it is you’ll be whipping up and serving meals at home — a wise choice, it seems.