If you are new to healthy eating or want to improve the quality of your meals, a good place to start is at home. It is much easier to prepare a healthier meal when you are in control of the ingredients. In the past several decades, sales from eating out have surpassed grocery sales (Department of Commerce, 2016). When breaking it down, a typical meal at a restaurant costs approximately $13, whereas it is possible to cook similar dishes at home for approximately $3 to $7. Not only is eating out more expensive, but it also often results in food choices that are less healthy (more calories, fat, and sodium). Eating at home can create a positive environment for you and your family to spend time together cooking and eating nutritious meals.
If necessary, start making small changes to improve the quality and nutritional value of the ingredients you keep at home. Stock up on long-lasting vegetables and store them in a cool, dry place. Potatoes, carrots, pumpkin, calabaza, and sweet potatoes taste great for several weeks after you buy them. Frozen produce is another great option, especially if you are cooking for one or two. See the Shopping List section for more information about healthier food choices.
Set yourself up for success. Making healthier food choices is easier when you can see them. For example, keep a bowl on the counter stocked with fruit rather than candy or have pre-cut vegetables or fruits available in the refrigerator, especially on the shelf at eye level.
Eating at home requires that you take the time to maintain a grocery list and shop periodically. While this may seem daunting at first, but the end result will be less expensive, healthier meals.
- Make it a habit to prepare a grocery list, go to the store and have food readily available at home. This may mean weekly, biweekly or monthly shopping. Do what works best for you.
- Create a meal plan for the week. Start by selecting a grain, a protein and a vegetable for each meal. Work on basic cooking techniques and work your way up to more complex recipes (download a sample shopping list here).
- Use this What’s for Dinner? resource at to plan your meals more effectively
- Choose healthier cooking methods, such as baking, boiling, broiling, grilling, roasting, and steaming.
- Frozen meals can be convenient options. Find healthier options by observing these guidelines (300-500 calories, less than 600mg sodium, and over 10 grams of protein). Skip frozen dinners that are breaded/fried or include creamy sauces and gravies).
- Use measuring cups and spoons to keep portions under control.
- Aim to get your family involved in the process of both preparation and cooking. It is essential to teach future generations basic culinary skills and the importance of healthy eating habits.
- Try growing your own vegetables and/or herbs. You don’t necessarily need a back yard. Grab a few small- to-medium pots and plant some seedlings.
- Contact your local Master Gardener or become a Master Gardener yourself. Visit the master garden program to learn more.
- Designate a place to eat and “unplug” from technology. This helps to reduce mindless eating and encourages mealtime conversations.
- Have a positive attitude and outlook. You can do this!