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June 23, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 2 Faves: 0

Cook Dinner or Exercise?

By Jessica Corwin MPH RDN More Blogs by This Author

Two studies have recently caused quite a stir. One, published in Nutrition Journal, covers the decline in foods consumed at home. The other, out of Ohio State University, focuses on the apparent ultimatum of a home-cooked meal versus physical activity. Both surrounding topics that I am very passionate about: COOKING and FAMILY MEALS. So, let's take a minute to explore what the data shows and just how we can achieve a healthy balance of both.

The Art of Cooking

A comparison of national nutrition surveys taken in 1965 and 2008, paints a very clear picture: cooking is on the decline. On average, Americans have been cooking less and eating out more for decades, finally beginning to level off in the 1990s. No matter the household socioeconomic status, we are all cooking less despite the fact that the majority of our calories do come from those from home. In fact, the research shows that barely 50% of us spend ANY time cooking. 

Why does this matter? Nutrition quality tends to be much better when we cook at home, particularly when compared to the purchased packaged meals, freezer meals, and take-out meals available. Most of the purchased options are high in added sugars, sodium, and unhealthy fats, all contributing to our growing prevalence of type two diabetes, heart disease, and an ongoing list of other chronic diseases. When we cook at home, we are able to control just how much salt, sugar, and fat goes into our meal, and, if you're anything like me, seeing the amount of salt or sugar or butter makes me stop and think... and often leads to a bit of recipe experimentation as I cut each one down. Do you think the chef at that national restaurant chain or frozen meal manufacturer stops to think about your health? Perhaps, but not likely.

The 21st Century Ultimatum

It's clear that we are cooking less, but does that mean we are filling our time with other healthy activities instead? Not exactly.

Researches reviewed data from over 100,000 American adults and found that for every 10-minute increase in food prep time, we cut down on our physical activity by the same amount. While I suppose this makes sense, what I found to be of interest is that this holds true whether you are single or married, even for those with kids or without, meaning every lifestyle is forced to make this choice. To cook or move, that 'tis the question.

Is a Healthy Balance Possible?

Call me Polyanna, but I do believe we can do both. Perhaps not every single day (though many people do!), but the majority of the time. With a touch of planning, it is possible to both cook and move MORE.

How I Make It Work

For me, what works is creating a plan and having a backup.

  • Create a meal plan. Sitting down to create a weekly line-up of dinners and accomplishing as much of the prep work ahead of time as possible, makes home-cooked meals a reality in my household. On Sundays or Tuesdays, I think about what I would like to have that week. I peruse my Pinterest boards, scan my favorite foodie blogs, and review the Meijer and D&W sales ads. Then I come up with 3-5 meals, as we can always eat leftovers or a quick sandwich on other nights.  
    I tend to use a pad of paper for my dinner plans, but I have recently began exploring PepperPlate as it enables me to sync my favorite recipes online for my weekly plan, saving my favorites, AND creating my shopping list for me. Easy peasy.
    If you hate planning, check out one of the many online meal planning services available, and they will do the work for you. One of my favorites is the Six O'clock Scramble which only costs a few dollars a month; check it out!
  • Prep ahead. If I know that Wednesday night is going to be crazy with very little time to cook, I'll chop my veggies ahead of time (or opt for a pre-chopped mix - e.g. frozen stir-fry veggies), gather my ingredients, and store them in a ziplock or on a tray in the refrigerator, and/or toss them into the slow-cooker the morning of or the night before. Then, when I return home from work, dinner magically comes together and is a welcome reward after a long day.
  • Maintain a well-stocked kitchen. Although I try to have a dinner plan, some nights, life just happens. In this case, I take a look at my list of go-to EASY and memorized meals that I hang in our kitchen. I always have the ingredients on-hand for at least a handful of them. This way, even if my mind is fried, I am still able to pull something healthy together. 
  • Just move. When it comes to exercise, every little bit counts. Most days, I do my best to go for a long walk along the beach or through the hills while carrying or pushing my little man. While not quite the same as life before baby when I would simply go for a run or pop in a fitness DVD, this is what works for me now, and it makes me (and baby!) feel GOOD. I also aim to find little ways to incorporate movement into my every day by parking farther away from my destination, standing up to read or check e-mail (vs sitting), playing with my babe, cleaning, etc. And thankfully, my hubby is always up for a rejuvenating walk with our boxer and babe after dinner. 

Yes, the goal is to move for thirty consecutive minutes each day. Even if we must break it up into ten minute increments, it still makes a difference. Get up during the commercial and dance! Walk to your co-workers' desks rather than e-mailing them. Enjoy the outdoors, and savor the sounds of nature with a hike. Whatever you do, sit less and move more. Your heart and mind will thank you. 

Now, tell me: Which one tends to trump the other in your home? Or are you truly the exceptional home manager, accomplishing BOTH aspects of a healthy life? 

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2 Comments

  • it's all I know is after eating raw veggies or healthy snacks during the day it sure is nice to eat a real meal after you get home. For an example my husband is the best at making meals out of left overs (he got that from his mom) he's told me before they used to have a home made pizza once a week with left over foods on it! I mean like using up the left over veggies and lunch meat, or taco meat, or BBQ meat + more that didn't get finished during the week.

  • Sounds like you have quite the man in your life, Nancy :)

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