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SALT LAKE CITY — What is one of the first steps to eating better and improving your health?
If you want to improve your health, locate your kitchen. Fill it with whole, fresh foods and commit to learning a little more about how to prepare them deliciously on a regular basis.
When people of all ages and life stages prepare food at home they eat better. In fact, kids who are involved in meal preparation take those skills with them into adulthood and eat better than their young adult peers who have not participated in meal preparation as children. Their incidence of obesity and chronic diseases are fewer too. People who prepare more home cooked meals eat healthier than those who do not, eating more fruits and vegetables and fewer sugary drinks and fast food products.
Whether you are a teenager at home, single or a parent juggling activities and children, you can benefit from deliberate preparation of food at home. There is something about purchasing food at the grocery store, selecting a recipe and touching the food in all stages of food preparation that gives us a sense of ownership. We become invested in our food and our health by deliberately using our economic and time resources.
When we take the time to consider our food we stop to think. We actively acknowledge our choices. Too often food choices take the back burner in priority and we stumble on the most convenient options which may not be the most nourishing. It may seem common sense, but few take the time to plan their food deliberately and instead let eating happen passively.
Research indicates when people eat out frequently, they don't make great choices. They choose sodas, juices, deep-fried delights and double-sized deals. Though restaurants are making good strides at offering more healthy choices, we have to actually chose to eat those foods for the choices to benefit us. People cite taste and convenience above all else as the most important factors when making food choices and "healthy" has a less than flavorful wrap.
If advice to prepare more home cooked meals sounds daunting, try thinking in terms of assembling food to start. Healthy home cooked (or assembled) meals can be easy.
For breakfast, consider whole grain pancakes topped with berries or applesauce, whole grain toast with a microwave-scrambled egg, greek yogurt with fruit or overnight soaked grains for breakfast.
For lunch try a baked potato, a cucumber tuna salad sandwich or a bean and cheese quesadilla with avocado, salsa or plain greek yogurt topping.
Saute some vegetables to add to rice, pasta, sloppy joe mixes, omelets or tacos throughout the week for dinner. Cooking at home and eating healthy does not have to be complicated and time-consuming. A few minutes of forethought each week can go a long way.
With time, as you collect skills and confidence in the kitchen, you can branch out and learn new techniques to add to your repertoire. Experiment with roasting vegetables to bring out their sweet and nutty flavors. Broiling is like grilling indoors (the heat sources comes from above instead of below) and fish and vegetables are excellent and quickly prepared this way.
It can be overwhelming to dive into big changes like cooking more often and buying fewer pre-prepared foods. Start small. Try no more than one new recipe per week. Aim for high flavor foods and fresh ingredients so you are rewarded by your efforts. A good source for flavorful healthy dishes is skinnytaste.com. If you'd like a little science and cooking lesson to go with your delicious food, try watching and preparing the recipes of Alton Brown, chef and host of the Food Network's "Good Eats."
Set your table and sit down to eat. Pay attention to what your food taste likes, smells like and feels like in your mouth. Limit your distractions, like the TV. Research shows that mindful practices can make a big difference in helping us feel satisfied with our food and food preparation efforts.
We can all do a little better to prepare more nourishing foods at home. Your taste buds and waistline will thank you.
Erica Hansen is a registered dietitian nutritionist with a masters degree in Nutritional Science from BYU. She works with individuals and businesses to make meaningful and nourishing changes that stick. She owns the website foodsthatfityourlife.com.