Cooking at Home is Back on the Front Burner

During these tough economic times, people are returning to the kitchen.  That’s good news.  And most people (96%) believe that eating at home is healthier than eating out, according to the Food Marketing Institute’s Shopping for Health report.

But some recent headlines would have you believe that cooking at home could be hazardous to your waistline.   A Cornell University study published as a letter this week in the Annals of Internal Medicine suggests the popular cookbooks we rely on at home might be making us fat.  The researchers examined how classic recipes have changed during the past 70 years, primarily focusing on the iconic Joy of Cooking.  They found a nearly 40 percent increase  in calories per serving for nearly every recipe reviewed, about an extra 77 calories.  This was primarily due to changes in serving sizes and ingredients (extra meat instead of vegetables, more sauces, butter or sugar).  Plus, families have gotten smaller, so a dish that  once was eaten by 8 people is now consumed by 4. 

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But registered dietitian and chef Maggie Green, who served as a lead editor on the updated 2006 Joy of Cooking, is crying foul.  She challenges how this study was done — only analyzing 18 recipes out of thousands.  She doesn’t believe this small sampling represents the full scope of the book.  Additionally, the newer edition provides more nutrition information for the reader and features more fresh ingredients over processed foods.

“I still defy anyone to cook and eat sensibly at home and become obese,” Green told me in an email.  “I firmly believe home-cooking and sharing a meal with those you love would go a long way in making this world a healthier place.”

So bottom line, the problem of portion distortion is not limited to restaurant meals.   Keeping an eye on portion size is important at home too.    But does the YIELD identified in a recipe really determine how much you eat?  Not sure folks are really looking at how many servings a recipe makes and then eat accordingly.   What may help is switching to a smaller plate.   The growing size of our dinner plates makes reasonable portions look puny.  Studies show that we tend to eat more as our plates get larger.

With more meals eaten at home, maybe we need to help arm today’s value-conscious home cook with contemporary recipes that help maximize nutrition on a budget.  But it all comes down to how much you eat, no matter what recipe you’re using.

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