Published on June 19, 2017

Want less expensive, healthier meals? Homemade is best!Want less expensive, healthier meals? Homemade is best!

Cooking at home or eating out tonight?  Researchers say that home cooking is typically a healthier and less expensive choice, and a Cape Cod Healthcare dietitian offers tips for making it work for your busy lifestyle.

According to a study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine:

  • The monthly food budget for people who cooked most of their meals at home averaged $273 per person versus $364 a month for those who ate out.
  • Home-cooked meals scored higher on the Healthy Eating Index (which replaced the food pyramid many of us grew up with).
  • Fat, alcohol, sugar and salt commonly reduce the nutritional values of restaurant meals, so watch for those menu pitfalls.

The results were not surprising to Rachel Songer, a registered dietitian nutritionist who works as a clinical dietitian at Cape Cod Hospital.

“When you control everything that goes into the meal, you can make sure you’re eating well, and you can fill your plate for less money,” she said.

At restaurants, you tip waiters and waitresses, which adds to the cost, so Songer offers some money-saving tips that make home cooking doable for everyone.

She begins by suggesting those of us with busy schedules set aside time one day a week to make several meals.

“The dieticians who work at the hospital rotate through weekends, so I can’t always cook on Saturdays, but that’s generally when many people can find time,” she said.

Planning helps.

Among Songer’s tips are:

  • Jot down a list of meals for the week, making bigger amounts and freezing meal-size portions.
  • Prep ingredients the night before you cook or buy food that is pre-cut. Dicing, slicing, and cutting can be time-consuming.
  • Cook big batches of one thing to stretch it into two meals. Think about making tacos using ground turkey one night, then turning it into quesadillas the next. Or, how about chicken the first night and chicken salad the next?
  • Use a slow cooker to cook meals overnight or during the day while you’re at work.

“I like to have one meal in a slow cooker while I’m making another meal on those days when I cook ahead. It’s a good way for me to save time,” said Songer.

You don’t have to make complex or gourmet meals, she added.

“You can have breakfast for dinner. Websites like My Plate and Eatright.org give you healthy options. Remember to include a good source of protein, healthy fat and carbs at each meal,” she said.

Because she and her husband both like to cook, the kitchen is a favorite place in their home, but they don’t have a favorite meal.

“We try so many recipes,” Songer said. “I often use Pinterest! It’s a great source for recipes, and it gives you creative ideas that help make home cooking easy and fun.”