The kitchen: Building healthy eating habits one meal at a time
Posted February 17
Everything I needed to know in life I may have learned in my mother’s kitchen. I remember the wonderful smell of home-cooked foods wafting through the air when I returned home from school. It was those meals prepared with effort and care that connected us in a daily sharing of healthy habits around the table.
Today more than ever we’re a society “on the go,” and it seems like there’s less and less time for the things that matter most — unless we create that time. Cooking, in particular, is a skill that when practiced regularly becomes easier and more enjoyable. Spending time gathered in the home kitchen can also ensure that those favorite family dishes are passed on year after year.
It’s not only the foods we cook at home that matter, though. Even in the workplace there are spaces where we might share a bite to eat with a colleague. Yet how many of us just quickly microwave a meal and then retreat back to our desks with the goal of being more productive. Research shows, however, that those that do take a lunch break may actually be more productive in the long run and have lower levels of stress.
To take things one step further, cooking and preparing food together with those we work with can contribute to team building. For example, many companies have implemented team cooking challenges or other similar events as a way to engage employees and improve team relationships, trust and ability to set goals and achieve them. Worksite wellness activities that include cooking or food-based workshops may become increasingly more popular for good reason. They promote healthy eating as well as healthy relationships.
Cooking can also be a powerful way to better understand the practical side of learning to eat healthier or follow a special diet to help manage a health condition. For example, a heart-healthy or diabetes diet may seem somewhat complex when viewed in detail on an educational handout. Yet translating these diets into simple daily menus focusing on recipes with commonly found ingredients helps individuals build confidence in making these changes work in their real lives.
At hospitals and health care clinics, many programs provide cooking classes as an integrated part of a patient’s care plan, and a cooking prescription may become more likely as doctors and other health care providers become familiar with the benefits of hands-on nutrition education with their patients. For example, one hospital has created a demonstration kitchen where they host ongoing community cooking classes to provide healthy food experiences for the patients and their families.
Other places where the kitchen is transforming eating habits are in community settings such as schools, soup kitchens, local extension cooking classes and even programs like Meals on Wheels that bring the healthy benefits of the kitchen to home-bound individuals.
Preparing and sharing food with friends, family, co-workers and neighbors can be a way to build healthy eating as well as community. One easy way to get started is to plan a potluck meal with others at a common location. A monthly potluck soup and salad night has become a regular monthly event shared with two of my best girl friends, their husbands and children. When we break bread and enjoy a warm bowl of homemade soup together each month, we also share birthdays, the latest events, stories from recent travel, or even daily trials that are better when shared over good food with friends.
Another option is to create a cookbook together with family, co-workers or other groups and invite everyone to contribute their favorite recipes. Including personal pictures of either the foods or of associated memories as well as a brief story of why the recipe is meaningful can serve to connect individual traditions. A recent find in our household has been a recipe book compiled with family recipes from childhood days. The recipes recall a simpler time when mom’s cooking was the thing that brought us together to gather around the kitchen and sit down at the family dinner table.
Here are a few more easy ways to enjoy the benefits of the kitchen with a group:
- Get a slow cooker set up in a common area either at home or at the office. Have individuals bring one or more of their favorite ingredients to contribute to a healthy soup or stew. Everyone will enjoy the smell as the ingredients begin to slowly transform into a hearty meal to share.
- Create a smoothie bar with a mixture of fruits, yogurt and other healthy ingredients and invite group members to make a personalized beverage of choice for a healthy snack.