It has happened to me more times than I care to count. It’s the end of a long day and I haven’t planned supper. I run into the local take-out joint or freezer aisle of the grocery store and walk out with something that I’m going to regret. After I’ve eaten a substantial meal of grease and carbohydrates, I feel disgusting. I’m not as young as I used to be and my metabolism isn’t as forgiving as it once was when I was in my twenties, or thirties for that matter. As guilt takes over, I think about the cost, both to my health and to my psyche. Sound familiar?
“Tell Me What You Eat, and I Will Tell You Who You Are”
I do believe that you are what you eat. Essentially, food is fuel and like any other machine, we require the proper fuel to function properly. I know a couple of people (they will remain unnamed, but they know who I’m referring to) who go to great efforts to make sure that their 2 stroke engines have the right fuel mix, but don’t bother to make any effort to consider how they are fueling themselves. They wouldn’t treat their engines like junk, but their health is another matter.
I am not typically a big junk food/fast food fan, and I do try to avoid ready-to-eat and processed meals, but there’s no denying that delicious chip wagon aromas have slayed my resilience at times. I’m particularly vulnerable to the smell of burgers with fried onions and melted Swiss cheese. When I do succumb to the temptation, whether it be due to lack of time, lack of planning, or lack of willpower, my satisfaction is short-lived. Guilt and a very strange greasy feeling begin to erode away at the thrill of my risky culinary venture down a slippery slope. Now, I don’t want to end up looking like a cheeseburger, and I know that my skin isn’t actually crawling in grease, but because I seem to be hardwired to feel regret, I get this awful sensation that my skin is oozing out all the grease I’ve just consumed. It makes me think about the healthy home cooked meal that I could have had if only I had planned a little.
The Benefits of Home Cooking
There is something wholesome and nurturing about enjoying a healthy home prepared meal. There is also the peace of mind that comes from reducing your risk of coming into contact with food-borne illnesses. According to Eating in Restaurants: A Risk Factor for Foodborne Disease? food contamination is almost six times more likely to occur outside of the home. I think that is a rather scary statistic. I don’t want to gamble with my health just for the sake of convenience.
Another point in favour of homecooked meals, is the fact that I know what’s in my food. When you cook your meals, you can control your ingredients. People who prepare their meals at home have a tendency to maintain a healthier weight. When we change our behaviour of eating out to eating in, we achieve weight loss without dieting. Home cooked food generally contains less sugar, sodium, and trans fat. That translates to a healthier diet, higher energy levels and better mental health.
Tips to Make Meals Quick and Easy on Busy Days
As I’ve mentioned, I have my days when I’m unprepared, fixed for time, or lacking willpower, so I have some tricks up my sleeve that have really helped me drive past the chip wagon.
- Before going to bed, pull out something from the freezer to defrost overnight in the fridge. I find that if I know that I have a meat, fish, or a prepared pizza dough defrosted in the fridge, I am more likely to come home to cook it because I don’t want it to go to waste.
- Prepare and freeze meals ahead of time. If I’m going to make a lasagna for example, I’ll make a couple of extra. It takes just as long to make one as it does three. The same goes for pasta sauces and soups.
- Buy a roast instead of deli meats, I like to pressure cook them in my Instant Pot to seal in the flavour and juices. That way I have meat for sandwiches, salads, and wraps. I can cut it up and add it to pasta sauces, stir frys, and rice dishes. The possibilities are endless. If you’re curious about the Instant Pot, please see my review.
- Make enough for leftovers.
- Make breakfast for supper. Omelettes are quick and versatile. Serve it with a leafy green salad and some whole grain bread.
Is Ready-to-eat Really Bad for Me?
There is a higher content of sugar, sodium and trans fats in prepared and processed foods. Sugar is used in 80% of processed food. It is used to preserve and to add flavour and texture. It is used in otherwise healthy foods to counteract the sometimes bitter or savoury flavours. I recently bought a bran cereal and upon reading the food label, I came to find out that it had 6 grams (1 1/2tsp) of added sugar per 30 gram (3/4 cup) serving. Why? Because it makes it taste better and last longer on the shelf. Sugar has been attributed to obesity, diabetes, certain types of cancers like breast, colon, esophageal, and small intestine. It is a major player in cardiovascular disease, non-alcoholic fatty liver, leaky gut, tooth decay and Dementia.
Trans fats are also used to extend shelf life and enhance flavour. They can be found in surprising places like instant oatmeal and tortillas, not to mention my favourite cheeseburgers. Fish and Chips, another popular take-out meal, is often deep fried in hydrogenated vegetable oil. Trans fat is made by adding hydrogen to liquid unsaturated fats to make them solid. There is nothing natural about this process and it is this that has given fat a bad reputation. Hydrogenated fats lead to higher levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and lower levels of HDL (good) cholesterol. Poor cholesterol levels can cause heart disease and other metabolic problems like type 2 diabetes.
Humans require approximately 1500mg (3/4 tsp) of sodium per day and should not exceed 2300mg. Unfortunately, the average intake is double that amount; most of it comes from processed foods. While sodium is required for the normal maintenance of liquid levels in our bodies, too much can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. Would you have guessed that the 2% cottage cheese on your diet plate has 450mg of sodium per half cup. That’s almost 20% of our recommended daily intake.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
It’s not as though there is anything wrong with take-out or ready-to-eat meals occasionally. After all, isn’t is good for your mental health to indulge in things that make you happy some times? There is this fact to consider, that if I deny myself, then I will want it even more. The forbidden fruit, or cheeseburger, I should say. Where is the fun in denying myself of a little treat. By allowing a small amount of indulgence in junk food sporadically, I can maintain my willpower and my sanity in the long term. It’s the quantity and frequency of the indulgence that is the problem. The key here is moderation. I know that I can have my take-out meals if I follow certain rules:
- Set a limit on the frequency. I aim for no more than twice a month
- Take it home and serve it on a regular size dinner plate. Don’t eat it in transit.
- Portion control. Don’t eat the whole order. Allow for leftovers or share it
- Don’t eat while distracted. Turn off the laptop, TV, etc.
- Sit at the table and be mindful of every bite
- Eat slowly
The result of abiding by these little rules is that I enjoy my meal, I eat less, and I have less guilt. It’s much healthier than woofing down a large take-out meal in my car and feeling like rubbish afterwards. Another benefit of the occasional indulgence is my guilt precedes a renewed commitment to healthy home cooking.