I’m sure you have had the feeling that having a home cooked meal for your family is healthier than a quick bite on the road. Your efforts to plan ahead and prepare nutritious meals that can quickly make it to the table are not in vain! Recent research published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows that a reduction in food away from home, meaning meals from restaurants or fast food, is associated with improved diet quality and greater reductions in percent body fat in children.
Why are researchers concerned about meals at home versus meals away from home? In the United States, it’s estimated that 32.6% of children ages six to eleven are overweight or obese. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2011, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children in the past 30 years. What can be done to stop this trend? A higher proportion of meals away from home are consumed by overweight and obese children than their normal-weight peers, and this is probably due to the energy-dense (meaning calorie-filled) foods typically found in meals away from home. When you make a meal for your family at home, you know exactly what is going into that meal. However, at a restaurant, it’s easy to overlook the ingredients that add extra fat, sugar, and calories that you wouldn’t typically add at home.
Researchers recruited 170 overweight and obese children, ages seven to eleven, along with a parent, to take part in a 16 week family-based behavioral weight-loss treatment between 2010 and 2011. The treatment included promoting a low-energy-density diet by decreasing foods with low nutrient density (like cookies and soda) and increasing consumption of high nutrient foods that are low-energy-dense, such as fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. Height, weight, body mass index (BMI, which is a measure to show if people are an appropriate weight based on their height, with a high BMI possibly indicating higher body fatness), percent body fat, dietary intake, and diet quality were measured before and after treatment. Decreased food away from home (and energy consumed away from home) led to an increase in diet quality and decreased BMI and percent body fat. Researchers found that the decrease in total energy intake from decreasing food away from home led to the decrease in BMI, and that the change in diet quality and decrease in added sugars from decreasing food away from home brought about the decrease in percent body fat.
Knowing that home cooked, high diet quality, and low sugar meals are best for bringing about positive change in overweight and obese children leads us to believe that this kind of meal would also be a wise choice for normal weight children also. So how do we work this knowledge into our busy lives? Finding ways to have a healthy home cooked meals can be done on the busiest of nights with a bit of planning. Whether you want to plan on having leftovers, start a meal in the slow cooker before you head out for the day, plan for a 10 minute meal, or defrost a freezer meal to cook or warm, you have options. Check out our 11 minutes to a peaceful mealtime for even more ideas. Sit down with your calendar for the week, devise a plan, then grocery shop for all that you’ll need for a healthful, satisfying menu for your family. As tempting as it can be to go out to eat or go through a drive through, with planning, you can provide a better quality meal that is full of nutrition to fulfill the needs of your growing child. If you would like to have all your meals planned for you and have the peace of mind that they are healthy and balanced, check out our meal planning subscription.
Nicole is the mom of three awesome little ones… an aspiring violinist, soccer star, and train conductor. She is also a dietitian who enjoys helping others embrace a healthful lifestyle.