If you think you’re a health food pro just because you’re ordering a salad for lunch every day, think again. Restaurant foods – whether it’s a traditional Caesar salad or something with a bit more flair, like an Asian grilled chicken salad – sound deceptively healthy but can quickly add up to more than a half day’s worth of calories in just one sitting.
So how do you fight cravings for these sodium-filled, fat-charged, high-calorie foods that creep into your “healthy” meal plan? The secret is pretty basic: just make your own meals.
You don’t have to be eligible to compete on Top Chef or have 3 additional hours of free time in order to commit to a healthy eating plan. All you have to do is be an informed eater and willing to dedicate a little extra time to meal prep. But just in case you’re not totally crazy about skipping out on the lunch run to the cafe next door to your office in favor of bringing something from home, check out these health benefits of making your own food versus eating out.
1. You’ll know what’s lingering in your food.
Unfortunately, you don’t know exactly what you are eating when you order food at a restaurant. Even worse, a chef can accidentally add things to your food that shouldn’t be included. When you prepare your own meals, though, you know exactly what ingredients are going in, from the kind of veggies and protein you’re putting in all the way down to the herb blends and sauces that you use to spice up your food. You also forego the risk of dealing with any food sensitivities and allergens that can send you running to the hospital.
2. You’ll get your portions under control.
According to researchers at Tufts University in Boston, 92% of meals consumed at fast-food restaurants tip the scales over. And unfortunately, the excessive portions of food offered at a restaurant make it hard to exercise self-discipline. To help you make smarter choices you can utilize online tools like Choose My Plate to find out the portion of food you should have from each food group and plan your meals accordingly. This is huge, since a lot of times, the culprit behind extra pounds may not be what foods you’re eating but how much you’re eating.
3. You’ll have an easier time controlling your calories.
Nutritional food options are often limited at restaurants, causing you to load up on extra calories. When you prepare your food at home, you can figure out exactly what your calorie intake is. And when you’re trying to keep calorie intake on the lower side, you can add your own low-fat and low-calorie ingredients to ensure that your meal meets your dietary goals.
4. You’ll avoid unnecessary fats.
Many restaurant chefs can’t stay away from trans fats, because it makes food lasts longer and taste better, but this dangerous fat can lead to unhealthy weight gain, bad cholesterol levels, inflammation, and cancer. But making your own meals at home makes you aware of the amount of trans fat that you are including in your meals. Be careful, though: Trans fat can be disguised as “partially hydrogenated oils,” so make sure you read the nutrition labels. According to the USDA, you should limit your total fat intake to 25% of your daily calories.
5. You’ll reduce your risk of food poisoning.
If you eat contaminated food at a restaurant, you may become a victim of food poisoning. According to the CDC, one in six Americans suffer from food poisoning every year. But cooking at home will allow you to monitor the quality of your foods, as you’ll know exactly where it’s coming from and you’ll also know that your food has been stored properly and hasn’t been under- or over-cooked.
6. You won’t get too distracted by temptations.
Let’s be honest: are you really going to choose that apple pecan salad when you’re staring at a mouthwatering bacon cheeseburger on the front of the menu? When you’re at home, your food options are limited to the foods you have placed in your cabinets and refrigerators. Although you may be craving a hot fudge brownie a la mode, you won’t be able to satisfy this craving without any hot fudge or ice cream in your possession.