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Food is everywhere. Celebrity chefs glamorize it and everyday “foodies” post it on social media. But sadly, many families are finding it increasingly difficult to eat as many meals at home as they once did. In fact, a 2013 Gallup poll found that eight in 10 Americans report eating fast-food on a monthly basis and half eat it weekly. Young adults ages 18 to 29 eat the most fast food, with 57 percent indulging weekly.

Unfortunately, our eating habits contribute to an increase in conditions like obesity, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. It’s no wonder when you consider that restaurant meals have an estimated 200 more calories than those eaten at home. So a little more home cooking may be just what the doctor ordered. Here’s why…

  • Children who eat more meals at home than at restaurants are less likely to be overweight. Studies found that family meals tend to contain more fruits and vegetables and fewer fried foods, sodas and trans fats.
  • Researchers found that teens whose families eat together are less likely to use alcohol, drugs and cigarettes.
  • Studies indicate that eating with family members helps “cement” relationships and provides more opportunities to connect. However, distractions while eating-texting, watching TV or listening to music through earphones-were associated with higher BMIs (body mass index).
  • Home cooking allows us to control the ingredients that go into family meals. Shop the perimeter of the grocery store where the fresh produce, seafood and low-fat dairy are found. Focus on whole grains and beans in the center aisles. There, you’ll also find herbs and spices that add flavor and can reduce your sodium intake.

Time is most often the biggest obstacle to cooking at home, so try involving the entire family whenever possible. Encourage children to help develop healthy menus and teach them to choose healthy ingredients at the store. Come up with a family challenge to try one new fruit or vegetable a week. By involving the kids, you’re passing along the gift of good health–in addition to your cooking skills.

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