Can cooking more meals at home jumpstart your mental health? You already know preparing meals at home is a fantastic way to save money and put the healthiest foods on the table. When you make it yourself, you control the ingredients and there are no unexpected surprises, like the unhealthy oils and high sodium content in restaurant foods.
But could there be another benefit of cooking at home? A 2022 study revealed there is an unexpected benefit to cooking and eating at home: it could boost your mood! This is in addition to the well-known benefits of having a healthier diet and saving money on food expenses.
The study by Australian researchers found that women who took a seven-week cooking course developed more confidence with their cooking skills but also enjoyed significant improvements in their mental health. The study surveyed participants on their level of cheerfulness, optimism, self-worth, relaxation, and usefulness and found a boost in these measures of well-being.
How might cooking improve mental health? Researchers believe the social support and camaraderie people enjoy in cooking classes could partially explain the mental health boost. Yet the benefits persisted even after the cooking course was over. So, cooking itself may be a mood lifter, especially if you explore new ways of preparing food. Surprisingly, the study didn’t find the participants made significant changes to the healthfulness of their diets after attending the classes.
Boost Your Mood and Mental Health in the Kitchen
This study is not the only one to unearth a connection between cooking literacy and mental wellness. Other studies show similar findings. For example, Canadian youths who participated in a food literacy program and men in the UK who participated in a cooking course enjoyed improvements in mood and mental well-being. Cooking at home has more than physical health benefits. Preparing healthy food has the potential to boost mental wellness too.
The takeaway? Add mental health to the list of benefits of cooking classes and cooking at home. Here are other reasons to skip the drive-thru and sit-down restaurants and eat at home.
You’ll Have Higher-Quality Food
Cooking at home ensures you’re getting the most nutritious and delicious meals. When you prepare home-cooked meals, you control the ingredients and cooking methods. Home preparation means you’ll avoid preservatives and additives like MSG, artificial flavorings, saturated fats like trans fats, or fully hydrogenated oils (commonly found in processed foods).
You’ll also avoid an excess of unhealthy ingredients like sugar or salt. By preparing your meals yourself, rather than relying on restaurants or prepackaged foods, you know what you’re putting into your body. You can even make your favorite indulgences into healthy options by cutting down on the fats and oils used and adding extra veggies.
Cooking Is a Creative and Meditative
Cooking at home is a creative outlet. It’s a way to explore new cooking techniques and recipe ideas. Plus, cooking can be meditative if you get into “the zone “when you prepare food. When you focus on creating something delicious and nutritious in the kitchen, you’re less likely to ruminate about the stresses of the day or other aspects of your life that cause anxiety. It’s therapeutic! So why not spend some time cooking up something delicious and nutritious? It’s good for your body and soul!
It Helps You Maintain a Healthy Weight
Preparing meals at home is easier on your waistline. In one study, researchers found participants who prepared their own meals consumed fewer calories and less fat than those who ate at restaurants or fast-food establishments.
Home-cooked meals are also more likely to include fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, all of which are important for maintaining a healthy weight. When you cook from scratch, you control the ingredients and can use unprocessed fare that’s less likely to cause insulin spikes and weight gain.
Plus, cooking at home makes you more conscious of what you put into your body and what you serve to friends and family. From fresh, seasonal produce to quality protein, you can enjoy selecting the ingredients you’ll turn into a delectable meal. Take the time to savor the smells, flavors, and textures of your creations, and you’ll be less likely to overeat when you sit down to a meal.
It Can Help Kids Learn to Cook as Adults
Cooking is an important skill for kids and young adults to learn. But as many parents know, getting kids involved in cooking isn’t easy, but getting them involved early can help. The benefits of learning how to cook aren’t just physical. Teaching kids to cook helps them develop self-sufficiency and independence, which can improve their mood and reduce anxiety.
In addition, it teaches patience and critical thinking skills that will benefit them throughout adulthood (and school). For children who struggle with reading comprehension or math homework, cooking may be an easier way to learn these skills. Learning to measure out ingredients and read and interpret recipes has benefits that extend beyond cooking.
Cooking is a rewarding and enriching experience. Whether you experiment with new flavors and cuisines or take pleasure in the simple comfort of an old favorite, it’s a form of self-care. Not only can it help boost your mental health, but it can also be the perfect way to bond with friends and family. So why not get creative, and let cooking be the key to unlocking your mental well-being?
- Rees J, Fu SC, Lo J, Sambell R, Lewis JR, Christophersen CT, Byrne MF, Newton RU, Boyle S, Devine A. How a 7-Week Food Literacy Cooking Program Affects Cooking Confidence and Mental Health: Findings of a Quasi-Experimental Controlled Intervention Trial. Front Nutr. 2022 Mar 17;9:802940. doi: 10.3389/fnut.2022.802940. PMID: 35369083; PMCID: PMC8970183.
- Chef’s kiss: Research shows healthy home cooking equals a healthy mind: New research has found being confident in the kitchen is not only good for your taste buds: it’s also good for your mental health. ScienceDaily. Published 2022. Accessed January 24, 2023. .sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/03/220321091919.htm
- Thomas HM, Irwin JD. Cook It Up! A community-based cooking program for at-risk youth: overview of a food literacy intervention. BMC Research Notes. 2011;4(1). doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-495.
- Home cooking a main ingredient in healthier diet, study shows. ScienceDaily. Published 2014. Accessed January 24, 2023. .sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/11/141117084711.htm