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Why Don’t We Cook More Healthy Meals At Home?

healthy cooking

Whilst we have the best of intentions when it comes to cooking healthy food at home many of us struggle to follow through with the change in behaviour. Known as the intention-behaviour gap, it is a concept we can struggle with whether it is losing weight, exercising, or drinking less. 

When exploring the issue, it can help to take time to explore our motivation. Extrinsic motivation such as a health professional telling us we need to change or telling ourselves we ‘should’ cook more. 

There is growing support amongst GPs and the Healthcare community that we should eat as much as possible a whole-food, plant-based diet (WFPB). Evidence has shown that eating a WFPB diet has a number of health benefits in the prevention and treatment of many common chronic health conditions.  

Most consumers do not meet the recommended servings from the 5 major food groups and discretionary food items account for 1/3 of total energy intake. 

Whilst many of us know what we should do, we struggle to overcome the barriers that prevent us from healthy eating and home cooking. 

Some of those barriers include :

  • Our motivations and beliefs and perceptions that healthy food is more expensive and managing cost
  • Nudges (for example – supermarket catalogue advertisements & discretionary food)
  • Understanding of Nutrition and cooking skills
  • Lack of time and meal preparation

When we face these challenges, what are some possible solutions to help address this gap between our good intentions and our current behaviours?

Healthy food is more expensive 

If your goal is to eat less meat each week, rather than cold-turkey, start by changing the portion ratio. Could you replace 20% of your meat content on the plate with 20% of lentils or beans? Or increase the % of vegetables on the plate? Sneaking in some beans into your favourite Mexican dish, or shredding and some vegetables into your bolognese sauce indirectly boosts your fibre intake at the same time.  

Have a meat-less day where you take your favourite stir-fry or curry sauce flavour and replace the meat component with chickpeas or lentils or reduce the amount of meat and top up with cashews or peanuts.  

home cooking

You can slowly help your brain and taste buds adjust over time as well as your budget as the cost of buying meat slowly decreases. 

When you compare the cost per kg of protein from vegetable source vs meat protein, there is a sizeable cost difference and it’s also a more sustainable food choice. 

The power of a nudge

There is a term in behaviour science called ‘nudging’. It is where suggestions or changes in the environment are made to help change behaviour. For example supermarket catalogues often have discretionary food and specials at the beginning of the catalogue to help encourage behaviour and where food in placed in the supermarket. We can leverage this concept to help change your own behaviour and habits. For example, placing the discretionary food you have in the house in an area that is out of sight may help you when you are trying to change a habit. 

Managing cost & time

For example not using catalogues and ordering online can help you control the amount spent. Creating shopping lists for standard items, using services like Hello Fresh help set cost. Taking into account the time to meal prep and shopping this can be a viable alternative. 

Lack of cooking & nutrition skills

home cooking

This is another benefit to services like Hello Fresh. Explore your options to help improve culinary skills. Did you know that you can cook lentils and beans in bulk and freeze them? Ensuring a vegetarian dish or meal has some form of Vitamin C can help improve the absorption of iron. For example, a dish containing loads of spinach with a salad dressing made with lemon juice is one way to help get vitamin C or eating fresh capsicum as a snack to help release the iron content. 

Meal Prep & Repurposing ingredients

Time spent on the weekend might be a solution to having ingredients ready to go each day. That way, you have a variety of ingredients, chopped up ready to go when the lunchtime hunger starts to linger when you are working at home. 

When planning for the week, look for ways to repurpose.

These are ideas to explore where you might be able to make some positive changes. However, take the opportunity to explore your current behaviours during the week and see if any of these areas need changing. Find what solutions could help you address those current barriers which prevent you from healthy home cooking.

Written by Vanita Smith

Vanita Smith is a nutritionist (MHumNut), board certified lifestyle medicine professional, NBHWC certified health coach. She has a particular interest in habit change and has completed training and learnt from neuroscientists and behaviour scientists to better understand how she can help clients with habit change.

In her business, Ayubowan Health & Lifestyle Medicine, she draws on this insight to help clients bridge the gap between their health intentions and daily life. She works as a keynote speaker, health coach, breathwork instructor and health program facilitator.

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