Kendall/Nutrition Column – MakingitHomemade May Lead to Better Health

For more than two decades, Americans have opted for convenience in meal preparation. We’ve chosen to eat out, order out, take out, pick up and drive thru to help preserve time for work and other activities or because of fatigue caused by time pressures in our lives.

Unfortunately, commercially prepared meals, whether purchased from local fast food joints or the frozen food aisle at the supermarket, generally are not very healthful. Too often, convenience foods are high in salt, added sugar and fat and low in fiber, vitamins and minerals – factors that contribute to obesity and chronic diseases.  

There is a growing movement to take back control over what we eat, even if that means less convenience. As part of this movement, the American Institute for Cancer Research has a new brochure out, entitled "Homemade for Health." The goal of the brochure is to encourage Americans to "take back their kitchen" by learning how to make healthful yet convenient meals quickly.   

According to the AICR, increasing the number of meals and snacks prepared in the home allows consumers to control several important aspects of their food, including:

– increasing the amount of fiber and nutrient-rich ingredients,

– controlling the type and quantity of fat used,

– limiting the amount of added sugar and salt, and

– adjusting portion size to meet actual caloric needs.

"Homemade for Health" is designed to help families integrate meal preparation into their busy schedules. In the first section, "Solving the Mealtime Challenge," possible solutions to the daily barriers people encounter for eating healthful, homemade meals are offered. For example, for people who don’t have time to cook during the work week, the AICR recommends making a large batch of a healthful dish on the weekend, dividing it into individual portions and freezing them. On days when there isn’t time to cook, just defrost a meal in the microwave.  

Other sections of the brochure address topics such as keeping portion sizes moderate, making meal preparation a family affair, identifying and incorporating nutritious foods into your diet and cooking for optimum health. The booklet offers guidelines for healthy cooking as well as 10 nutritious, easy-to-prepare recipes. For instance, it recommends that two-thirds (or more) of your plate should be vegetables, fruit, whole grains or beans and one-third (or less) animal protein. A list of convenient, commercially prepared but not processed ingredients available at most supermarkets, like fresh, cut fruits and vegetables and marinated fish fillets, is provided as well.

Because meal preparation ultimately begins in the supermarket, "Homemade for Health" also contains a comprehensive list of basic ingredients that you should always have on hand. Additionally, a kitchen equipment checklist outlining the essential utensils, pots, pans and accessories needed for basic food preparation is included.

To obtain a copy of the AICR’s new "Homemade for Health" brochure, visit their Web site at or call 1-800-843-8114, ext 414, Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Eastern Time.

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension