Fresh and Fit: My results after a month of home-cooked meals

Authored By jaymckenzie86

As I wrote about back in January, my wife and I made a plan to spend February only eating food cooked or prepared at home. For us, it was something we’d talked about a few times in the past, but I’ll admit I was usually the one to say no instead of her. For the six-plus years we’ve been together, we usually have done a good job about eating home-cooked meals during the weekdays, but on the weekends, we tend to go out to restaurants or pick up takeout when we’re too exhausted to cook ourselves. As a result, we spend more money on food on the weekends and almost always consume more calories per day than we do during the week.

Over time, food became our stress reliever and our reward each Friday through Sunday. Sure, we cooked every now and then, but we weren’t consistent about it. I’d like to think most people can relate to this and find it hard to fault us. Food makes us feel better and gives us something to look forward to later, but since we’re continually looking for new ways to stay fresh and fit, I’ve realized that I need to take the emotion and feeling out of food almost entirely. That’s what February was about for me-more control over my calories and the ingredients I’m putting into my body. I tried to accept that for me eating needs to be something I do because I have to and not treat each meal as some sort of cathartic experience.

So here’s what I’ve learned after a month of (almost) eating only home cooking.

We both lost a few pounds.
Weight loss wasn’t our No. 1 goal for this exercise, but it did happen to be a happy consequence. I do try to keep track of my calorie intake each day, but it can be difficult when you go out to eat, especially when you tack on any drinks or appetizers to your meal. Calorie counters like MyFitnessPal are usually pretty accurate, but not every estimate is 100 percent correct, so you can get thrown off here and there. However, by making our own meals at home, it was much easier to measure out and know how many calories we were consuming for every single meal. It’s a little tedious, but it’s better than educated guesswork.

By the end of the month, we both unintentionally lost a few pounds because of simply knowing for sure when we’d had enough food for the day. When you take out the guesswork and leave no room for error, it’s easier to tell yourself no to those after-dinner sweets. Like I said, it’s all about being a cold, calculated eater.

We spent $125 less on food and groceries.
Since we both enjoy cooking and trying new recipes, we tend to spend as much on groceries as some families of four might. I suppose there are worse vices to have, but without really subtracting anything from the quality of our meals, we managed to spend $125 less on food for the month of February than we did in January. We still bought the extras we prefer-like veggies for stir-fries, fruit for smoothies and unsalted nuts for snacks-but the money we saved came out of the extra we’d be spending on restaurant food. Plus, we didn’t have to drive 10-15 minutes to pick up our orders. In a way, cooking does take more time and energy, but if I have to choose between spending half an hour in the car or half an hour in the kitchen, I’d choose the kitchen every single time.

I had more energy and simply felt better overall.
I’ve struggled with severe depression and anxiety since middle school. Luckily, medication and therapy have gone a long way toward lessening my symptoms, but if you’ve dealt with similar problems, you know as well as I do you’re never really cured. To feel my best, I have to consistently maintain an exercise regimen and eat a balanced and healthy diet. Put simply, it’s not always easy to find that in a meal you haven’t prepared yourself. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but restaurants want to give you tasty food at a price you can afford, and that often comes at a cost. Usually, you end up eating more calories than you need, and those same meals are often high in sodium and saturated fat. By replacing those meals with things like eggs, unsalted nuts, lean protein (mostly chicken), vegetables and other healthy ingredients, I fell asleep easier and consistently had more energy throughout the day.

We tried, but we weren’t perfect.
Although my wife and I planned to not go out for the entire month of February, we didn’t manage to keep a perfect record. We didn’t go out at all for breakfast or lunch, but we did have dinner out on three occasions. Once was with my family and the other two times were because we didn’t feel like cooking that night. Still, considering we usually go out for 20-25 meals in a month, I’d say we did pretty well. There were several times where our first instinct was to pick up food on the way home or order takeout, but we remembered the plan and did manage to stick with it.

Overall, I’m proud of us for having a plan and (almost) sticking to it. As I always say, something is better than nothing. To go from 25 meals out in one month to only three the next is a big change. Whatever change you plan on making, remember that you don’t have to be perfect to make progress. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll slip up from time to time, but when you do, just keep trying. Do better next time. It will get easier for you. It certainly has for me.

Jay McKenzie loves soccer, history and feeling great. He’s on a quest to eat better and exercise more, and he wants to share his experiences along the way. You can email him at [email protected] with comments or questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.