Homemade Does NOT Equal Healthy
Every evening as I’m scrolling through Facebook, I’m reminded of the VAST amount of misinformation that is out there on social media. I scroll past dozens of recipes that are supposed to be “healthy” because they use (some version) of fresh ingredients and are homemade. This got me to thinking, “I wonder how many people actually make these recipes thinking they are good for them?”. The answer would probably be very disheartening if I were ever to find out. Between the gallons of oil and whole milk, vats of butter, cheese, and pounds of pasta, ground beef and potatoes there are more than enough calories and saturated fat to ruin someone’s best efforts at working towards their weight loss goals. So, I wanted to dispel some of the myths around home cooking.
#1: Your grandmother’s recipe may or may not be the secret to living a long healthy life.
Grandmothers are an amazing resource in resourcefulness! Many, mine included, weathered the depression, multiple wars, and the 70’s without batting an eye. They did amazing things with what they had. However, that often called for things like Spam, hot dogs, Jello, heavy cream, butter, and gravy. Ham-Jello Salad anyone?.. Beware of these heavy, stick to your ribs meals. They were meant for a different era when food may not have been as plentiful. Instead, when looking through old recipes, stick to vegetable-based dishes like my husband’s baba’s borscht recipe she brought with her from the old country (Ukraine). I’ve included it at the bottom because it’s an amazingly hearty dish that tastes fantastic and is extremely healthy!
#2. If you’re pouring things out of a bag or box, it’s not homemade.
The best example I have seen recently was a macaroni and cheese casserole. 1 box macaroni (poured in baking dish) + 3 packages of pre-shredded cheese + ½ gallon of whole milk and some heavy whipping cream for good measure, baked for about 30 minutes = “homemade” meal. I’m sure it tastes wonderful, but this was no better than any pre-packaged frozen meal pulled out of the freezer section. Real homemade meals should involve some cutting, slicing and dicing as well as some peeling, chopping and sauteing. If you can make the meal with one hand, it’s probably not healthy. Now, pouring out a can of beans or some frozen veggies from a bag is fine, but don’t be fooled by meals that rely on highly processed ingredients!
#3. If it says EASY or QUICK, those are generally not code words for healthy.
Example A is an “Easy Baked Chicken Parmesan Casserole ready in 30 minutes!” that I found on Facebook. The only green food in this recipe was the teeny tiny little basil leaves on top of the casserole for a garnish. The rest of the ingredients were a box of pasta, a can of Prego pasta sauce, some dried herbs, a bag of pre-shredded parmesan cheese and some chicken. Just for fun, I put this into MyFitnessPal to see what the nutrition info would be. If we divided the recipe into 6 servings, it would be over 1100 calories and over 3 grams of sodium per serving! Ouch!
So, what can we do? First, look for recipes with lots of colors! This usually indicates a fair number of fruits and vegetables in the recipe. We want the focus of the meals on vegetables and fruits and other whole food ingredients like lentils, beans, ancient grains, fresh meat or seafood. Avoid recipes with lots of jars, boxes and bags as these usually contain highly processed foods. The exception being canned beans or tomatoes, canned or frozen vegetables, and dried ingredients like sundried tomatoes, herbs and spices, or broth. Finally, be willing to dedicate a little bit of time (~30 minutes or so) to preparation of a healthy meal. Anything worth having takes time and effort. I generally allocate about 30 minutes to prep a healthy home cooked meal at night. If 30 minutes is just not possible, salad is a great option that you can whip up quickly – usually less than 15 minutes and there are hundreds of fantastic salad recipes on the internet. Additionally, most grocery stores have pre-chopped vegetables now that you can use in any recipe you want. Grabbing a few from the grocery store and freezing any leftover veggies will make it easy when you find a recipe you like, now that you know what to look for. 😉