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Boost Your Budget and Your Health: Cook at Home

Saving money and losing weight can be accomplished in one fell swoop by cooking more at home. Here’s why:

Cut Down on Salt

Gradually scale back salt at the table and in cooking.

Limit cured meats like bacon, ham and hot dogs and brined foods such as pickles and sauerkraut. Because of their salt and sugar content, lighten up on ketchup, barbecue sauce and steak sauce.

Run water over high-in-sodium foods like canned tuna and canned vegetables. This can reduce sodium by up to 30 percent.

Cook with fresh or dried herbs, salt-free seasoning blends, lemon juice and flavored vinegars (check these for sugar content as well.)

About five times a week, socializing and convenience send many Americans out to eat. These forays, oftentimes for fast food, add up to about $2,505 annually. Every day, about a quarter of the population eats a fast food meal loaded with fat, salt and sugar. But whether food is of the grab-and-go variety, nibbled during Happy Hour or that which is savored at a white-tablecloth restaurant, research finds that when people eat out, they consume about 50 percent more calories, fat and sodium than when they cook and eat at home.

They are also spending considerably more money. For example, a fast food meal for four runs about $27 whereas a comparable meal prepared at home costs around $13. However, even when they do dine in, many Americans sit down to a ready-to-eat meal purchased at the grocery store, not something they cooked up in their own kitchens. Pre-prepared foods account for about half of the food purchases in the United States according to the United States Department of Agriculture(USDA), and processing and packaging makes them more costly than food cooked at home. Foods prepared elsewhere eat up nearly half of the typical family’s budget.

Lighten Up on Sugar

Gradually scale back sugar spooned into cereal, coffee and tea. Choose foods that have less sugar such as natural fruit juice or plain milk instead of chocolate.

Add sweetness with spices like cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, ginger and nutmeg. Try substituting 100 percent fruit juice for honey or other liquid sweeteners.

Satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit, plain yogurt mixed with fresh fruit or a smoothie blended with fresh or frozen, no-sugar-added fruit, non-fat yogurt and ice.

Soft drinks, ready-to-drink teas, juice drinks and sports drinks are loaded with sugar. For a healthier beverage, spike water with a few ounces of flavored tea, a squeeze of lemon or lime or ice cubes made of plain (no-sugar-added) fruit juice.

In addition to thinner wallets, these eating habits contribute to thicker waistlines and poorer health. In the U.S., about a third of the adult population, which amounts to over 72 million people, is obese. Obesity is also a problem for more than 12 million U.S. children. High blood pressure (HBP), which is directly linked to one out of every six deaths in the U.S., often develops in people who are obese. Uncontrolled HBP can lead to heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and kidney disease. Type 2 diabetes, which can lead to amputations, blindness and kidney failure, is another common complication of obesity. More than 17 million Americans have type 2 diabetes, and at least a third of them don’t know it. The CDC says one out of every three U.S. residents will have type 2 diabetes by 2050.

Cooking at home can decrease these health risks by providing control over food preparation. Using fresh and minimally processed ingredients reduces that which makes so many meals consumed out of the house unhealthy: fat, salt and sugar. The DASH Eating Plan, which emphasizes fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products, can aid in healthy meal planning.

And, spending more time in the kitchen preparing healthy meals does not have to mean standing over the stove while everyone else is somewhere else. When family and friends assist with cleaning and chopping, home cooking yields benefits that are tasty, good for the body and good for the soul.

The LHSFNA’s Nutrition and Fitness for Laborers program helps Laborers improve dietary and exercise habits. The program includes an Instructor’s Guide, participant pamphlets and educational posters. For more information, call 202-628-5465. The LHSFNA’s brochures, Becoming Physically Active and Weight Matters, offer additional tips and information on exercise and diet. They can be ordered through the Fund’s online Publications Catalogue.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]

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