Home Cooking Can Be Frontline Defense Against Obesity

Escarole in a Colander

The Nurturing Nutritionist is a pediatric dietician who treats children and families. At her website, we find a guest post by Beryl Henzy. It’s called “Part 1: Kitchen Essentials for Easy Cooking.”

Have you ever been to a wedding and thought, “What are these kids going to do with a crystal vase? What they need is a good basic household maintenance kit.” Forget about the glamour gifts, and consider giving useful tools to someone you love. Henzy is thinking along the same lines. She compiled a list of the basic stuff that belongs in a kitchen.

Henzy expands on the reasons why these items are necessary, but the bare list includes: vegetable peeler, colander, good sharp knife, cutting board, pasta pot, vegetable steamer, non-stick skillet, dish soap and sponge, garlic press. It’s a good list.

Of course, different people have additional ideas about what constitutes basic equipment. A set of measuring cups and spoons, for instance. At least two sizes of saucepan. A teakettle, for sure. One person I know treasures a very big pan that is shaped like a wok, but has one long, stout handle rather than two little ones. The point is, as Beryl Henzy says,

Preparing meals at home is a great way to exert control over the nutritional quality of your family’s diet. Cooking whole, fresh foods in your own kitchen usually means less saturated fat and sodium, and more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. It can also be more economical to cook from scratch then to pay the Chinese restaurant, Swanson’s, or Chef Boyardee to do it.

The simple and relatively inexpensive implements we’re talking about are more than mere kitchen utensils. They are tools in the struggle to fend off obesity. Conscious cooking can be a marvelously effective way to keep a family healthy. It’s up to us. We can get a grip, and understand that by providing a truly nutritious diet at home, we help everyone in the family to resist the temptations of cheeseburgers loaded with salt, or those 1,200-calorie drinks that gush from machines in fast-food restaurants.

At home, the tendency toward food addiction can be avoided by keeping hyperpalatable, hedonic foods out of the house. Regular, everyday cooking can taste good enough to satisfy the urge for a flavor rush. And don’t forget, even fat people can suffer from malnutrition. What we eat really does matter. For a basically healthy person, there is something about real, nutritious food that keeps the body’s hunger mechanism in working order. The brain is able to receive the right clues about what is sloshing around in the stomach. It remembers how to say, “No thanks, I’ve eaten.” All kinds of things can mess up the “off” switch and erode the resistance to addictive foods. To avoid childhood obesity, kids need a good example at home.

If you have more than one child, chances are one of them might even get into food preparation. Younger kids are very often up for anything. Some teenagers are uncomfortably aware of their dependency, and would actually welcome a chance to make a contribution to the general welfare.

If anyone in the family has food sensitivities or allergies, home cooking is definitely not a luxury but a survival technique. And yes, shopping can be a lot cheaper if you do it with mindfulness. For instance, it makes no sense to buy two cabbages for the price of one if your family is going to get tired of cabbage pretty quickly and you wind up throwing out the second cabbage. That would definitely be a false economy.

You know what else is a false economy? Going out to Sam’s Club and buying a crate of potato chips just because each bag only comes out to half price. Get real. They’re still potato chips. Buying them by the crate is not at all economical when you factor in the doctor bills you could be facing down the road.

In any case, Henzy recommends making a weekly meal plan and shopping for it all at once. It’s very frustrating to get started on a cooking project and then realize you’re out of an essential ingredient. Don’t subject yourself to that aggravation. Plan ahead. Keep a list, and when you are almost out of one of the kitchen staples, put it on the list.

Henzy also recommends having “two or three healthy food cookbooks.” But that’s a different category of tool, and not one that everybody finds necessary. It is possible to cook from scratch and hardly ever follow a recipe. In fact, a general rule might be: The less of a recipe you need, the healthier the meal.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Part 1: Kitchen Essentials for Easy Cooking,” Nurturing Nutrition, 11/13/10
Image by wickenden (Don LaVange), used under its Creative Commons license.

7 Responses

  1. I’m all in favor of getting kids in the kitchen more. My kids (7 and 9) enjoy helping me cook, but sometimes I hear them complain about whats for dinner. Last week I started something new. I’m letting each child pick, plan, and cook ( with my help) a dinner each week. Last week my daughter did sloppy joes, carrots, and tangerines. It went over really well. I’m looking forward to seeing what my son picks for dinner this week!

  2. Very interesting post!

    I think this is a good angle to increase healthful nutrition. We talk about the “dumbing down” of younger generations. I suspect that food is a part of that, at least in North America. I recall seeing Jamie Oliver asking kindergarten kids to identify vegetables.

    I definitely feel that I eat better now that my wonderful wife cooks for us than when I was in charge of cooking for myself. Looking back on my bachelor days, I definitely feel like I didn’t have a strong sense of what I could cook that was healthful. Now I feel like I could live alone but not gain thirty pounds.

  3. Pat,
    Thanks for the pingback. At home cooking is definitely a front-line defense again childhood obesity, it tell it to my patients all the time. My original post was inspired by exactly that fact – that so many of the parents who come into my office tell me that they can’t cook.
    My mom doesn’t understand, she says, “why don’t they just read a cookbook?”
    But I get it, if I hadn’t grown up watching my mom cook I would be intimidated too. Like anything, cooking at home takes a bit of time to get the hang of, but once you do it it’s easy as, well, pie! Plus it’s fun and such a wonderful skill to pass onto children!

    1. With the cooking, I think it’s good to implant some basic principles – like, to make soup, all kinds of vegetables can go in it, but you need to take into account how hard they are and cut the hard ones into smaller pieces, or put them in first to give them a head start.
      I remember my grandmother telling me “Butter burns.” So when you put something in a frying pan, margarine is better. And I remember her telling me that eggs will continue to cook themselves, so if you put them onto the plate just before you think they’re done, they end up done just right.
      At any rate, basic principles that are easily remembered can go a long way toward success.

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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