There are many articles that talk about the money-saving and health benefits of preparing your own meals. But the other benefits of cooking and eating at home are just as important. When I first started cooking daily, it was initially for health benefits; saving money came as a nice and immediate side-effect. But after some time, I discovered the other benefits which made me regret not starting this practice sooner.
Unexpected Benefits of Home-cooked Meals
I know it’s really hard to always cook and eat together, because of time constraints and having to align everyone’s schedule. When my husband and I were both working full-time, I remember it being very challenging. But as a child from a divorced family, I have seen how couples naturally grow apart, and I didn’t want that to happen to us. So we made an agreement to sit down and eat at least one meal together every day. That was 15 years ago.
Today, as we both work part-time, we eat at home 95% of the time. This means that my husband and I go out for a meal just once a week, on average. As we’ve already funded our retirement, we don’t do it for its money-saving benefits anymore. Instead, it is primarily for health and also these surprising and unexpected benefits:
1. Connection to your family.
Maybe this is obvious to some, but I didn’t really think about it until recently. When you cook and eat together, it is time specifically designated for the family to stop what they’re doing, gather together, and check in with each other. Some of my fondest childhood memories were of my large extended family sitting together around the dinner table, asking about each other’s day.
Breaking bread together in fellowship, day after day, makes it so that we always know what’s going on with each other. The 30 minutes to an hour of protected “family time” has a compounding effect.
We’ve discussed in a previous article how lifestyle inflation can rob us of our future, without our awareness. But here is some “food for thought” — it is far easier to resist the need to unnecessarily upgrade one’s lifestyle if you have strong and meaningful social ties. Let me explain.
We all have a void inside of us. And from an evolutionary standpoint (as social creatures), it is meant to be filled with social bonds and a sense of belonging. Hence, our self-worth is inextricably tied to how securely attached we feel. Without this attachment, it is easier for other things to fill that void and take the place of strong social bonds.
Eating together as a family creates the opportunity to socially connect regularly. For my husband and me, it’s like going on a date every day. Leaving our work and phones behind (yes, our dining table is a phone-free zone), the conversations flow and that feeling of secure attachment is reinforced.
2. Connection to your humanity.
Cooking is probably the only thing we can do as a species that has anything to do with survival. Just think about it. Most of us don’t make the clothes we wear or the gadgets we use; we don’t build our homes; and we don’t plant, grow, or harvest any of our own food. But cooking — the act of extracting and delivering nutrients to the body thereby building and repairing it — is essential to our survival.
I cook every day because it reminds me that we’re flesh and bones, no different than other creatures. I cook every day because I see it as doing my (incredibly small) part to contribute to my family’s survival, livelihood, and wellbeing. Cooking keeps me grounded in my humanity.
3. A re-calibration of expectations and gratitude.
It’s easy to forget that behind every meal, dish and entree, there was a horde of people who contributed to it. The ingredients were likely from all regions of the world, touched by many hands that belong to people we will never meet. Then the ingredients all had to be transported, and along the way, more hands touched it. Then they were bought, prepared, and presented to you. All along this supply chain, was the effort, time, and energy of dozens of people.
Just look at how nicely these veggies are packaged.
It’s easy to forget that real people are behind all of these things. It’s also easy to forget that to get what some might refer to as a humble hawker meal is a modern-day miracle. We have so many choices. And the price is kept artificially low, considering how essential food is to survival, and the sheer amount of work that went into making our meal.
Do you know how much land, water, and work it takes to harvest a humble bowl of rice? An insane amount! We today, live like feudal lords, with hundreds of servants working (behind the scenes) just to feed us. My Indian friend likes to remind me that cloves and other commonly available spices (that you can buy now for $1) were once a reason to go to war. “A lot of people died over these,” he would say while holding a bag of spices.
It’s easy to overlook just how good we have it today. But cooking can serve as a reminder. For me, cooking reminds me that fish don’t come in balls (and to make them into balls is a lot of work), broth needs to simmer for hours, and cutting boards and dishes all need to be washed. These things are all out of sight, when you order your $5 fish ball soup.
Eating out is fun, exciting, and in some ways, effortless. But it’s so easy to take it for granted. To me, eating at home is worth the time investment. And for some reason, I find that conversations at home are deeper and more interesting than when eating out. Do I miss the variety of food and flavours which Singapore offers, that can’t easily be reproduced at home? Sometimes, especially because I don’t deep fry anything at home (too much effort).
But when I do go out, I have a deeper appreciation for all the easily accessible flavours and variety of food. And I am reminded how insanely lucky I am.