Cooking and Mental Health
The study asked 437 Seattle-area adults about their eating habits, including how often they ate out and how often they stayed in to cook their own meals. The data revealed that people who frequently ate home-cooked meals tended to score higher on an index of healthy eating, while those who ate out the most often tended to score lower.
Not only that – people who ate out frequently spent an average of $330 on food every month, compared to only $273 for their home-cooking counterparts. In other words, cooking at home seems to be both cheaper and healthier than eating out frequently. The researchers also found that eating more home-cooked meals was associated with variables like being married, being unemployed, and having children, but not with income or education levels.
Cooking for yourself may have some less tangible benefits, too. Besides easing the burden on your pocketbook, it could be good for your mental health. For example, a 2016 study found that teens with more cooking skills tend to have better mental health, less depression and stronger family ties.
Of course, this study didn’t look at causation, so it’s probably not as simple as saying that home-cooked meals can prevent depression! It’s quite possible, for instance, that being less depressed makes it easier to learn to cook, or that having a more stable family life lowers teens’ risk for depression and makes them more likely to acquire cooking skills. But there definitely does appear to be some sort of link between cooking skills and mental health.
That’s why some researchers have suggested a role for cooking classes in the education system. A 2015 study that implemented a class where students learned how to cook new foods suggested that cooking classes in schools could teach a whole range of skills like teamwork, cultural awareness and social engagement.
Cooking classes have also been explored as a mental health intervention for adults. In one study, researchers from University of Northern Colorado ran a six-week cooking and nutrition class for 18 people with severe mental illnesses. A survey at the end of the study suggested that the class helped participants improve their diets and become more confident when both cooking and grocery shopping.
Ultimately, the big picture for all these studies is the same: if you’re looking for a cheap, practical way of improving your life, putting in the time to regularly prepare your own food can’t hurt. Never underestimate the power of a home-cooked meal!