How cooking at home actually makes you happier

A recent study found that healthy, home-cooked meals actually make people feel better than indulgent meals eaten at a restaurant.

Cooking at home over the stove

Cook at home to get more out of your meals (Photo by Masterfile).

I recently started a “summer job” that requires me to be in an office every day — a dramatic departure from the typical lifestyle of a freelance writer. When I signed on for long days at work, I worried about it throwing the rest of my life out of balance. Surely, I wouldn’t have time for seeing friends, going to the gym or riding my bike. And I certainly couldn’t imagine having time for home-cooked meals. I resigned myself to lunches from subterranean food courts and evenings full of frozen pizzas.

But, to my surprise, my newly-busy schedule has actually pushed me into the kitchen over and over again. As I feel my stress levels rising, and come home feeling mentally exhausted, I want nothing more than to turn the radio on and start making something from scratch. Getting my hands dirty and doing something physical, with a (usually) satisfying end product, has actually become a part of my unwinding process rather than yet another thing on my To Do list. I’ve made banana bread, potato bread, carrot soup, honey granola, red bean chile, coleslaw, potato salad and pork tacos — much of it from a new cookbook by Deb Perelman with lots of recipes that somehow, magically, always seem to turn out. And it’s making me very, very happy.

My happiness about home cooking is actually supported by recent research reported by Psychology Today.

Dr. Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist at Stanford, explains a study related to how food choices influence mood. She writes: “Now, most of us think that eating out is a treat, and that indulgent meals are a special reward. But this study found that women were significantly happier and less stressed after eating at home, and after eating healthier meals.”

As the authors conclude, “The home is a privileged environment that nurtures healthy eating and in which healthier food choices trigger more positive emotions.”

The happiness-healthy food connection is well established, and I wholeheartedly agree that’s a factor. But, for me, I think there’s an additional happiness connection related to making something physical after sitting in front of a computer all day. And there’s also something to be said for the glorious mindfulness of cooking, where you can put on some music or a podcast and slip into a mild trance. And when you wake up, voila! Banana bread! (Click here for our fave banana bread recipe from the Chatelaine kitchen.)

Tell us in the comment section below, what’s your favourite thing to cook at home? 

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