By Audrey Roen
Be warned, I’m about to publicly commit to a dramatic change this semester. Inhale, exhale. Okay, here we go: I’d like to try something new. I’d like to start going home for dinner at least once a week.
I know, it’s weird to make a resolution when we are more than half way through the semester. And for those of you who already go home you may be wondering what the big deal is. But something about midterms this year has been a game changer for me. Anyone else? It’s only been one week since the tsunami of due dates and spike in caffeine consumption on campus but in the last few weeks I’ve noticed my eating habits have gotten very unhealthy. My meals are rushed and processed.
What’s more, I’ve fallen into a pattern where meals are no longer a chance to take a break and enjoy my food. No, meals are now practically synonymous with my state of mind. Breakfast, I’m out of it. Lunch, I’m anxious about the remainder of the day. Dinner, I’m anxious about the day I just had and am probably thinking about shows I could be watching on Netflix right now.
Fed up with what poor eating has done to my attitude and energy, I wanted to break the cycle of, what I call, “out-of-it” eating, where food could be entering your mouth and your GI tract but bypassing your soul. It takes away the appreciation and pride of cooking for yourself and it doesn’t let you take a break from school, work, or appreciate what healthy food does for your body. So, entering the proactive phase, I thought about my alternatives. How about treating myself to a fancy restaurant meal? Nah, that would require lots of money. I thought about ordering in (who could argue with that?) but I knew that would give me leftovers I couldn’t store properly and more oil than my body could handle. Maybe doing a daily grocery run? That takes too much time. And around and around I went.
And then it hit me: “you live just up the street,” I thought, “you could set aside one night a week, take a walk home for dinner then get a ride back at night.” Surrendering all my independent college student thoughts, I was so excited that I was ready to go home immediately.
Everything that bothers me about my eating habits now have a much better chance of fading away if I eat at home. I would know exactly what my food would be made with, I would be more than likely eat less fat, sodium and added sugar, and I would likely eat smaller portions. Bu, more importantly, a meal would become an event, something that I would have to walk to, prepare for and clean up after. It would be something that I invest my time into. And hey, I don’t have to pay!
It looks like my thoughts line up pretty well with what the experts are saying. A recent study from the October issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics concluded that home cooked meals are “positively associated with increased consumption of fruit and vegetables and numerous nutrients, promoting good eating habits and disease prevention” compared to pre packaged meals. Researchers studied Texas college students enrolled in Abilene Christian University and Baylor University in a series of focus groups. They asked the students what motivators and barriers existed to cooking at home compared to finding prepackaged food and they attempted to determine college student levels of cooking competency. The researchers discovered many motivations as well as barriers to making home cooked meals. Any of them look familiar to you?
The study claimed that home cooked meals deserve better attention because of their nutritious, money saving qualities. The authors wrote, “Overall, people who prepare food in the home are more inclined to eat smaller portions and consume fewer calories, less fat, salt and sugar.”
Students mentioned certain barriers but not all hope is lost. The study concluded, based on student answers, that developing a menu, finding recipes, utilizing equipment and setting a time schedule for home cooked meals are not very difficult after these behaviors have become habitual.
So, after crossing the midterm finish line and in anticipation of the weeks soon to follow, I am stepping up to the challenge of erasing “out-of-it” eating by eating a home cooked or self-prepared meal at least once a week. I won’t lie, the thought of going home to eat when I could be finishing work or catching up on sleep is daunting, I’m with Baylor and Abilene there, but I hope that in the long run the meals I decide to make for myself will increase my healthy eating and put my nourishment-starved brain back in motion. I hope to enjoy food again, its taste, the warm feeling it gives my stomach, the people I share it with. I want to be more awake and alert for school and exercise, energized to live my life. But that’s just me, what about you? Is it time for you to refocus and start enjoying food again? What are some alternatives to your current eating habits that could make you feel better after the midterm marathon you just ran? Does it mean making your mother’s signature dish for a taste of home, taking a stab at recipes on Pinterest, or actually setting the table and eating in a chair for dinner? Whatever brings you peace during mealtime, I encourage you to practice this semester and for semesters to come. The brain doesn’t nourish itself, you know, and neither does the soul.
Eat well, Stars!