Cooking at home can save money, calories

Carmen Castro, who eats out less often these days, shows how to cook a healthy broccoli and chicken dish.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Today's story is part of an occasional series in The Augusta Chronicle on obesity, healthy eating, exercise and living better.


Carmen Castro is cutting up green onions in her kitchen as she makes her chicken and broccoli dish for dinner. She likes to use green onion instead of regular onion.

"It smells very good," Castro said. "It tastes really good. And it doesn't make me cry."

It might also be helping her keep off the 35 pounds she has lost since November. She is one of millions of Americans who are eating out less often and cooking at home, and that's a good thing, Augusta nutritionists said.

A recent survey by the American Institute for Cancer Research found that more than 40 percent of respondents said they were eating out less often because of the economy. Nearly half -- 48 percent -- said they were eating less fast food.

While it is just as easy to eat poorly at home as it is at a restaurant, cooking for yourself gives you a chance to take more control of what you eat, said Jessica Baye, the chief clinical dietitian at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.

It starts at the grocery store.

"My biggest advice is to do the majority of your grocery shopping on the outer ring of the grocery store," Baye said. "That's where you're hitting your fresh fruit and veggies, your dairy products, your lean meats. The further in you go into the aisles is generally the more processed foods."

Nutrition tends not to be the first thing people think about when they're eating out, said Latasha Williams, a registered dietitian at Doctors Hospital.

"Most people, first of all, think about how they want their food to taste, and then they look at the price," she said. "And then they think about what's actually in it."

Restaurant portions tend to be larger, and often people feel compelled to finish them, Baye said.

They say, " 'I'm going to eat what I paid for,' " she said. "We tend to just overeat when we go out, because it's also a special occasion; it's a treat. You kind of give yourself more license to overeat when you go out, as opposed to eating at home."

It's also easier to stop and save at home, Baye said.

"I think we're more inclined when you eat at home to do leftovers because it's right there and you can just throw it into a container and you put it in the fridge," she said.

Cooking at home also gives you a chance to make healthier substitutions and cut down on things you don't want, Williams said.

"If you're trying to stay away from saturated fat or other things, then your meals are better controlled as far as what goes in them," she said.

Samm Fusselle was trying to keep off the 30 pounds she lost about a year ago and was also looking at a poor economy when she and her husband decided they should give up their weekly date night out.

"So for two reasons I started cooking more at home," she said. While it now means getting creative with salads and seafood, the tradition continues in some ways, Fusselle said.

"One night a week I really try to do something special, like it would be a date night," she said.

Just healthier.

Tips for smart shopping, healthy cooking

Cooking at home can be better, and cheaper, if done the right way, Augusta nutritionists said.

- Recipe Web sites, including or, have healthy recipe sections, and most recipes can be revamped to make them healthier -- by substituting low-fat dairy for full-fat, for example, or trans fat-free margarine or saturated fat-free margarine for butter.

- Play around with recipes and do it with your kids. "They're more likely to try new things if you're trying new things," said Jessica Baye, the chief clinical dietitian for Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.

- When shopping, stay on the outer ring of the store aisles, buying fresh food, lean meats and low-fat dairy, and avoiding packaged, more heavily processed foods.

- You might need to take more time shopping and read nutrition labels more closely, in particular paying attention to servings -- often the nutrition listed is for a single serving, and there might be more than one serving in the item. The percentage of recommended daily amounts for the different categories is also important, but most are based on a 2,000-calorie-a-day diet. "Some people may not be eating a 2,000-calorie diet," said Latasha Williams, a registered dietitian with Doctors Hospital.

- If you think fresh fruits and vegetables are too expensive, try frozen. "The nutrition quality is exactly the same," Baye said, with less chance the food will go bad.