What are the benefits of growing and cooking food at home?

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As the economy reopens after weeks of coronavirus quarantining, I’ve noticed many people scouring the Internet to find where they can eat out again, or pick up takeout food.

 

While it’s often convenient to have someone prepare what we eat, this approach toward sustenance ignores the palpable benefits of cooking, even growing, your own food. After years of dining on what others prepared for me, I discovered happiness in preparing my own meals and growing my own ingredients.

 

Farming and cooking have many distinct benefits in our lives. But when done together, the rewards are bountiful.

 

Growing your own food can help you develop a lifetime habit of eating better. 

It connects you to the world and how things grow and evolve, even how the environment impacts our food. Preparing your food gives you control of what’s on your plate. Both can be bonding experiences with your loved ones.

 

Health benefits of gardening

 

Gardening is good for your emotional health. Getting outdoors and connecting with nature calms your nerves and boosts your mood. That creates less stress, so it’s good for your heart and lowers your blood pressure.

 

Three years ago, I took a farming course at Ohio State. I learned much from Mike Hogan, an agricultural and natural resources educator, who teaches people how to grow urban gardens. Afterward, I purchased some property near my home in Columbus’ Clintonville neighborhood and turned it into a community garden.

 

We now farm about 2,500 square feet of garden. I manage about 80 varieties of herbs and vegetables. We have peppers, eggplants, tomatoes, squash, root vegetables, kale and many other things. We grow it all. 

 

Learning how to successfully grow herbs and vegetables is challenging and intellectually satisfying. Not only are you tending to the needs of your plants, but you’re continually asking and answering questions: How do I use fertilizer in a smart way? How do I manage water? How can I ward off deer and rabbits? Such challenges can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Gardening also is good for your physical health, as it requires work. From planning to harvesting, you’re continually moving, digging, planting, pulling weeds and harvesting. It’s a regular, aerobic exercise that gives you strength, stamina and flexibility. Getting outside in the fresh air also has its benefits, including getting vitamin D from sunshine.

 

A good garden can reward you with fresh food all season. Even a small vegetable or herb garden can give you a feeling of accomplishment. Involve the family, and see if you like it.

 

Health benefits of cooking at home

 

Once you’ve gathered what you’ve grown, or even if you just buy your ingredients at the local market, cooking at home is good for your emotional health.

 

There are obvious benefits to controlling the ingredients on your plate. Cooking with fresh foods is eminently more healthful than relying on packaged foods and fast-food meals, which often are laced with sodium and preservatives. You become more mindful of what goes into your body when you prepare your own meals, and it’s better for your body.

 

Cooking at home also is good for your mental health: Although we do it every day, turning basic ingredients into a savory meal is challenging. It doesn’t always work out the way you want. The daily trial and error of interpreting recipes and measuring ingredients not only grows your palate, but it stimulates your brain.

 

I’ve learned to appreciate everything that leads up to my turning on the heat to cook my food. I clear my space, chop my ingredients and separate them into bowls. It’s a meditative experience that calms my nerves. Being creative also brings joy and satisfaction, as well as builds self-confidence. The altruism of cooking for others is good for you, too.

 

So, when you’re tempted to call up the local restaurant for something to eat, I encourage you to learn how to prepare foods yourself, and grow what you need if you can. The rewards go beyond what’s on the plate.

 

Neeraj Tayal is an internal medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center and a professor in the Ohio State College of Medicine.