Five Reasons We Should All Take A Cooking Class

Jun 13, 2024

The number of global deaths from chronic illness - or non communicable diseases, as the World Health Organization (WHO) calls them - keeps rising.  In 2018, chronic illness caused about 39m deaths; in 2020 about 41m.  In 2022, the latest year for which we have data, the figure was up again to 42.5m.  

Our world just keeps getting sicker.  But more disturbing is that some 80% of these deaths could be prevented.  To do that, the World Health Organization tells us that we simply need lifestyle change:  we need to stress less, move more, sleep more, and cook more. 

Is it as simple as that?  Truly, I think it is.  I’m not suggesting, of course, that doing these simple things will have us living to 120. But if we do adopt healthier lifestyles, we could get to 75 or 80 years of age without diabetes or a stroke and without being debilitated by arthritis or cognitive decline.  In the blue zones, they’re doing exactly that:  living better, longer.  

Did you know that some two-thirds of the food our children eat is ultra processed?  That is not a good thing.  I don’t believe that what we eat has to be organic or gourmet. Our diets don’t have to be made up of superfoods.  They don’t have to be paleo or keto or vegan to be basically healthy.  But they do need to be less processed.  

Definitely, we need to cook more at home.  It is THE way to ensure that we all get less sugar, fewer seed oils, more fibre, more fruits and vegetables, and healthier meats.  Will our eating at home end the chronic illness epidemic?  Perhaps not.  Perhaps the issues are more complex but I can’t believe it isn’t an important step in the right direction. 

Of course, there is the issue of practicality.   Cooking at home is easier said than done; and, we have so little incentive to cook when Talabat or Deliveroo can bring us fabulous foods so quickly. But the older I get, the more deeply I feel that each of us should invest in developing our culinary skills:  for ourselves, for the family, for the world at large.  

If you’re at all interested in getting a tad healthier, give it a try.  It’ll get you moving.  Actually, I believe cooking is a bit of a gateway drug.  It’s a great first step into the rabbit hole of ‘healthy’ living.  When you cook at home, you begin to notice the quality of produce.  You start thinking about how best to wash your vegetables and about organic v. conventional produce.   You see the splashy advertisements in the supermarket for fresh fruits that were ‘just picked’ and you start thinking about what is available locally and the advantages of eating seasonally.  Importantly, you also start thinking about what you’re cooking with and how maybe that nonstick pan really needs to go.  

Where will it all lead?  Who knows?  But my family has been cooking at home for about 8 or 9 years now and we’re now thinking about grinding our own beef to make hamburgers!  Seriously!  My son has become exceptionally good at cooking steaks (wow!) and a few weeks ago we decided to work on cooking better burgers, too.   We’ve learned about the difference between diner burgers which are smashed on a griddle (that’s the Shake Shack type) and restaurant burgers that are much thicker.  They are just two different kinds of delicious.  But we’re into the Shake Shack type right now, and we’ve learned that the meat we should be using is a chuck roast, coarsely ground.  And, apparently, we can grind it in a regular food processor.  So, we’re going to give it a try!

Clearly, the benefits of cooking at home are not simply that you will eat fewer ultra-processed foods, although that is tremendous.  You’ll also likely save money, develop an incredibly practical new skill, improve your confidence and cognitive skills, and, very importantly, bond with the family over dinners.  Because, let me tell you, when you cook the dinner, you’ll want everyone to sit down and eat it with you.  And, having regular family dinners is, hands down, one of the most profound ways you can support your family.  (To learn more, just see this earlier blog.)

So, health benefits, cost savings, cooking skills, improved confidence and cognitive skills, and improved family well-being.  That’s why we should be cooking more at home.  

Let’s just walk through each of these benefits quickly. 

Health Benefits.   First and foremost, cooking at home means you control the ingredients that go into your meals. This significantly reduces the consumption of ultra-processed foods, which have been linked to an increased risk of chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. A study published in The BMJ found that higher consumption of ultra-processed foods was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases.  By choosing whole foods and cooking from scratch, you can ensure a diet rich in essential nutrients and lower in harmful additives and excess sugars.

Home-cooked meals also tend to be more balanced.  Harvard Health highlights that home cooking encourages healthier eating patterns, such as higher consumption of vegetables, fruits, and lean proteins, which are essential for maintaining a healthy weight and preventing chronic illnesses .

Cost Savings.  The economic benefit of cooking at home cannot be overstated. Eating out or ordering in regularly can be significantly more expensive than preparing meals at home. According to a report by Forbes, home-cooked meals can save an average family of four around $2,000 annually compared to eating out.  Additionally, when you buy ingredients in bulk and plan your meals, you reduce food waste, which further contributes to cost savings.

Skill Development.  Cooking is a valuable life skill that everyone should possess. By regularly preparing meals, you not only become more proficient in the kitchen, but you also gain a deeper understanding of nutrition and food science. This knowledge is empowering and can lead to more informed food choices in all aspects of life. 

Confidence & Cognitive Benefits. As you acquire new culinary skills and become more proficient in the kitchen, you will also gain a sense of accomplishment and self-reliance. This confidence can extend beyond the kitchen, impacting other areas of your life.  According to an article published in Frontiers in Psychology, cooking can contribute significantly to positive self-efficacy and to the elements that positive psychologists describe as ‘flourishing.’  Clearly, preparing meals for yourself and others fosters a sense of pride and competence, which can improve your overall mental well-being and your cognitive capabilities.  Especially as we age, cooking is a great way to keep our minds sharp. Truly, cooking at home has the potential enhance overall mental well-being.

Improved Family Well-Being.  The social aspect of home-cooked meals cannot be overstated.  Among many other things, regular family dinners have been shown to strengthen family bonds and improve communication. Research from Columbia University's National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse reveals that teens who have frequent family dinners are less likely to use drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, and are more likely to perform better academically and exhibit fewer behavioural problems.    Moreover, shared meals create a sense of routine and stability, which is particularly beneficial for children’s emotional and psychological development. Cooking together also provides an opportunity for family members to connect, share their day, and build lasting memories.

In conclusion, the benefits of cooking at home are multifaceted and substantial. It not only promotes better health by reducing the intake of ultra-processed foods, but also saves money, enhances cognitive abilities, teaches valuable skills, and strengthens family ties. While it might seem daunting at first, developing the habit of cooking at home can lead to a healthier, happier, and more connected life.

So, while we’re planning this summer’s activities, let’s add ‘cooking class’ to the list.  There are classes being given on line and in cities all over the world.   If you want to test the water, just take a one-day class when you visit a new city or country.  What a tremendous way to experience the culture! 

It’s not essential that we take a class, of course.  Go ahead, dive right in and start cooking at home TODAY!  There are so many tremendous cooking shows on TV and Youtube.  Check them out!   

But somehow, someway, we should each do what we can to begin cooking a bit more at home. Maybe we can make a dent in those ‘deaths from chronic illness’ numbers while we’re at it. 


Yours in Health & Happiness,