6 Reasons To Not Go Out For Dinner Tonight

08/16/2014 08:58 am ET | Updated Aug 19, 2014
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If you're weighing whether to splurge on a restaurant meal tonight or hit up the dollar menu at the nearby fast food joint, why don't you consider staying home and cooking instead?

There's a number of reasons to hit the kitchen instead of the drive-thru, many of which your body will thank you for. Need some convincing? Check out these six reasons to stay in for dinner tonight:

You'd consume more than you would have if you didn't eat out.
Eating out seems to have an effect on your daily calorie intake, whether you’re dining at a full-service restaurant or a fast food joint. People who reported eating out consumed about 200 calories more a day, as well as more saturated fat, sugar and sodium, according to a Public Health Nutrition study conducted by researchers from the American Cancer Society and the University of Illinois at Chicago. When you consider that the estimated calorie needs per day range from 2,200 to 3,200 calories for adult men and 1,800 to 2,400 for adult women, depending on activity level, that extra 200 calories can really matter.

You probably wouldn't pick the "healthy" menu item, anyway.
Only one in four people say they actually eat healthy foods when they go out to eat, according to a 2013 study by the market research firm The NPD Group.

Cooking at home could help you live longer.
Yes, really. A 2012 study in Public Health Nutrition showed that cooking as many as five times a week was associated with a 47 percent higher likelihood of still being alive a decade later. The study, conducted by Taiwanese and Australian researchers, was based on data from a group of 1,888 people over the age of 65. Among those people, 31 percent said they cooked five or more times a week, while 43 percent said they never cooked (the rest cooked with a frequency somewhere in between).

Eating out is contributing to the obesity trend.
While it's impossible to prove cause-and-effect, there have been multiple associations found between increased weight and eating out. For example, a Lancet study in 2004 showed young adults who frequently eat out at fast food restaurants are more likely to weigh more and have increased insulin resistance when they hit early middle age. An FDA-funded panel also reviewed evidence to find that eating food not cooked at home is associated with higher body fat and body mass index, and increased obesity.

You'll eat healthier foods if you cook 'em yourself.
Forbes points out that the pure fact that your home likely does not have a deep fryer is already a boon for eating more healthfully. Plus, there are studies that show that people who cook at home eat healthier than people who eat food prepared by someplace else, Forbes notes.

You're teaching your kids to appreciate healthy foods.
Cooking at home for dinner is also an opportunity to get your kids to join you in the kitchen -- which research shows could actually help to grow their appreciation for healthy eating. A 2012 study in the journal Public Health Nutrition shows that kids who helped more with meal prep and cooking were more likely to prefer both fruits and vegetables.

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  • 1. Choose A Lean, Unprocessed Protein.
    It's easy to get carried away with tradition, but your average barbecue cheeseburger is loaded with saturated fat and calories. And a single hot dog has nearly 300 calories and 17 grams of fat -- and that's without all the fixings.

    What's more, processed meats like hot dogs and sausages contain preservatives called nitrates that have been linked to colorectal cancer in studies. And cardiovascular research shows that a diet heavy in these meats, which tend to have a high sodium load, are also associated with high blood pressure and heart attack risk.

    The fix: Try alternative proteins like lean turkey burgers, veggie burgers, fatty fishes like salmon or tuna, or grill-friendly extra firm tofu. Check out our list of beef-free burger options here.
  • 2. Be Careful Not To Burn.
    There are reasons not to char your food that go far beyond culinary concerns: two compounds found in charred and overcooked meats, heterocyclic amine and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are known carcinogens.

    Research shows that those carcinogens have a real effect, including one study that found that people who regularly consumed well-done meats were 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, reported.

    The fix: Make sure to clean your grill to rid it of preexisting charred food bits before you begin cooking anew. Not only is that sanitary, it can cut down on the carcinogenic load.

    Further, marinate your food before you grill it. Many spices, including red pepper and other marinade ingredients, such as alcohol, have been shown to reduce the presence of hydrocarbons.

    And, of course, don't cook your foods until they're well done.
  • 3. Stock Up On Fresh Veggies.
    It's easy to mindlessly pop finger foods and grilled items into your mouth throughout the course of a cookout, so counteract the calorie devastation by preparing high volume, low density foods. Grills are especially great for bell peppers, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, onions, bok choy, radicchio and more.

    The fix: One easy way to incorporate more veggies into your BBQ repertoire is to switch from burger-based cooking to kebabs, which naturally allow for a heavy veg load. Check out these kebab recipes from Mark Bittman.
  • 4. Don't Show Up Hungry.
    If you're headed to someone else's house and you can't set the menu, it's often harder to keep your health priorities. In this scenario, the best plan of attack may be to eat before you head to the party.

    The fix: Eat a combination of protein and carbohydrates to stay satiated -- for example, a handful of nuts and dried fruit or a piece of toast with canned tuna or salmon. Once you get to the party, it will help you exercise control and eat a small amount.
  • 5. Keep Count Of The Alcohol.
    Cookouts are often characterized not just by their abundance of food, but their abundance of beer and cocktails. In the summer sun, a refreshing fizzy beer can seem like a logical hydration choice, but it's easy to overindulge in terms of calories.

    The fix: Alternate each alcoholic beverage with a glass of sparkling or still water. Doing so will keep you stay truly hydrated, help prevent drunkenness and keep the liquid calories down. If cocktails are more your style, the same principle applies -- though it might be worth additionally checking out these lower-calorie cocktail recipes.
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