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woman-cookingFast food commercials make dinner seem quick and easy—but is it worth the impact to your health and your waistline? Recent studies have found that although portion sizes have stopped growing in the last decade or two, the amount of calories, saturated fat and sodium served at the drive-thru is still far too high, contributing to a nationwide increase in obesity and chronic disease. In 2015, make it your goal to curb the fast food and cook more meals at home.

A new study out of Johns Hopkins University examined the eating habits of roughly 9,000 U.S. adults and found that those who prepare and eat the majority of their meals at home consume fewer calories, unhealthy fats and carbohydrates—not to mention less sugar—than those who opt for fast food.

The study, published this month in the journal Public Health Nutrition, was led by Julia Wolfson, a trained chef and fellow at the university’s Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for a Livable Future. While many people think cooking at home is too expensive or time consuming, says Wolfson, she stresses it is often easier than one might think. Here are a few simple tips to help you get started:

  • Plan ahead! Choose recipes, make a list and shop over the weekend to make weeknight meal prep faster and simpler. You can also chop veggies in advance, or prepare and freeze meals and individual portions.
  • Choose fewer processed foods, more real foods. Learn to shop the perimeter of the grocery store, where you will find fresh produce and healthy protein sources. Avoid the center aisles that contain pre-packaged, processed foods loaded with added sugar and carbs.
  • Take a beginner cooking class or go online. Classes are often offered through local schools and community centers, but the Internet is also a valuable resource for recipes, ideas and instruction. Just one video can transform dinner!
  • Get kids involved. Even the pickiest kids and teens will usually try something new if they are included in the process. Let them choose recipes, help with shopping and preparation, and even offer their own suggestions.

With better nutrition comes better health and weight management, and cooking at home allows us to make smarter choices about the foods we eat and the meals we prepare for our families. The more you cook at home, the simpler it will get, and the healthier you will feel in 2015!

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For many of us, the New Year is a chance to start fresh—especially when it comes to healthy eating. Still, every now and then you’re going to crave a little something sweet, so here are two quick and healthy low-sugar recipes to help you stay on track with your 2015 health goals. Enjoy!

Berries ‘n’ Cream
Serves 1
One 6-oz. container plain Greek yogurt
4 tbsp. whipped cream
½ cup mixed berries (blueberries, strawberries, blackberries)
Mint leaf, for garnish

Directions: Combine yogurt and whipped cream; stir in berries. Garnish with mint and serve.

Coco-nut Pudding
Serves 4
½ cup almond butter
3 tbsp. almond flour
3 tbsp. unsweetened shredded coconut
1 tsp. coconut oil
1tsp. ground cinnamon
6 to 8 drops vanilla stevia (optional)
3 tbsp. chia seeds

Directions: Place almond butter, almond flour, coconut, coconut oil, cinnamon and stevia (if using) in a food processor and process until smooth. Stir in chia seeds; transfer to small bowl and refrigerate 1 hour. Scoop into individual bowls and serve chilled.

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