A New Year’s Resolution Worth Keeping

Around half of Americans started this week with New Year’s resolutions. In 6 months, more than half of those people will have lost their New Year’s resolve and fallen back on old habits. By June, we’ll all be spending less time at the gym (if any), have stopped using new organizational systems in favor of “filing” documents in the junk drawer and returned to our vices.

So I ask—what resolutions can we make that can actually kept? Those are the only ones worth making. I propose a simple one which has profound, meaningful payback—have a family dinner at home each evening. Cooking dinner at home will help you stay healthy and improve your relationships. In other words, you’ll be able to check off most of the top 10 goals people have each year, all with this one resolution.Here are a few of Americans’ top new year’s resolutions, along with compelling evidence for how eating at home will help you achieve them.Lose weight Stay fit and healthy: 31.5% of calories in home-cooked foods are from fat compared to 37.6% in restaurant meals. These values might even understate the true difference, since restaurants and prepared foods often underestimate their calorie content, with energy content 20 percent higher than reported in official materials. If you want to lose weight, eating at home is your best bet. You’ll have more control over the ingredients, portions and the amount (and type) of fat than you would at any restaurant.Part and parcel with control is that you’ll have to cook. Prepared and frozen foods, even if they are labeled “low-fat,” can be as dangerous as restaurant fare. In fact, economists at the University of Chicago have argued that prepared foods are a major cause of the obesity epidemic. Let’s call their theory the French Fry Effect: Once the average person could purchase frozen French fries and eat them at home with little effort involved, these authors said, there was nothing to stop them from eating French fries every day.

Spend less, save more: McDonald’s Dollar Menu seems cheap compared to Whole Foods or often even grocery chains like Jewel or Safeway. This is true to an extent—a Big Mac is good calorie bang for your buck. Nutritionally, though, anyone who has seen Super Size Mecan agree: In terms of the daily minerals and vitamins you need, you can do better. In fact, this study on low-income families found that a “convenience diet” cost 24 percent more than its healthy alternatives.

Spend more time with family: When you eat at home, your attention won’t constantly be pulled away by your search for something on the menu or having to calculate the tip. The results of this are far-reaching. 92 percent of teens who eat with their families 5 to 7 times per week say their parents know what is going on in their children’s lives compared to 60 percent of teens who have 0 to 2 family meals per week. This has myriad benefits, including the fact that these kids are less likely to smoke or drink and are 35 percent less likely to have disordered eating habits. And by eating with your child, you are helping him or her develop a larger, more varied vocabulary.

In an age where technology is everywhere, schedules are more packed than ever and eating out (or ordering in) seem more convenient than ever, I challenge you to go “old school.” Make dinner together, eat together and resolve to have a connected, meaningful, healthy 2014. Happy new year!

This article was originally published on LinkedIn on January 3, 2014.

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