Home Cooking Is Good for Your Mental Health

By Jiri Kaloc

Homecooked meals are typically more nutritious, cheaper, and have fewer calories. Unfortunately, a lot of people feel like they don’t have the time or the confidence to cook at home. A new study suggests that they might be missing out on mental health benefits too!

Healthy cooking course

Researchers from Edith Cowan University, in partnership with The Good Foundation and Jamie’s Ministry of Food initiative, set out to find how learning to cook impacts cooking confidence, self-perceived mental health, and satisfaction around cooking and diet-related behaviours. They provided a 7-week healthy cooking course to 657 participants and measured the course’s effect.

Washing tomatoes
Sleep, physical activity, and a healthy diet can be thought of as three pillars of health. © Profimedia

Better physical and mental health

The study found several significant improvements in those who participated in the course compared to the study’s control group. These benefits persisted even 6 months after completing the course.

  • Improvements in general health
  • Improvements in mental health
  • Improvements in subjective vitality
  • Improvements in cooking confidence
  • Ability to easily change eating habits and overcome lifestyle barriers to healthy eating

“Improving people’s diet quality can be a preventive strategy to halt or slow the rise in poor mental health, obesity and other metabolic health disorders. Future health programs should continue to prioritise the barriers to healthy eating such as poor food environments and time restrictions, whilst placing greater emphasis on the value of healthy eating via quick and easy homecooked meals, rich in fruit and vegetables and avoiding ultra-processed convenience foods,” said lead author Dr Joanna Rees.

Home cooking helps even if the diet doesn’t improve

Previous studies show that home cooking is healthier. People who prepare their meals at home tend to eat more fruits and vegetables and take in fewer calories. The assumption was that improvements in mental health come as a result of the improved diet quality. However, this new study showed that the mental health of its participants improved despite no meaningful change in their reported diet after completing the cooking course. Plus, the mental health benefits were equal among participants who were overweight or obese, and those in a healthy weight range.

“This suggests a link between cooking confidence and satisfaction around cooking, and mental health benefits,” said Dr Rees.

Men and women gained confidence equally

The study also revealed an interesting thing about how men and women think about cooking. At the beginning of the cooking course, 77% of women claimed to be confident in cooking while only 23% of men claimed the same confidence. When all participants completed the course, cooking confidence and cooking skills were equal.

“This change in confidence could see a change in the household food environment by reducing the gender bias and leading to a gender balance in home cooking. This in turn may help to overcome some of the barriers presented by not knowing how to cook, such as easing the time constraints which can lead to readymade meals which are high in energy but low in nutritional value,” concluded Dr Rees.

So, learning to cook at home increases your confidence and improves your mental health even if you don’t change your diet. That’s a pretty good argument to start investing a bit more time in home food prep. What will your next meal be?