Home-cooked Meals – The Way to Healthy Families

By Dr Roseline Yap & Dr Chin Yit Siew
Nutrition Society of Malaysia

Read in BM | Chinese

It has already been more than a year since the COVID-19 pandemic first emerged around the world. We have all gotten used to being stuck at home due to the various lockdowns and restrictions imposed on us to control the pandemic. Since the beginning of the first Movement Control Order in Malaysia, many of us have taken the initiative to start cooking more often at home, even those who have never cooked before.

Indeed, this is a good step towards establishing the foundation of healthy eating and keeping our family healthy. Cooking at home allows us to provide healthy meals for ourselves and our family by enabling us to control how our meals are cooked and what ingredients are included. This helps us to eat healthier, and thus, prevents us from getting non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

Everyone can benefit from cooking at home, even those who are single or living on their own, not only as a way to protect ourselves from being exposed to the pandemic, but also to save money, improve cooking skills, and most importantly, to ensure that our dietary intake is well-balanced. This article focuses on making home cooking easier by providing useful tips to save time, sharing simple yet healthy cooking methods and offering several food safety steps.

Home cooking is easy!

Cooking at home may seem daunting to those who rarely or never cook before. The fact is it is not necessarily complicated. There are many ways, tips and ideas to help you cook at home easily, quickly and healthily.

One of the most common excuses that people give when asked the reason they don’t cook at home is their lack of time. Here are some time-saving tips for home-cooking that you can try:

  • Weekly meal-planning: Planning your daily meals helps you to prepare in advance and saves your time in figuring out what to cook. This also ensures variety in your meal plan, helps to keep track of your pantry and controls your grocery spending. Plan three main meals every day (breakfast, lunch, dinner) as well as simple snacks in between. If you are staying together with your family members, involve them to plan the weekly-meal plan together as part of the family activities. Refer to the latest Malaysian Food Pyramid (Ministry of Health, 2020) to get the recommended daily intake of the five food groups
  • Smart shopping: After planning your weekly menu, list out all the ingredients that need to be bought or topped up from the market/store based on your plan. Plan how much you need to get based on your budget, storage space, estimated consumption rate and shelf life of each ingredient. For example, leafy vegetables cannot last long, so only buy what you need for the week, while you can get a 5-kg bag of rice every month, depending on your household consumption. Planning your shopping also help to reduce your trip to the market during the pandemic.
  • Advance preparation: As you return from your shopping trip, start to prepare the raw ingredients that are needed for your meal plan. Save time during the week later by pre-chopping garlic, onion, ginger, chilli and other basic ingredients, and store them in airtight plastic containers in the fridge. You can also do this with vegetables. Next, allocate the portion of poultry, meat or fish that is needed for each planned meal. For easier thawing, store each protein portion separately in the freezer.
  • Batch cooking: Another option is to cook all your planned meals for the week at once during the weekend. Allocate each serving of cooked meals in separate containers and store the foods properly in the fridge or freezer. This saves even more of your time as you only need to reheat the food during mealtimes. However, you have to ensure that the meals do not spoil easily and there is enough storage space. Dry cooking methods such as grilling or stir-frying may be more suited for batch cooking and storage.
  • Use simple, healthy recipes: Opt for recipes that are healthy yet simple to prepare. In fact, most healthy recipes are quite easy to prepare. For example, you can prepare one-pot meals by putting all your ingredients in a pot and simply wait for it to cook. Just make sure that it contains a balance of grains, meat, beans and veggies. Grilled chicken salad is also another common healthy dish that is quick and easy to prepare. Get more simple yet healthy recipes from:
    o NSM website
    o NSM Nutrition Roadshows 2.0 Facebook page
    o Nutrition Month Malaysia Instagram page

Make good use of healthy ingredients & cooking methods

Two key principles of preparing healthy meals at home are by using 1) healthier cooking methods and 2) healthy ingredients.

  1. Healthier cooking methods: There are different healthier cooking methods that you can experiment with to get variety in your daily meals. The important thing is to opt for cooking methods that use less oil/fat and retain nutrients in the ingredients, for example: grilling, stir-frying, steaming and stewing.
  2. Healthy ingredients: Using healthy ingredients in your cooking can help to prevent and control NCDs. Include more vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts and legumes. At the same time, reduce oil, fats, sugar and salt, as well as sauces and processed meat. Explore the use of spices and herbs to enhance the flavour of the cooked foods. The Malaysian Food Pyramid is a good guide to ensure that you get a balanced and varied intake of all the food groups.

Food safety tips

Cooking at home does not only ensure that you get a tasty and healthy food, but you will also be more certain of its safety and hygiene.

  • Buy safe and clean foods: Make sure to buy raw ingredients that are fresh and clean. Choose pre-packaged foods that are properly labelled and within the expiry date. Avoid from buying food products with any dents or damages in the packaging.
  • Store foods properly: Keep perishable foods like milk and eggs in the fridge at 5 °C. Meanwhile, store protein foods such as meat, poultry and seafood in the freezer at -18 °C. Raw and cooked foods should always be kept separately. Leftovers should not be stored for more than 2 days in the fridge.
  • Maintain hygiene during meal prep: Remember to wash hands and utensils before you start cooking. Thaw ingredients in the fridge or under clean running water. Different utensils should be used to handle raw and cooked foods.
  • Make sure foods are thoroughly cooked: Beef or poultry should be cooked thoroughly until no parts are still raw. Soup or stew should be cooked until it comes to a full boil. Leftovers should not be reheated more than once after they have been thawed.

Cooking should not be seen as a bothersome chore. In fact, home cooking can be a fun family activity if you can get your family to be involved in the preparation. Plus, cooking at home is definitely cheaper than eating out. Let’s all continue to cook healthily at home, even after the pandemic has receded. The more we cook, the healthier we eat, as we have a total control of what gets into our plate, and hence our gut.

This article is contributed by Nutrition Month Malaysia (NMM) 2021, an annual community nutrition education initiative jointly organised by Nutrition Society of Malaysia (NSM), the Malaysian Dietitians’ Association (MDA) and the Malaysian Association for the Study of Obesity (MASO).