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Learn to cook; your body will thank you

There is growing concern about the trend toward decreased home cooking and loss of cooking skills among Canadians of all ages. An increasing reliance on prepared convenience foods not only leads to a potential escalation in personal food-related costs, but can also pose challenges to eating a variety of the nutrient-rich “real” foods needed every day to support personal wellness.

Besides, cooking has always been a critical life skill. We all need to consider the connection between diet quality and overall health. Good things can happen if we make a greater effort to buy “close to the farm” foods and create pleasurable meals and snacks. For instance, some immediate effects of eating well could include having more energy, and an improved ability to focus and remember things. Longer term impacts may include better heart health and less risk of developing various chronic illnesses like high blood pressure or diabetes and certain types of cancer. Though students are saddled with busy schedules, time constraints, tight budgets, less than optimal kitchen facilities, and sometimes less control over their food (if living in residence or sharing food with roommates), it is still possible to eat well.

Ellen MacIntosh, a registered dietician at the UNB Student Health Centre on campus, gives us some inspiration and a few simple tips to get cooking.

Let`s start by answering the question: why cook? Well, students are at a turning point in their lives in terms of forming their own eating habits after leaving home. A lack of cooking skills is associated with decreased vegetable intake and increased fast food consumption. Significant health consequences can arise from relying on processed foods. Plus, real foods just taste better.

Students are often in a hurry. It can be tough to keep up with studies, juggle part-time employment, enjoy social time and find time to cook healthy meals. But you’re not alone. Though students feel they are unusually busy, Canadians in general say the biggest barrier for not cooking is lack of time. The point is, we have to plan ahead a little bit. Have ingredients ready to go to make home cooking a little easier. On the weekend, prepare foods to last during the week — make a big batch of pasta sauce, pre-cut your veggies, grate cheese. Marinate meat or perhaps cook meat ahead and freeze in small portions to defrost overnight in the fridge. Cook a large amount of brown rice, pasta, or quinoa at the beginning of the week and reheat a portion each night.

Take a short-cut with healthier convenience foods. Healthier “fast” foods can help make a tasty meal in a matter of minutes. Choose items with less sodium, fat and sugar. Here are 10 convenience items that make healthy short-cuts to improved nutrition: canned tuna or salmon, pre-cut butternut squash, canned beans (like chickpeas, lentils), canned diced tomatoes or tomato paste, shredded cheese, eggs, plain frozen fish fillets, frozen vegetables and fruit, whole wheat cheese tortellini and whole grain pizza crust.

Want to start eating better but not quite sure where to begin? Check out our website at go.unb.ca/healthcentre and click on the link Healthy Eating and You to find even more nutrition tips, healthy cooking ideas and reliable resources, including Canada`s Food Guide for Healthy Eating. If you have a favorite meal or study snack idea, send it to our “Ask Ellen” blog, so that it can be shared and enjoyed by other members of our university community.

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