In these uncertain economic and political times, it can be difficult to find ways to make a real difference. What if there was one thing you could do that made you healthier, saved you money, supported your local economy, and helped your children become more resilient? There is – have dinner at home, at the table, together, four times per week.

That’s it, eat family dinner. By cooking at home, you can start a revolution. I’ve written here about the benefits of using local produce, which include supporting local farmers and eating food with more nutrients and far more flavor. Reducing your carbon footprint is a happy byproduct. But couple that with cooking and eating at home and the benefits multiply.

Studies show that we eat fewer than 70% of our meals at home and fewer than ⅓ of us eats meals together more than twice a week. While these figures fall, there is a rise in obesity, food sensitivities, depression, and difficulty making ends meet. And while cooking more nights of the week seems daunting, the biggest obstacle is establishing the habit.

There’s a great site, Food52, that started as a way for cooks to swap recipes and support one another and has become that and more. They believe that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated or precious and that the act of cooking fundamentally improves your quality of life. Their motto – Eat thoughtfully, live joyfully – is one we would all do well to adopt.

I live alone and cook for myself but rarely spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I’ve discovered so many meals I can make from scratch that take less than 30 minutes of actual work, and often less than an hour from cabinet to table. I steam vegetables in the microwave, I poach a week’s worth of chicken breasts in stock, I cook beans and rice ahead of time, I get cuts of meat that take only a few minutes in a skillet to prepare. I use our spice blends, infused oils, flavored vinegars – all make assembling a quick, nutritious, and very tasty meal extremely easy.

It seems like eating out or getting take out saves time. But really, the driving, the ordering, the waiting – it’s more than 30 minutes. And the food isn’t as good.

Another site, The Family Dinner Project, has scads of great research on the benefits of family dinner, ideas for cooking with children, fun things to do with food, conversation starters and more. Their research shows that the simple act of eating dinner as a family improves academic performance, increases self-esteem, makes children more resilient while lowering the risk of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, depression, the likelihood of developing eating disorders and lowers rates of obesity.

Family doesn’t have to mean children, it doesn’t even have to mean blood relationships. It’s the breaking of bread the sharing of food that provides the benefits. For those of us who live alone, the benefits of cooking are still massive. Preparing your own food:

  • Saves money
  • Saves time (see above)
  • Makes you healthier
  • Avoids food sensitivities
  • Provides a creative outlet

And it’s very satisfying. Start a revolution – cook dinner.