weight loss

Clean Delicious Eating at Home

What you eat can be one of the biggest factors losing excess weight and keeping it off.

Rest assured that cooking at home can be easy, quick, and delicious, as well as healthy, of course. You can make satisfying meals, similar to what you might order in a sit-down restaurant or fast food joint, without feeling deprived. Plus, you can make your home-cooked meals family-friendly without extra effort.


Health Benefits of Home Cooking

You may have a hunch that home cooking can be your best bet for weight loss, but why? In short, you have control over what you put in your food, how you prepare it, and what size portion you serve yourself. In contrast, when you order at a restaurant, you are likely to get a meal that is oversized and has ingredients that are not the healthiest. 

With home cooking, you can control:

  • Your cooking method. You can steam, grill, roast, or even saute food instead of using deep frying or unnecessarily high amounts of added fats in cooking, which often happens at restaurants and fast food joints.

  • Your portions. A single plate of pasta as a dinner entree can have 7 servings of carbs, for example, while you can stick to a more reasonable 1-cup serving of pasta when you cook for and serve yourself.

  • Your ingredients. Restaurants may not give you a choice regarding items such as fatty cuts of meat, chicken with skin, refined grains, or excess fats and salt cooked into food. When you cook your own, you can use lean cuts of meat, skinless chicken, whole grains, and less fat and sodium, for example.

Potential Health Benefits of Home Cooking
Weight Loss
You can use lower-calorie ingredients and keep portion sizes smaller more easily when you cook at home so that your meals are lower-calorie. Plus, you can add filling, low-calorie vegetables to fill up without filling out.
Lower Blood Sugar
Choose whole grains instead of refined, and limit added sugars, to minimize blood sugar swings. Insulin resistance can decrease when you choose healthier fats, add less sodium to your food, and use fewer sugars.
Healthier Heart
Add vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and heart-healthy fats, along with swapping in lean proteins, to lower cholesterol and blood pressure.
Better Nutrition
Get fiber, vitamins, and minerals from the healthy ingredients you choose.
Peace of Mind
Well...if you like knowing what exactly what you are putting in front of yourself and your family...

Home Cooking and Your Budget

There is another likely benefit of cooking for yourself: the lower cost. When you eat out, you are paying not only for the food, but also for the labor to cook the food and clean the pans and dishes. You are also paying for the restaurant to make a profit on you. When you cook at home, you are paying for the food, so home cooking on a budget can be done!

Let’s look at an example of a chicken dinner. A restaurant meal can cost $10 to (more likely) $15 per person. That adds up to $40 to $60 for a family of four. Let’s say instead that you make chicken, brown rice, and green beans with almonds at home. Your costs, estimated using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’  standards, may be under $10.

  • $4 for 1 lb. of boneless skinless chicken breast.

  • $2 for 1 lb. of green beans.

  • $2 for 4 oz. of sliced almonds.

  • $0.30 for 4 oz. of dry brown rice.

  • $1 for cooking ingredients such as olive oil, lemon, salt, spices, etc.

You can add a salad with lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and dressing for $4, and some fruit for another $2. The grand total is $16, which is a savings of $24 to $44 for that single meal!

Remember the extra expenses when you eat out. A 20% tip for your server or delivery person on a $50 meal is $6. If you get delivery, you might pay about $3 for delivery and may incur a service fee of $2 or more. 


Make Cooking Easier

You are more likely to follow through with your healthy home-cooking intentions if you are prepared. Plan your meals ahead of time when you can so you can go grocery shopping for ingredients. You might even consider a grocery delivery service from a third-party or direct from the supermarket. They are becoming more common and are often reasonably priced.

With cost savings as described above, you can consider the possibility of spending a little extra on meal helpers that can make your meal easier to cook and a little tastier. These may be worth a bit of extra money.

  • Rotisserie chicken instead of chicken that you cook yourself.

  • Bagged salad and prepared vegetables instead of cutting your own lettuce and washing, peeling, and chopping your own vegetables.

  • Individually packaged servings of frozen fish or turkey burger patties

  • Pre-cooked chicken breast strips.


Try Your Hand

You can often make your own meals to be a lot like your fast food favorites. That is, they will taste a lot like your fast food faves, and be satisfying, but there will be important differences. You can easily make them lower in calories and unhealthy components such as sugars, refined carbohydrates, and artery-clogging fats, while increasing the amount of healthy and filling nutrients you get. The following meals and suggestions cut back on unhealthy fats and refined starches and sugars, while adding fiber, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats


Breakfast for a High-Energy Weight Loss Day

Instead of this restaurant meal... ...Try making... ...to save about
Muffin, doughnut, or bagel and cream cheese, latte
Whole-grain English muffin with non-fat cream cheese and ½ banana, coffee with almond milk
200 calories
Omelette with cheese and bacon
Egg whites scrambled with mushrooms and dried tomatoes, topped with 1 oz. low-fat cheese
300 calories
Breakfast burrito with egg, hash browns, sausage, cheese, sour cream
Breakfast burrito with egg white, baked acorn squash, avocado, low-fat cheese, non-fat yogurt, salsa on a high-fiber tortilla
300 calories

Quick Power Lunch

Instead of this restaurant meal... ...Try making... ...to save about
Teriyaki beef bowl with rice
Teriyaki chicken or fish bowl with ½ cup brown rice, 1 cup of steamed vegetables, 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
300 calories
Sub sandwich with Italian meats, cheese, and mayo on white roll
Sandwich with grilled chicken or tuna, grated parmesan, lettuce, tomato, cucumber, deli or brown mustard, on whole-grain hot dog bun
400 calories
Caesar salad with chicken, croutons, parmesan, and dressing
Caesar salad with chicken, sliced almonds, shredded parmesan, low-fat dressing
300 calories

Dinner in a Jif

Instead of this restaurant meal... ...Try making... ...to save about
Lasagna with beef and cheese served with breadstick
Lasagna with grilled eggplant instead of pasta, ground turkey, cottage cheese cauliflower, parmesan cheese served with a green side salad
400 calories
Salmon with lemon butter sauce served with fried potato slices and creamed spinach
Salmon brushed with olive oil and roasted with lemon and rosemary, served with roasted sweet potato “fries” and brussels sprouts
300 calories
Fried chicken with coleslaw and buttered corn
Baked “fried” chicken with bran cereal crumbs for breading with coleslaw made with fat-free yogurt instead of mayo and corn on the cob, no butter
300 calories

You can see that it is not so difficult to make delicious meals at home that can save calories and improve your nutrition. Eating well can be the most important step you take in preventing diabetes, so do what you can to eat well. Lark DPP can give you tips and keep you aware of what you are eating so good choices become habits.


Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health

Invisible Food Swaps for Visible Weight Loss

Easy food swaps to help you lose weight!

Food swaps to lose wight

Somehow, you have to build a calorie deficit if you want to lose weight. One strategy is to slash portions of high-calorie foods and fill up on lower-calorie foods instead. That is a great start, since it helps you cut calories without being too hungry.

The Lark check-in introduced another good approach. You can make little swaps in your everyday recipes and food choices. This lets you enjoy your favorite foods without overdoing it on calories. Following are three menus for three sample days and some ideas for how you can make little swaps to reduce calories and lose more weight without sacrificing taste or satisfaction.


Sample Menu Day 1

Meal Original Menu Lower-Calorie Menu
Breakfast sandwich with egg, sausage, and cheese on a croissant, Large coffee latte
Breakfast sandwich with egg white, mushrooms, and cheese on a whole-grain English muffin, Large coffee with almond milk
Salad with greens, bacon, cheese, crispy (breaded) chicken, croutons or chow mein noodles, raisins, and dressing
Salad with greens, grilled chicken, tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh berries or mandarin oranges, and low-fat dressing
1 plateful (1 entree-sized portion) of spaghetti and meatballs with a breadstick.
1 cup cooked whole-grain pasta with 1 cup cooked spaghetti squash, ½ cup marinara sauce with cooked vegetables, such as spinach, bell peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, carrots, and/or broccoli, and ground turkey meatballs. Side salad
½ cup trail mix with nuts, chocolate candies, and dried fruit
Mixture of 1 cup of air-popped popcorn, ½ cup of unsweetened bran flakes, ½ oz. peanuts, and ¼ cup grapes
Calorie savings (approximate)

Here’s what happened… Swap the croissant for an English muffin to save about 100 calories, and know that breakfast meat is almost never a good choice. The egg whites and cheese have plenty of protein. You can find a lower-calorie breakfast sandwich at most fast food places, or make your own.

A huge green salad with vegetables, lean protein, and fresh fruit is a calorie bargain compared to a salad with starchy croutons, fatty bacon, and handfuls of cheese. A pasta dinner can have a shocking number of calories, but you can cut back by sticking to a small amount of pasta mixed with cooked spaghetti squash or spiralized zucchini noodles (“zoodles”).

Instead of calorie-laden trail mix, make your own snack mix with popcorn, cereal, peanuts, and (if you have somewhere to store it) grapes. Chocolate candies and dried fruit add extra sugars and calories.


Sample Menu Day 2

Meal Original Menu Lower-Calorie Menu
1 cup of granola and ¾ cup 2% low-fat milk
1 cup shredded wheat with ¾ cup skim milk, ½ oz. almonds, 1 cup strawberries
Cheeseburger with special sauce and fries, Chocolate chip cookie
Turkey burger with mustard on a whole-grain bun, and carrot sticks or baked zucchini sticks, 2 graham crackers
Macaroni and cheese, Ice cream
Pureed frozen banana chunks
Protein bar
¼ cup roasted soybeans (soy nuts)
Calorie savings (approximate)

Here’s what happened…Granola is high in calories and often sugar and added fats, while unsweetened shredded wheat is also a whole grain but is sugar-free. The fruit and nuts add protein and fiber, and skim milk is lower-calorie than 2%.

If you are ordering a burger and cannot find a turkey burger alternative, choose the smallest size burger and get mustard instead of mayo, butter, or special sauce. Save calories and carbs by swapping out the fries for vegetables. Graham crackers are a not-so-guilty pleasure: sweet and with only 60 calories per big rectangle.

For the mac and cheese, sub cooked cauliflower for half the pasta and use fat-free cheddar, skim milk, and cottage cheese instead of full-fat and creamy versions. Frozen bananas are amazingly creamy subs for ice cream.

Just like protein bars, soy nuts (roasted soybeans) are ready to eat, portable, stable at room temperature, and high in protein with 17 grams. Unlike protein bars, soy nuts are not processed and are naturally high in fiber, potassium, and other nutrients.


Sample Menu Day 3

Meal Original Menu Lower-Calorie Menu
2 scrambled eggs with bacon, hash browns
Egg whites scrambled with mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes, cauliflower hash browns
Tuna salad sandwich with chips, apple juice
Tuna salad made with avocado or fat-free yogurt instead of mayo, on 1 slice of whole-grain bread, kale chips baked with parmesan cheese, 1 pear
Egg roll, sweet and sour chicken, fried rice
Hot and sour soup, Buddha’s feast (or other vegetables), shrimp with vegetables, ½ cup brown rice
Crackers and dip
3 cups air-popped popcorn or 1 100-calorie package of natural microwave popcorn and 1 hard-boiled egg
Calorie savings (approximate)

Here’s what happened...egg whites are lower-calorie than whole eggs, and mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes add flavor and chewiness without saturated fat. Slash carbs with browned cauliflower instead of hash browns.

For lunch, try an open-faced sandwich and munch on kale chips instead of fatty starchy potato chips, and enjoy a pear instead of downing juice. A Chinese meal with a fried egg roll, breaded and sugary chicken, and starchy fried rice goes overboard, while you can enjoy lower calorie hot and sour soup, vegetable dishes such as Buddha’s feast and lean protein with vegetables, and a small amount of heart-healthy brown rice.

Crackers are starchy and can have hydrogenated oils, while dips add calories. Try crunching on popcorn and get your protein from a hard-boiled egg or some low-fat cottage cheese.


Sample Menu Day 4

Meal Original Menu Lower-Calorie Menu
1 packet apple cinnamon oatmeal made with milk, fruit-flavored low-fat yogurt, orange juice
1 packet regular oatmeal made with skim milk and mixed with ½ diced apple and cinnamon, plain non-fat yogurt with 2 tablespoons cocoa nibs, ½ orange
Beef burrito with a side of rice
Chicken taco with a side of black beans
Meatloaf and mashed potatoes with gravy, brownie
Vegetarian meatloaf made with eggplant, mashed potatoes with cauliflower for half the potatoes and broth (not cream)-based gravy, 1 ounce dark chocolate
Fruit smoothie
1 cup fruit and ½ cup fat-free cottage cheese
Calorie savings (approximate)

Here’s what happened...Flavored oatmeal and yogurt both have a ton of added sugar, while plain oatmeal and yogurt have none. Cocoa nibs are sugar-free, too, and ½ an orange is more satisfying and lower-calorie than juice.

Tacos are smaller than but just as tasty as burritos, and often have ⅓ as many calories. Chicken and steak are leaner than beef, and you can save calories by using lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa instead of sour cream. Beans add protein and fiber. For dinner, use soy protein or lean turkey and add eggplant to make the meatloaf moister.

Smoothies can pack in the sugar and calories, and whole fruit is far more filling than blended fruit in a smoothie. Cottage cheese is a low-carb source of filling protein.

You can see that these swaps are not difficult, and you can still enjoy the same types of meals you love. Little changes can turn into big results! Lark can remind you to make those changes and keep you aware of what you are eating, as well as support your other efforts to live healthy and prevent diabetes.


Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Assistant Professor of Public Health