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From Cooking Impaired to Fit Meals Fast

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If you want to see how dramatically things have changed in the last 30 years, ask five friends what they had to eat yesterday. Chances are good that at least two of them grabbed something to go from a fast-food drive-thru, called for home delivery or went to a restaurant. The number of people who sit down for a homemade meal every day has declined dramatically.

Nobody has time to cook.

In 1971 a typical person ate 2,010 calories each day. Fast forward to 2009 and the average American is eating a staggering 3,770 calories daily. More than 65 percent of the United States is overweight or obese.

People who eat outside the home five or more meals a week consume an average of 300 extra calories per day. If those calories aren't offset by exercise, that's 31 more pounds every year. Surprisingly, fast food restaurants aren't entirely to blame.

When fast food and table service meals were compared side-by-side, researchers found the typical fast-food meal was smaller and had fewer calories. So should we all go to fast food restaurants from now on? No, that's not a good answer. Both fast food and table service meals are larger and contain more calories than a typical home-cooked meal.

The best way to deal with this problem is to encourage more home cooking. But that's not as easy as it sounds. There's the whole issue I like to call, "Fresh Food Freakout."

Families don't pass recipes down, children aren't taught their way around a kitchen and many people would find it difficult to make something as simple as oatmeal from a box, instead of the little packets you cover in water and zap in the microwave. The idea that food can be cut, cooked, spiced and served by someone other than Chef Boyardee seems to be a foreign concept.

The problem gets worse when comparing how men and women are educated. In high-school boys are encouraged to take shop classes where they learn how to work with tools. Girls are often pushed into home economics where the basics of cooking are taught. With at least a rudimentary knowledge of how to get around a kitchen, women are more comfortable when they need to prepare something and they're less likely to rely on higher-calorie take-out. If you're battling weight issues, it's time to try something new. Your assignment for the week is to cook one healthy meal. It doesn't have to be complicated, just something made with fresh ingredients. There are several ways to get started.

The grocery store. Visit your local supermarket and check out their recipes. Many stores have racks at the entrance, in the meat or produce sections. Grab a recipe that looks good, buy the ingredients and bring them home. If there's a part of the instruction you don't understand, ask before you leave the store.

Healthy food magazines. Several options have dozens of good-for-you recipes each month. You can pick one up at your local bookstore, pharmacy or supermarket. A few of the best sellers include Taste of Home, Cooking Light, Healthy Cooking or Eating Well. Find one you like and get a subscription so you have new ideas arriving monthly.

Online recipe sites. Choose ones that show a picture of the finished product and include a caloric breakdown. I've posted a few hundred healthy recipes that have all been tested on my website, www.WeCookFit.com. They're broken down into simple categories such as breakfast, soups, sandwiches, main meals and protein bars. Print out a couple easy looking ones and start your education.

Take a class. If you're apprehensive about trying something new, look into professional instruction. Cooking classes are offered at many local community colleges or universities. Sometimes even local chefs will offer courses and teach their specialties.

The more comfortable you get turning fresh vegetables and meat into tasty dishes the better off you'll be. You have nothing to lose but your fat.

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CAUTION: Check with your doctor before
beginning any diet or exercise program.