Is Eating At Home Healthier Than Dining Out?

Do you prefer heading out to your favorite (or perhaps nearest) restaurant for meals rather than cooking at home? If so, you’re not alone. We get it! Dining out, whether heading through a drive-thru or sitting down at your favorite restaurant, is often more convenient and sometimes even more delicious than cooking your own food at home. Even those who love to cook need a break from the kitchen every now and then – but is dining out versus eating at home a healthy and nutritious option? Doesn’t it seem that eating at home is the healthier option? This is a question we recently received from a reader and set out to find the answer!

For more information, we reached out to Ethan Bergman, PhD, RD, CD, FADA, Associate Dean of the College of Education and Professional Studies and Professor of Food Science and Nutrition at Central Washington University, and food and nutrition consultant Judy Barbe, MS, RDN. What did they have to say? Is it healthier to eat at home than it is to dine out? The answer is…

It all depends on you, the consumer!

Both Dr. Bergman and Judy Barbe agree that this question can’t be answered with a simple yes or no.

Dr. Bergman says: “When a person eats at home and prepares the food themselves, they have control over the ingredients that are added to foods. Home eating also provides the opportunity to select foods that lead to good health. But eating at home is no guarantee that the foods prepared and selected will be healthier or more nutritious. A person preparing the home meals may add ingredients that lead to chronic disease such as heart disease and diabetes.”

Because you have more control over what you’re eating when you choose to prepare it yourself, it’s more likely that it will contain fewer calories than restaurant meals. Judy Barbe refers to a recent study on meals where researchers found that those who choose to eat home-cooked meals actually do end up eating healthier and consuming fewer calories. The study, which will be published online in the journal Public Health Nutrition, also found that those who cooked dinner at home at least six to seven times a week consumed an average of 2,164 calories daily, while those who dined out more, cooking at home no more than once a week, consumed an average of 2,301 calories daily.

Both experts point out that there are certain circumstances that may lead to dining out being considered unhealthy. Judy Barbe asks, when you eat out are you celebrating with cocktails and foods you wouldn’t normally eat at home? Do you start off with a bread or tortilla chip basket? Do you order an appetizer plus the fried shrimp and fries? Are you choosing steamed, broiled, or grilled versions? Restaurant serving sizes tend to be generous. Are you taking half home? Dr. Bergman agrees that when eating in a restaurant, a person may overeat as a consequence of finishing the entire portion that is served.

What have we learned? Dining out can be just as healthy as eating at home – it’s all about the choices you make! While cooking at home gives you total control over what you are consuming and may often lead to a healthier, more balanced meal, we understand that sometimes you need a break and would rather someone serve you! If you do choose to head out for your next meal, stick to registered dietitian Carolyn O’Neil’s Restaurant Road Rules to help you determine a better route to nutritious eating at your favorite restaurant.