Eating out has become more common over the years. The Malaysian Adult Nutrition Survey (MANS) 2014 showed 50% of Malaysian adults obtain food outside the home. The Malaysian Food Barometer 2014 revealed that more than 64% of individuals have at least one meal a day outside of home.

The prevalence is higher among those who live in Peninsular Malaysia and in urban areas.

Healthy eating can be a challenge when eating out if there are limited healthy food choices available at food outlets.

However, of all those who eat out, only two out of 10 actually prefer eating out, should they have the choice of eating at home.

Why do people choose to eat out? Some of the reasons are:

1. Cooking at home is troublesome

2. Lack of cooking skills

3. Time-consuming – food preparation takes up too much time

4. More time spent at work and commuting

5. Fatigued/tired after a long day

The benefits of cooking and eating at home include:

1. Cost-saving: The average amount spent per person for a meal outside is approximately the cost for two meals at home.

2. You have control over the ingredients, portion and cooking methods, making healthy eating more feasible.

3. Strengthens family relationships and provides bonding time during food preparation.

Cooking at home is not as hard as most people think. It does not require the skills of a gourmet chef to prepare a decent meal, and no matter how busy you are, there are options for simple, nutritious meals for the whole family.

Kerri Low, 35, is a mother of a nine-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy. Although she works at an advertising agency, she makes sure that she cooks often for her children to provide them nutritious meals.

“Even if it’s a day when I have too much to do, I will try and cook something easy, but nutritious. For example, I frequently use wholegrain oat noodles along with veggies to whip up something that is easy and fast but also tasty and balanced,” she says.

Here are some useful tips to help you cook at home regularly:

1. Plan and schedule grocery shopping trips

During the weekends, do an inventory check of what you have in the fridge and plan your meals for the coming week.

Running out of ideas? Internet or recipe books are great sources for inspiration to widen your scope of cooking. They should give you a list of dishes that you would like to “have a go at”, eg fibre and protein-rich noodles.

Those who are pressed for time have the option of easy-to-prepare meals that are delicious yet nutritious.

List out the ingredients needed by creating a “healthy shopping list” for your next visit to the grocer. This helps you to have an efficient shopping experience by getting what is needed straight away and prevents time loss in just roaming through the aisles.

Most importantly, the likelihood of you missing out on an ingredient decreases as well. Imagine you have to make another trip to the grocers just because you ran out of garlic.

A healthy shopping list also helps you make sure you include all the food groups in planning your meals.

2. Save time by mastering mise en place

Mise en place is a French term that means “to put in place”. This simply means you have all your ingredients measured, cut, peeled, sliced, grated, etc before you start cooking.

It gives you command of the kitchen and is essential to success in any kitchen. Having all the ingredients prepped and arranged ahead of time is a real time-saver during cooking.

This lessens the time needed when it comes to cooking at home and the work can be lightened by getting help from the supermarket staff, to cut the chicken, meat or fish into ready-to-cook portions, or even trim the fat.

Cleaning and portioning are encouraged as soon as the ingredients are brought home to ease future meal preparation times by keeping them in airtight containers or re-sealable bags, and stored properly in the fridge.

Cooking is therefore made easy when you only take what is needed and leave the rest untouched in a separate bag/container. This helps to avoid contamination and ensures recipe standardisation.

3. Cook in batches to save time and money

Lack of time, being too busy or feeling too tired have always been some of the barriers to cooking at home.

Freezing large batches of cooked foods helps to make home-cooked meals readily available at any time and allows speedy preparation throughout the week.

Some of the recipes that can be cooked in batches include soup-based foods, stew, curry, fried noodles/rice, and even spaghetti sauce.

Cooking multiple batches at a time allows the extra to be stored and frozen for future use on a busy week. After a few recipes, you will have a whole week’s meals ready to thaw and reheat for the day when you do not have time to cook.

4. Use the microwave, slow cooker and pressure cooker

Microwave cooks essentially by steaming. Like steaming, it lends itself to low-fat or no-fat cooking.

Unlike traditional cooking, microwave ovens take a shorter time to cook. The cooking method that preserves nutrients best is the one that cooks fast, heats food in the shortest amount of time, and uses as little liquid as possible.

Microwaving meets those criteria. Microwave cooking does not require much supervision; you will be relaxed while cooking with a microwave oven.

Place the food, set the time and you are free to make your salad or clean up.

A microwave oven is also very easy to clean; what you need is just a damp cloth to wipe the insides of the oven and you are done.

Remember to use glass, ceramic or plastic cooking vessels that are labelled “microwave safe” on the bottom. Never put metal, styrofoam or plastic deli containers in the microwave.

Who does not want to come home to a pot of warm and hearty stew after a long day at work without having to get your hands dirty?

All it takes is a little bit of extra effort in getting up earlier in the morning or spending some time the day before to put in a mixture of meat, root vegetables, beans and so forth, and there you have it!

The idea is to have dinner put in a slow cooker in the morning, before leaving for work, and having it ready for you when you get back home in the late afternoon.

There are plenty of recipes out there that can be prepared in your slow cooker like stews, curries, soups, etc.

Remember to only add in vegetables 15 to 30 minutes before serving, as long hours of cooking will destroy most of the heat-sensitive vitamins and antioxidants. Also, consume the liquid from stew or soup as some of the nutrients may be leaked out into the liquid.

Pressure cooking is another method that can be used for preparing quick and hearty meals, as it helps to retain the quality of the food by using very little water.

This method is slow-cooking done faster where water and steam under high pressure helps to reduce cooking times by up to 70%.

Vegetables remain crisp, colourful and most importantly, retain the texture and flavour for a good mouth-feel. Meats will stay juicy and moist as well.

5. Make good use of leftovers

Leftovers thrown away equate to food wastage and money loss.

You can easily prepare a dish with leftovers like fried rice or noodles by throwing in what’s left from last night’s dinner.

Leftover chicken can be used to prepare chicken salad, sandwiches and other easy, fast weeknight meals from the weekend’s feast.

Plus, the carcasses can be used to make soup or porridge. It is a great way to ensure that we do not waste leftovers while at the same time help us to eat healthy and save money and time.

Maggi introduced Maggi Oatmee non-fried oat noodles, which has a cake made from 51 whole grain oats and 49 high protein wheat that provides 18 of the recommended daily fibre intake for adults, and is available in different flavours and forms.

6. Proper storage and food safety

Cooking meals at home also requires us to have some basic knowledge of food safety to ensure food hygiene and prevent food poisoning or contamination.

Always wash your hands with warm water and soap for 20 seconds before and after handling food. Cross-contamination is often overlooked when cooking at home. Thus, it is important to keep raw meat, poultry and fish away from cooked food.

Wrapping leftovers in airtight containers helps to keep bacteria out and retain moisture. Cooked food must be refrigerated within two hours after cooking or when heat is removed. Any foods that have been left in room temperature for more than two hours should be thrown away.

Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days or frozen for three to four months.

Be mindful that, although safe indefinitely, frozen leftovers can lose moisture and flavour when stored for longer times in the freezer.

Reheating leftovers should reach a temperature of 74°C.

Reheat sauces, soups and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil.

Cover leftovers to reheat as this retains and ensures that food will heat all the way through.

This article is brought to you by Maggi Oatmee.