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Put On An Apron, Eat Healthier

Your healthiest diet may start with a grocery list, an apron, and a little time in the kitchen.

A new study shows that among young adults, the healthiest eaters are those who frequently prepare their meals at home.

But most of those studied said that in a normal week, they didn't buy fresh vegetables, write a grocery list, make a green salad, or fix dinner for two or more people.

Why not? More than a third of the 1,710 participants said they didn't have enough time.

The study appears in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The researchers, including Nicole Larson, M.P.H., R.D., work at the University of Minnesota.

They studied 764 men and 946 women aged 18-23 who had attended Minnesota middle schools and high schools.

Participants completed surveys about their food preparation habits in the past year.

Eat in or Out?

Those who reported frequently preparing their own food were more likely to meet dietary guidelines about intake of fat, calcium, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains.

For instance, 31 percent of those participants ate five daily servings of fruits and vegetables, compared with 3 percent who said they rarely prepared their food.

But as those numbers show, most didn't hit those nutrition benchmarks, no matter how much time they spent in the kitchen.

Women, whites, Hispanics, Asians, and those living on their own (where parents and the school cafeteria aren't available) were more likely to frequently fix their own food, the study shows.

Since there's so much room for improvement, teaching young adults how to make quick, healthy meals might help, the researchers note.

Food Safety 101: 12 Tips

If you're building your food prep skills, it's a good idea to learn basic food safety rules.

Here are 12 food safety tips from the FDA:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds before handling food and after handling raw meat or poultry.
  • Keep your kitchen clean.
  • Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables thoroughly under running water.
  • Use smooth cutting boards made of hard maple or plastic that aren't cracked.
  • Wash dishcloths weekly in hot water in the washing machine.
  • Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
  • Cook foods thoroughly. A meat thermometer may help you tell when meat is cooked.
  • Don't put cooked meat on an unwashed plate or platter that has held raw meat.
  • Cook eggs until the white and yolk are firm.
  • Avoid foods containing raw eggs.
  • Thaw foods in the refrigerator or microwave oven — not on the kitchen counter.
  • Don't leave cooked foods standing on a table or kitchen counter for more than two hours.

SOURCES: Larson, N.Journal of the American Dietetic Association, December 2006; vol 106: pp 2001-2007. FDA: "Consumer Advice and Publications on Food Safety, Nutrition, and Cosmetics." News release, American Dietetic Association.

By Miranda Hitti
Reviewed by Louise Chang, M.D
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