Now that the Christmas cookies are gone, it’s time to refocus on healthy eating.

If you’re setting a new goal for 2013, then consider making a resolution to cook more family meals at home.

In general, home-cooked meals are more nutritious and much lower in sodium than packaged foods and restaurant dishes, explained Barb Fuller, an Iowa State University Extension nutrition specialist, at the Iowa Farm Bureau’s annual meeting recently.

“When you have a family meal, you’re generally likely to have more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats and calcium-rich foods like milk,” Fuller said.

Home-cooked meals can help lower our sodium intake throughout the day, which is a good heart-healthy goal for all Iowans, Fuller noted.

According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, adults over the age of 51 should consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day. For everyone else, it’s 2,300 milligrams of sodium per day.

Unfortunately, most Americans consume an average of 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, “and that’s probably a low estimate,” Fuller said.

You might be surprised by the biggest sources of sodium. “It’s not just the salt shaker, but that’s a place to start,” Fuller said. “There’s lots of sodium hiding in all those foods you don’t cook yourself. So the prepared things, like frozen pizzas, packaged mixes, things you heat and eat, there’s lots of sodium in those.”

Reading food labels can help you choose lower-sodium foods, Fuller said. Many grocery stores now carry lower-sodium or no-salt added canned vegetables, soups or deli meats, which are good-for-you choices.

“Think fresh. Instead of those boxed mixes and cans and frozen dinners, fresh prepared foods – fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh meats – are lower in sodium,” Fuller said. “If you are cooking it yourself, even if it is salted, you are adding a lot less sodium than a lot of those packaged meals.”

 Written by Teresa Bjork
Teresa is a features Writer for the Iowa Farm Bureau