The truth is, the overall amount of time that we spend preparing our food has decreased, while, the subsequent consumption of fast food, ready-to-eat meals, and away-from-home foods are increasing.
Not having to prepare our own food does save time, but can be more expensive. “In addition, fast food consumption and away-from-home eating is directly associated with higher body weight and risk of obesity. In contrast, involvement in the preparation of food and higher cooking skills are related to increased intakes of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains - and frequent meal planning and cooking are important for successful weight loss maintenance.”2
So, findings ways to help reduce fast food consumption, while promoting food preparation and cooking at home are now important public health priorities.
The “I Cooked It Myself” Effect
What if I told you that you would like your food more if you prepared it, instead of having your food prepared for you?
A recent study tested this idea.1 One group of participants entered the room to find a raspberry milkshake waiting for them. They read the recipe, the ingredient list, and the steps it took to prepare it. They then indulged and rated how much they liked it, from ‘do not like at all’ to ‘like very much’.
However, another group of participants entered the same room, but did not have a raspberry milkshake waiting for them. Rather, they used the recipe to prepare their own, and then indulged.
In the end, “the self-prepared milkshake received higher liking ratings than the other-prepared milkshake.”1
Healthy versus Unhealthy Foods
What about comparing a low-calorie raspberry (healthy) milkshake versus a high-calorie chocolate (unhealthy) milkshake? A recent follow-up study by the same research team demonstrated that “the self-preparation of healthy foods increases food liking, where as the self-preparation of unhealthy foods does not affect food liking.”2
As we see here - it was only when a 'healthy' milkshake was self-prepared did participants like it more than the other-prepared milkshake.
Even though these differences are not very large, it is possible that preparing our own food, “increased the health salience of foods, because when people prepare foods, they become more aware of the ingredients that constitute a food.”2
It is sort of like the “IKEA effect”, where we value something more, because we built it.
Take Home Messages
- Those who self-prepare a food might like the food more than when it was prepared for them.
- This increase in liking might be especially impactful with 'healthy' foods, but not ‘unhealthy’ foods.
- You might explore new recipes, and know what is in your food. If you combine this knowledge with self-preparation, you might enjoy it more.
- The effort needed to increase liking is minimal, as these studies simply had participants measure and mix 3 ingredients. So, you do not have to make everything from scratch with an ingredient list longer than (enter joke here). Rather, perhaps focus on recipes that “combine healthy convenient items with foods prepared from scratch to minimize both time and cost.”2
Quick Notes of Caution
- The self-preparation effect can be powerful enough to increase how much we eat. For example, in the earlier study, the group that self-prepared their milkshake ate more of the milkshake. So, be careful, since “the mere act of preparing food could facilitate the overconsumption of high-calories foods...”1
- Also, these studies used milkshakes for ease of experimentation, so we do not know how this might translate to other foods or even entire meals. Of course, we might not consider a low-calorie raspberry milkshake as a ‘healthy’ food.
In the end, self-preparation is worth a try, because we should be preparing more foods and meals ourselves anyway. It aids in weight control and health, and now, it is encouraging to know that we can experience more enjoyment from our self-prepared foods than other-prepared counterparts.
And as the famous John Wooden said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”
- Dohle, S., Rall, S., & Siegrist, M. (2014). I cooked it myself: Preparing food increases liking and consumption. Food Quality and Preference, 33, 14-16.
- Dohle, S., Rall, S., & Siegrist, M. (2015). Does self-prepared food taste better? Effects of food preparation on liking. Health Psychology. Ahead of Publication.