Having someone else cook is a treat, and savoring an occasional night out wont hurt you. But if you and your family want to enjoy leaner bodies and vibrant health, consider these reasons for cooking from scratch more often.

You have control

Some restaurants serve huge portions. That cheese-covered entre might have as much as 1,500 calories and 2,000 mg of sodium which is about 60 percent of an adult mans recommended daily calories and almost an entire days allotment of salt! One idea: Eat half of the entre at the restaurant and take the other half home. Then combine the leftovers with a salad for a full meal the next day.

When you cook at home using fresh ingredients, you can think about things like how much salt and butter you’re using and what portion sizes should be. If you think your kids havent eaten enough leafy greens that day, add a salad to the menu. If you want organic, you can buy organic. Everything is your call.

More variety, more nutrients

Preparing meals in your kitchen lets you create menus that give your family what it needs: healthy fats, whole grains, lean proteins and five daily servings of fruit and vegetables.

Involve the whole family in choosing ingredients, including some they may not have tried before. You decide what goes on the table, and your kids get lessons in how to choose and cook nutritious foods. Cooking at home can also help you avoid food allergens.

At home, you can cook your food more lightly, which generally keeps it more nutritious. For example, raw or lightly steamed veggies retain more of their vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients than carrots or squash that are boiled.

You’ll eat less

Studies show that consuming sugar, salt and fat can lead to cravings for more. For example, eating sugar releases dopamine in the brain, leading to euphoria and the desire for more sugar. When you cook at home, you control what goes into each bite you eat, so you can cut back on the salt and sugar.

Making salads, stews, juices and sandwiches from scratch can retrain your brain to savor subtler, more complex tastes.

Your family will feel satisfied after meals and, consequently, crave less high-calorie, low-nutrition processed food. Cooking at home is also a great way to be fully conscious of what you’re putting in your body, which will help you avoid the mindless eating that tends to pack on the pounds.

Taking control of your diet and especially what you eat at home can help you feel better, look slimmer and be healthier.

Tips for Healthy Dining Out

Drink a full glass of water before you order your meal to reduce hunger.

Look for grilled, broiled or flame-cooked entrees, which are lower in fat.

Beware of salad dressing. Using too much can double the calories on your plate.