My wife and I returned from our honeymoon and were hit with the reality of living off of a single salary while she finished her degree. I assumed our budget would drive us to low-quality meals.

Thankfully, I was wrong.

We not only learned we could enjoy the food we love and create unique meals together in our tiny kitchen, but we also found cooking together to be a source of great joy in our marriage.

I found we were not alone in this. According to a study by relationship expert Dr. John Gray, more than 70 per cent of surveyed married couples enjoy cooking together and were significantly more satisfied in all areas of their lives than couples who don’t cook together.

In celebration of National Nutrition Month in Canada, we chatted with nutritionists and relationship experts to help you discover how cooking together is the perfect recipe for a stronger marriage, leading to improved physical health, stronger communication and memorable experiences.

Control the ingredients and improve your health

The Public Health Agency of Canada warns that without the regular practice of making meals at home from scratch, families will be less equipped to make informed food choices. Consequentially, the Heart and Stroke Foundation reports that a Canadian dies every seven minutes from diet-related conditions like heart disease or strokes – a tragic event that can leave a spouse feeling stranded in the wake of their loved one’s passing.

To prevent these ailments, the organization recommends pairing an active lifestyle with a balanced diet, namely one that is low in fat.

Food Network nutrition expert Toby Amidor notes that cooking your own food can help you achieve healthier eating habits, adding that restaurant meals often have more fat and calories than you might expect. "You have more control over the ingredients and dishes when you cook at home," she says.

Tag-team your meals and strengthen your marriage

Making meals together also teaches you to communicate and work toward a common goal, such as deciding which groceries to buy or who will perform which task in the kitchen. Nutrition coach German Lam, founder of Glam Foods, suggests couples compare kitchen ingredients to the individual gifts each partner brings to the marriage.

"In marriage, when you join together, what do you have in your ‘kitchen’ that you can make together? Those ingredients include work ethic, substance, pride and quality," Lam says. "When you’re working together, you’re creating your creation."

Keep in mind that "working together" can also mean dividing up responsibilities in the kitchen. If you are not interested in cooking, Amidor suggests you keep your spouse company in the kitchen and then offer to wash the dishes after.

Look forward to memorable experiences with your spouse

Relationship experts suggest couples use cooking as a way to invest in the marriage by intentionally spending time together.

"Having a special time to look forward to helps sustain good feelings and promotes positive anticipatory emotions," says licensed marriage therapist Sharon O’Neill, author of A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage. "Such behaviour shows that the couple is making their relationship a priority."

For example, research indicates that preparing meals as a couple significantly influences how spouses view their relationship. In Dr. Gray’s survey, 82 per cent of couples who made meals together rated their marriage as excellent, while only 25 per cent of couples who didn’t cook together affirmed their relationship as strongly.

"Since food is part of our everyday life, it becomes an extension of our marriage," says Laura Cipullo, a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, on how the mealtime experience can influence marital life. "Taking time to center and breathe one deep inhale/exhale before meals allows us to develop a positive relationship with food. Taking this approach to our communication with our spouses can be just as rewarding."

Five tips to get you started

  1. Buy food intentionally. Decide in advance what meals you’ll eat each week and then buy your groceries accordingly. This is a practical exercise on communicating your day-to-day expectations, making financial decisions together and ensuring that you and your spouse are on the same page.
  2. Stock up on versatile ingredients. Healthy grocery items like chicken or vegetable stock, quinoa, whole wheat pasta, garlic, extra virgin olive oil and brown rice can easily be mixed and matched with lean meat, fresh produce and dried spices. The Heart and Stroke Foundation offers a list of healthy cooking staples. Enjoy the adventure of mixing and matching – you may discover a new favourite dish!
  3. Triple a recipe. Freeze equal-sized portions in airtight containers and use them after busy days over the next several months. Use the time you would have spent cooking to enjoy some quiet time together. You and your spouse will get the restaurant luxury of an already-prepared meal in the comfort of your own house. Plus, it saves you money when the average restaurant entree costs around $10, according to a Globe and Mail report.
  4. Cook for others. Use your kitchen to make a meal for a friend or family member dealing with an illness or facing a crisis. "This outreach is a true interpersonal connection and is one that helps foster inter-dependence, dialogue and compassion both between the giver and recipient, but also between the couple making the meal," says Michael Laramee, co-founder of mealTrain. "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling" (1 Peter 4:9).
  5. Relive old memories. Remember what you ate on your first date together? Try recreating that meaningful memory. "I recommend cooking a recipe that reminds you of good times," says Sandy Coughlin, co-author of Married But Not Engaged: Why Men Check Out and What You Can Do to Create the Intimacy You Desire. "Even in the kitchen, togetherness can strengthen a marriage."

Reference to the individuals and organizations quoted does not constitute a blanket endorsement of either the individuals’ external work or their respective organizations.

Todd Foley is on staff with Focus on the Family Canada.

© 2012 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.  

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