Cooking more meals at home can help you save serious calories and cash. But a little help from your friends can make cooking and eating at home a lot more fun. The editors at SELF Magazine know this too, so they got together and formed the SELF Dinner Club. They test out new healthy recipes together, and even challenged themselves to a full month of eating meals prepared at home! Read on to see our interview with Allie Baker, associate nutrition editor at SELF Magazine. She dishes about SELF’s Dinner Club and her challenges and triumphs with cooking at home.
We love that the SELF Dinner Club shows how getting back into the kitchen can not only help you eat healthier meals, but also bring together friends with a fun social alternative to dining out. What’s your favorite aspect of hosting SELF’s Dinner Club?
My favorite aspect is getting to spend time feasting with friends, but still feeling good about it. Sometimes hanging out with pals can mean having a lot of high-cal food and cocktails, but with Dinner Club, we can have delicious meals and fun drinks and still be healthy.
What was the Cook-At-Home Challenge? What was the biggest challenge to sticking to it?
For the month of June, the Dinner Club challenged ourselves (and our readers) to prepare dinner at home for 30 nights straight! Studies show that people who cook, take in about 130 fewer calories per meal than those who eat out. Plus, making meals at home saves you money. So the goal was to save some cash, get in shape for summer and sharpen our cooking skills.
I have to confess, the challenge was tough to stick to sometimes. On nights when I worked late or took an after-work exercise class, I was very tempted to cut corners. But I motivated myself by thinking of all the great benefits of cooking at home, and afterwards, I was always happy that I did it.
We see that recreating some of the most common “take-out” foods was one of the SELF Dinner Club challenges. What was your favorite re-creation dish?
One of the other Dinner Club ladies, Sarah, made a healthier version of macaroni and cheese that looked amazing. Mac and cheese is an all-time favorite of mine, so I’m definitely going to try that recipe.
Favorite SELF Dinner Club meal of ALL time?
In May, we did a lightened up Memorial Day feast with Sicilian Turkey Burgers and a low-cal spiked gingerade cocktail. They both turned out unbelievably good, and the whole meal took only 30 minutes to make. Check out the blog and recipes here.
Biggest personal culinary challenge that you’re still working on?
My biggest challenge is always finding time to cook. I’ve gotten a lot better at it during the Challenge, but my next goal is to go to the grocery store and farmer’s market on Sundays, and plan and prep several meals for the week. That way, I’ll be all ready to go on busy weeknights.
Any surprising cooking lessons to share with our readers?
The biggest lesson we learned is to be creative. In the Dinner Club, we all have tiny New York kitchens. We don’t have room for a lot of equipment, so we have to improvise. Once, we didn’t have cookie cutters, so we used shot glasses to cut out mini cookies.
Was there a “biggest disappointment” meal…like, one you all were most excited about but that totally bombed?
The Dinner Club made chicken and cheese sliders for the July 2011 issue. The first time we tested them, we accidentally misread the recipe and used twice the amount of chipotle peppers, so our mouths were on fire! When we retested them with the correct amount, they had just the right kick and tasted delicious, but we were really embarrassed about the slip-up.
Have you formed your own healthy dinner club? Tell us what you’re doing!