cooking

Why Food Always Tastes Better When You Make It For Yourself

How much does whipping up a dish for yourself—versus eating it out of a flimsy plastic container—impact your enjoyment of it?

Wyatt Marshall

Photo via Flickr user Daniel Lee

Beset by the cares and inconveniences of modern life, it is easy to settle. And while you can extrapolate all sorts of dark desires of the psyche from that sentiment, we're here to talk about food.

On the go, you may choose to take the easy way out and eat fast food. Those who live alone are more likely to skip the effort of making something from scratch and instead order in. or rely on some sort of canned or frozen entree. And when hunger strikes unexpectedly, a grab-and-go snack is never too far.

But how satisfying, really, are those foods? How much does eating something out of a flimsy plastic container impact your enjoyment of it?

A study in Health Psychology titled "Does Self-Prepared Food Taste Better? Effects of Food Preparation on Liking," followed 120 women who either made a low-calorie raspberry smoothie or were given an identical ready-made smoothie. The participants were more likely to enjoy the smoothie they had made themselves better, even though the smoothie they made followed a recipe identical to the ready-made version. The fruits of one's own labor were, quite literally, the sweetest.

Conversely, if participants were making an unhealthy snack—in this case a rich chocolate milkshake—they were more fond of the store-bought version. When it comes to treats, people like to treat themselves without thinking about the caloric contents.

There's some unpacking to be done here—Would men also exhibit a similar pattern? Is age a factor?—but the study's authors suggest that making the smoothie from scratch might lead to better enjoyment because it "increased the health salience of foods, because when people prepare foods, they become more aware of the ingredients that constitute a food."

It's no secret that food cooked at home tends to be healthier—food outside the home is often filled with salt, fat, and empty calories. Cooking can lead to a healthier relationship with food, and also tends to be cheaper than eating out. And as anyone who has successfully completed a challenging culinary project can attest, the feeling can be quite satisfying. But the study in question wasn't asking its participants to master a ratatouille—all it took to get participants to like their smoothie more than a store-bought one was a few minutes with a blender.

That search for healthy-eating and feeling of accomplishment is in part what drives services like Blue Apron, which provide would-be home chefs with simple recipes and pre-measured ingredients, removing the inconvenience of shopping.

For those who might say, "Why bother?" perhaps giving a shot at something approachable, like, say, a raspberry smoothie, could be more rewarding than you'd expect for your health, your wallet, and your taste buds.