Type 2 diabetes rates have been steadily increasing throughout the years, making it the number seven leading cause of death in the United States. Researchers from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health thought it may have something to do with how often Americans are dining at restaurants and eating processed meals, so they studied the dietary patterns of thousands of people. Their findings were presented during the American Heart Association's (AHA) annual Scientific Sessions in Orlando.

"The trend for eating commercially prepared meals in restaurants or as take-out in the United States has increased significantly over the last 50 years," said the study's co-author Geng Zong, a research fellow at Harvard, in a press release. "At the same time, type 2 diabetes rates have also increased." For the study, Zong and his team analyzed the diets of 58,000 women and 41, 000 men, who were tracked for 36 years between 1986 and 2012.

A pattern began to emerge as researchers found the more a person ate out: Not only was their diet poorer overall, but they faced higher rates of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. On the other hand, those who ate two homemade lunches or dinners a day, with an average of 11 to 14 homemade meals a week, had a 13 percent lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes — a major risk factor for heart disease.

Researchers worked with the AHA to offer quality nutrition information to those looking to reduce their diabetes risk. Although they didn't say exactly how many meals a person should enjoy at home each week, the AHA took the liberty of filling in the gap by providing an online recipe resource, called "Simple Cooking With Heart." As Zong says when it comes to eating home cooked meals, "more could be better."

Below, some of our favorite healthy, homemade meal ideas from the AHA's new site.

  1. Turkey Picadillo (Serves 4)
    For about 400 calories a serving, cook ground turkey in a skillet with olive oil, apples, jalapeno pepper, cinnamon, olives, and onions. Place on warm whole wheat tortillas and garnish with chopped cabbage, tomato, and cheese; then, serve.
  2. Margherita Pizza (Serves 8)
    Nope, eating more at home doesn't mean you have to give up pizza. Sauté garlic, onion, rosemary, salt, and olive oil in a saucepan until soft before blending with tomato sauce. Lay out whole wheat pizza dough onto a baking sheet and spread pizza sauce, ricotta cheese, thinly cut tomatoes, and basil. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes.
  3. Tailgate Chili (Serves 4)
    For roughly 300 calories a bowl, cook lean beef in a saucepan with onions for 5 to 7 minutes. Drain excess fat and sauté with chopped bell peppers, garlic, chili powder, and cumin. For more flavor, stir in low-fat grated cheese, fat-free sour cream, sliced avocado, and cilantro.
  4. Panang Curry Chicken (Serves 4)
    Pack a slow cooker with onions, garlic, chicken, cut sweet potato, broccoli, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, water, and coconut milk, along with a spice mixture of curry powder, cumin, coriander, and red pepper flakes for under 400-calorie chicken. While that cooks (8 hours on low heat or 4 hours on high), cut up cauliflower and gently pulse in a food processer before adding it to a large skillet with salt and pepper to make rice. Add curry chicken onto cauliflower rice and serve.
  5. Chipotle Chicken Stuffed Sweet Potatoes (Serves 4)
    This 500-calorie dish requires an hour prep but is still a relatively easy-to-make comfort food recipe. Pierce sweet potatoes with a fork and place on a baking sheet for 1 hour. Rub chicken breast with olive oil and throw them on a baking pan in the oven at 400 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes. Shred chicken and sautee in a pan with beans, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, and water. Slice potatoes and place chicken mixture with pepper jack cheese on top and slide it back into the oven until cheese is melted.
  6. Pesto Spaghetti with Zucchini (Serves 6)
    At less than 300-calories a plate, this pasta shouldn’t make you feel guilty. Slice zucchini in thin halves and cook in a pan over medium heat for 10 to 12 minutes. Cook spaghetti in boiling water, drain, and place in a bowl. In a food processor add 2 cups of cooked zucchini along with basil leaves, garlic, nuts, chicken broth, oil, parmesan, and salt and pepper for 1 minute. Pour over spaghetti, mix it together, and top with the rest of the cooked zucchini.

Source: Eisenberg D, Zong G, Hu F, and , Sun Q, et al. American Heart Association Scientific Sessions. 2015.