Hurried Lifestyle Impacts 3 Decades of Eating

Thirty years ago, when The NPD Group began continuous tracking of America’s eating behaviors, 72 percent of main dishes at dinner were homemade.

Today, 59 percent of main dishes are made from scratch, with many households preferring ready-to-eat and frozen foods, and assembling a meal rather than preparing it, according to NPD’s National Eating Trends.

“The fast and hectic pace of the lives we lead has had the single greatest impact on this country’s eating behaviors,” said Mark East, president of the NPD Group’s North American food and beverage unit. “It’s clear by the changes we’ve observed over the past 30 years that the Google generation wants things now.”

According to National Eating Trends data, Americans are eating many of the same foods they ate three decades ago, but how and who prepares the foods has changed. A sandwich is still among the top foods consumed, but 30 years ago the sandwich was prepared by someone in the household. Today that sandwich is more likely ready to eat, frozen or prepared by a restaurant or foodservice outlet than ever before finds NPD’s food and beverage market research.

“Americans have an ever increasing need for convenience when it comes to eating,” East said. “We fully expect this trend to continue as ready-to-eat meals prepared outside the home and eaten in-home, fresh and frozen foods are all forecasted to grow notably in the next decade.”

Here are some other time-saving behavioral shifts:

- The average number of food items used per meal decreased from 4.44 in the 1980s to 3.5 in 2010.
- Year-round grilling, microwave ovens and slow cookers are among the appliances that helped make meal preparation easier and more convenient. The percent of meals cooked by a microwave has doubled since the 1980s. Households using a slow cooker at least once in a two-week period jumped 67 percent from the 1980s to 2010. More than one-third of American households use the grill to make a meal at least once in a two-week period.

Just as it has done over the last three decades, the need for convenience in meal preparation will continue to grow over the next decade, according to NPD’s “A Look into the Future of Eating” report, which provides a 10-year forecast of eating trends based on generational influences, population and trend momentum gathered from National Eating Trends. According to the NPD study, over the next decade, stove tops and microwaves will remain the most frequently used appliances for meal preparation, but usage of slow cookers is forecasted to increase by 16 percent and grilling is expected to grow by 11 percent.

“Saving time motivated many of the trends we’ve captured in National Eating Trends over the past 30 years,” East said. “As our lives get busier and busier, saving time will continue to be an increasingly important factor in deciding what, when, where and how we eat.”

The NPD Group is a provider of reliable and comprehensive consumer and retail information for a wide range of industries. Information is available for the following industry sectors: automotive, beauty, commercial technology, consumer technology, entertainment, fashion, food and beverage, foodservice, home, office supplies, software, sports, toys and wireless.


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