A new study of trends in U.S. food consumption shows made-from-scratch dinners have dropped 7% over the last two years and now account for only 32% of evening dinners.
Meanwhile, Americans are now more likely to order takeout from a restaurant than be seated there. Researchers found the average American ate 80 meals at restaurants in 2005 and took home 57 of them, compared with only 33 takeout meals 20 years ago.
In fact, one in five restaurant meals was purchased from a car without ever stepping into the restaurant itself.
Takeout Tops Eating In
Researchers say the trends suggest that takeout and convenience foods are quickly becoming the easy answer to "what's for dinner?"
For example, the study shows that one-quarter of last night's dinners used convenience foods and 17% used restaurant or supermarket takeout, while 23% were eaten at a restaurant.
Pizza, burgers, and Chinese were the top takeout choices, but ready-to-eat meals purchased at a supermarket are growing in popularity. Researchers found 42% of adults purchased supermarket takeout about once a month in 2005, a 12% increase over the last two years.
Healthier Choices Finding a Home
The study, published in Food Technology, shows that hamburgers, french fries, and pizza were the top three most popular items ordered in restaurants overall by adult men and women. Men's favorite order was hamburgers and women favored french fries.
Side salads and main salads ranked fourth and seventh among women and fifth and 10th among men.
But researchers say health is the No. 1 driver of the food industry worldwide, and it's being reflected on changing restaurant menus and supermarket shelves.
Following sandwiches and salads, fish and seafood were the most frequently added menu items in 2005 among the top 200 restaurant chains. Diet soft drinks and dietetic candy were the fastest growing supermarket categories.
Three-quarters of Americans said they ate reduced/nonfat foods in the last year, and more than half said they ate "lite" foods.
Other trends highlighted by the study include:
SOURCES: Sloan, E. Food Technology, Jan. 6, 2006: pp 19-27. News release, Institute of Food Technologists.
By Jennifer Warner
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD
© 2006, WebMD Inc. All rights reserved