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Home-Cooked Family Meals Are Becoming a Thing of the Past in the USA

Wednesday, February 15, 2006
Family dinners of yore are gone for sure

That classic of American family rituals -- the evening dinner -- is rapidly

Vaguely remembered are those punctilious post-World War II days of Ozzie and
Harriet when the wife prepared meals from scratch to serve to a husband and
children gathered around the dining room table at 6 o'clock sharp. Today,
surveys of American eating habits look more like the lives of suburbanite
Lynette in "Desperate Housewives," who feeds her family dinners bought at
fast-food take-outs.

In its annual survey of American eating trends, the Institute of Food
Technologists says fewer than a third of American households are making
meals from scratch -- a noticeable 7 percent decline from just two years

And although three-quarters of Americans are still eating meals at home each
night, the number of meals prepared at home continues to decline, with
almost half of the food served at home pre-prepared at fast-food stores,
restaurant take-outs or at supermarket take-outs, the IFT said. The
organization represents nutritionists and academics involved with food.
"Everyone is going so fast," said Barry Swanson, a professor of food and
nutrition at Washington State University, who was not surprised at the
results. "People today want their food prepared for them or fixed in

Swanson said the trend toward pre-prepared food for family meals has
accelerated during the past 10 to 15 years as Americans would rather pay
food preparers for the service than spend the time fixing it themselves.
Part of the reason for changing dinner habits, he suspects, is that high
schools no longer require home economics courses be taught, although many
schools continue to offer the courses as an elective. But he said food is
like other trends in American society in which we are inclined to adopt
everything that is fast, portable and with us all of the time.

Supermarkets, which closely monitor American eating habits, already have
responded by expanding offerings of pre-cut vegetables and partially cooked
"warm and serve" meats. Sales of refrigerated side dishes increased almost
80 percent last year even as a 6 percent increase was recorded in sales of
refrigerated dinner entrees.

While pizza, hamburgers and Chinese food are at the top of American favorite
take-out foods, Mexican food has expanding appeal. From 2003 to 2005, about
10 percent more people reported Mexican food as their favorite take-out
foods, and Mexican food was selected as the most likely ethnic food people
would fix for themselves at home.

Chain restaurants are betting that's too spicy; they forecast 2006 as a big
year for comfort foods like meatloaf, stews, macaroni and cheese, pot roast
and sausage.

There is a little backlash to the take-home trend brewing from a burgeoning
"slow food" movement, advocating a return to food and farm basics as well as
a reliance on organic food.

But Christine Bruhn, director of center for consumer research at the
University of California, Davis, questions whether the slow food movement
will result in more time spent in the kitchen, especially since there's been
explosive growth in sales of pre-prepared foods at organic stores as well.
Bruhn believes the Ozzie and Harriet days are "gone for good."

"During the week, convenience is the word," she said. "The primary issue
here is that there are other demands in people's lives -- a job, family,
hobbies. When people come home they want to rest and relax a little with
their friends."

Bruhn said there has clearly been a change in generations and that many in
the younger generation have lost the skills their parents had to cook.
Nutritionists spot one positive trend in the IFT's findings, noting that the
number of Americans reporting they are buying more fruit went up last year
-- reversing a 14-year decline in purchases of fruit.

You may contact Lance Gay at