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PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y. --With nearly 80 percent of all suppers consumed in America taking place at home, The NPD Group, Inc., market research firm, describes how Americans are looking for ways to make meal preparation easier. The groups 16th annual edition of its Report on Eating Patterns in America found that although the number of suppers prepared by females has declined slightly from 78 percent in 1995 to 76 percent in 2000, the job of cooking still falls mainly on the shoulders of women. Therefore, according to Harry Balzer, vice-president of NPD and the author of Eating Patterns in America, "Mom is looking for an easier way to prepare meals and has found three key ways to do just that." Although Americans are interested in making mealtime easier, they are not taking meals out from restaurants. For the first time in 12 years, the number of meals purchased at a restaurant by the average American to be eaten at home dropped from 141 in 1999 to 138 in 2000. This decrease is directly related to the number of new, ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat products offered at convenience stores and supermarket. The report also found that the easiest way to make every meal less work is to cut back on the number of dishes served. Last year, the average supper consisted of 3.6 dishes, the lowest number in the 16 years of the report and eight percent smaller than 10 years ago. The side dish is the one being dropped. In 1990, 65 percent of suppers had at least one side dish, but last year that number was only 56 percent. The side dishes most often eliminated are vegetables, potatoes, salads and bread. The second way American cooks are making easier meals is by spending less time assembling the main dish. Although there is still a main dish at supper, it is more likely to be a frozen product. The percent of suppers served with a frozen main course reached an all-time high in 2000 of 11.5 percent, up 22 percent from just five years ago.