Family in the kitchen

If you’re immersed in the culture and business of food (as we are!), our collective psyche these past two years has been dominated by how COVID-19 impacted the way Americans planned, shopped, prepared, and consumed meals. We know that American consumers’ eating and drinking behaviors have been altered by the pandemic.

A few themes — such as what to eat, online grocery, cooking fatigue, home delivery, snacking, and takeout from restaurants — became part of our everyday conversations. Now, discussions have shifted from what changed to what changes and trends will continue for the foreseeable future — and beyond.

Well before any pandemic-induced changes took hold, we had seen long-term shifts in broader cultural values and notions of a healthy diet that undermined “traditional” ways of eating, including what we eat, when we eat it, whom we eat it with, and how we make it (or where we source it).

In 2017, our Transformation of the American Meal report found that while 61% of consumers said that they “love to cook at home,” “easy-to-prepare dishes” was the preferred cooking technique for almost seven in ten (69%) consumers.

Love to Cook chart

The Transformation of the American Meal

Even though broad changes in cultural values, demographics, work, and health and wellness understandings have eroded mealtime rituals over the long term, American consumers still value meals.

Most continue to aspire to meals — especially dinners — that resemble an ideal meal from an imagined past, when good home cooking resulted in three square meals a day, eaten together with an appreciative family.

This ideal reveals a deep emotional need related to mealtimes that remains in spite of how fragmented Americans’ eating patterns have become.

Consumers still recognize the importance of eating home-cooked meals together, especially dinner, and they continue to want to do so despite all the barriers, real and perceived, in their way. This is true not just of families with kids — though it is especially true of them — but of most consumers.

Solutions that ultimately can address this deeper need by making mealtimes together easier, more compelling, and more inspiring will be most lasting. Solutions that help consumers cook faster or source food more easily are good, but they do not necessarily bring everyone to the table for a satisfying meal.

Where Do American Meals and Cooking Stand Today? What About the Future?

With the forecast for Americans to continue to eat at home as often as they do now, it is imperative to understand the dynamics that motivate consumers’ eating and drinking behaviors and shape food and beverage culture. These are also the factors that will inspire emerging brands and inform and influence marketing strategies.

Our new syndicated study, At the Dining Table: American Meals and Cooking 2021, will offer a rich and unique examination of trends in the culture and mechanics of mealtimes from the micro- to the macro level, looking not just at what but also the details of why, how, when, where, and who.

The study’s post-pandemic perspective on key topics about mealtimes and the needs, motivations, and eating approaches of consumers today include:

  • Meals: Shifting roles and needs, adapted approaches
  • Cooking: Planning, procurement, preparation, and mealtime strategies
  • Food service and omnichannel approaches

Learn more about the study and pre-order the report here