Eating Spartan Meals, But Yearning For More

If you suffer pangs of side-dish nostalgia, you’re likely not alone. The new edition of The NPD Group’s annual report on eating patterns in America says the side dish “is disappearing from the American dinner table.” In the 12-month period ending February 2004, 45 percent of dinners didn’t include a side dish—”the highest level since 1990.” It’s not that consumers want such a bare-bones dinner. In fact, the survey found an uptick in the number of people who feel that “it’s important to eat full and regular meals”—to 55 percent this year, vs. 52 percent in the 2003 report. Fifty-five percent said it’s important that food be “fresh,” though in practice this may mean freshly scooped out of the can. Among other info-morsels: The per capita number of takeout meals was 117 last year. Seventy-seven percent of all meals were prepared at home. The report notes that women’s labor-force participation rate has stopped climbing, and even inched downward. If the trend persists, the research firm says, it’s likely to exert a major effect on eating patterns—much as the earlier influx of women into the workplace transformed Americans’ dietary habits.