A lot has changed in the past year, including our eating habits.
US News’ health editors teamed up with the food pros at America’s Test Kitchen to review the average American’s eating habits and goals. The results were not only surprising, but also quite positive. In fact, Jack Bishop, America’s Test Kitchen’s chief creative officer, has noted that over the past 30 years, “there’s been more change (in eating habits) in the last two years… than probably in any other two years out there.”
And for all the negative effects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the way the pandemic has impacted our eating habits isn’t all negative.
Conducted by ATK, the survey included 1,500 people – mostly women, with an average age of 62. ATK sent the survey to their database of 40,000 home cooks in December 2021. The list consists of chefs of all levels.
More Americans are cooking at home
With all the legitimate safety concerns associated with eating out at the height of the pandemic, it’s no surprise that people have gotten to know their kitchens a lot better. And although restaurants have reopened and most mask requirements have been lifted, more and more people seem to be preparing their own, healthier meals at home
Healthier eating habits were reflected in a variety of key metrics:
- 45% say they eat more fruit and vegetables.
- 29% eat less meat.
- 29% eat less junk food.
- 27% reported eating less to-go.
- 52% of people are eating more homemade meals.
- 39% eat smaller portions.
Eating healthy means different things to different people
78% of respondents already consider themselves healthy eaters, which might not come as a huge surprise since 87% are ATK subscribers, but what exactly “healthy eating” means wasn’t so sure:
- For 84% of people, healthy eating means eating more fruits and vegetables.
- 75% defined it as limiting their sugar intake.
- 60% said they were eating smaller portions or more fresh and less processed foods.
How people want to eat healthier
While 85% of respondents plan to stick with their healthier diet, their goals vary. Two main goals stood out: consume less sugar and eat more vegetables.
Sugar cutting tips
That’s an achievable goal, Bishop says. “See where you can make small but important changes. Pretty much everyone eats more sugar than we need.”
He recommends going from two packs of sugar in your daily coffee to just one. It doesn’t seem like a lot, but that’s 730 servings of sugar you eat in a year, and you just halved that.
Another easy way to cut back on sugar is to swap out your semisweet chocolate for a bar of bittersweet chocolate. You’ll still get your chocolate fix, but chocolate that contains more cocoa is usually 30% sugar, not 50%.
Tips on eating more vegetables
Bishop has some recommendations for adding some greenery to your plate.
“Reimagine the plate,” he suggests. “So instead of a big chunk of protein, lots of carbs, and a small serving of veggies, think about incorporating those into a one-dish meal. Maybe it’s a pasta dish where the proportions have changed, giving you more veggies as a result. And probably less meat and then maybe a little less carbs.”
“The second thing is to double the veggies and either cook two veggies or cook a side dish with two veggies,” he adds. And the reason is that if you combine two different ones, you’re likely to eat more vegetables, he says. “You know, there’s a limit to how much broccoli most people want to eat. And when you pair two complimentary vegetables together, it often makes them more appealing.”
Some complementary vegetables are:
“From a nutritional standpoint, different vegetables — especially different colored vegetables — are rich in different nutrients,” Bishop says.
Cost and time are barriers to healthy eating
For those who reported not eating healthier, there were two specific reasons: time and cost.
- 35% of people said money issues (either more expensive groceries or tightening budgets) have made it harder to eat healthily in the past year.
- 34% reported that more stress makes it harder to eat healthily.
Bishop suggests meal planning as a possible solution to both of these problems, as thoughtful meal planning can save time and money — and a lot of stress.
“I think planning is actually probably the most important skill for getting your money as far as possible,” says Bishop. But that really means having a plan. “Not just fill the shopping cart with whatever. Really plan menus and think about it, ‘Okay, I’m going to buy this ingredient. But I’m going to use them three times over the next two weeks, and not just I’m going to take two tablespoons out of that bottle and then leave them in the pantry forever.’”
“And you may have favorite recipes based on high-priced items,” adds Bishop. “Rather than feeling like it’s a deficit, see it as an opportunity, right, and let’s try some new things.”
Choosing the right diet
When it comes to “cheating” on a diet, 76% of respondents said they cheat on their diet at least sometimes, but Bishop thinks the problem here may be mindset.
“I mean everyone cheats,” Bishop says. “The most important thing is to look at what you do overall throughout the week. And so the fact that you might have had ice cream one night instead of your healthy dessert isn’t a reason to obsess.”
“The pandemic has introduced or reintroduced people into their kitchens. You know, maybe reluctantly at times, but it’s really changed the way people relate to how they think about cooking,” says Bishop. “I think there’s a subset of people who really haven’t cooked that much who are sticking with it now because they’ve gained skills and confidence. And what seemed really difficult is actually not that difficult. You know, there’s a lot of reasons, but I think we’re seeing from different parts of our dataset that for some people, that’s kind of a permanent change in the future.”