WASHINGTON -- While many food-service and supermarket consultants have insisted that home-meal preparation is in drastic decline, a recent study by the National Restaurant Association here indicates that dining habits may have been changing more slowly.
"Since 1981, there has been a modest, gradual decrease in the number of privately prepared meals per week," the association's report concluded.
The average American consumer ate commercially prepared meals an average of 4.1 times per week in 1996, up from 3.8 times in 1981, an 8% increase, according to the survey, released by the NRA early this month.
At the same time, consumers surveyed said they ate 14.4 meals prepared privately each week, either at home or at a friend's home, down from 15.1 in 1981. They skipped an average of 2.4 meals per week, an increase since 1981.
Changes in breakfast habits account for much of the meal-consumption evolution, according to the report. Consumers ate 3.6% more commercially prepared breakfasts and skipped the meal 3% more of the time in 1996, compared with 1981.
Young men between 18 and 24 years old ate out the most overall, averaging 5.8 commercially prepared meals per week. Blacks, people of Hispanic origin, Southerners and employed female heads of households were also likely to eat commercially prepared meals more often than others.
As might be expected, household income predicted how often individuals ate out. Those in households earning more than $75,000 annually consumed an average of five commercially prepared meals per week in 1996, as opposed to 4.1 meals per week by those in households earning less than $25,000.
Older Americans were most likely not to buy prepared foods. Women over 65 consumed the fewest commercially prepared meals, averaging 2.26 per week. Men over 65 consumed the most privately prepared meals, 17.65 per week. Older women were more likely to skip meals.
Unemployed women and individuals living in households without children were also less likely to consume commercially prepared meals than other groups.
The study, "Meal Consumption Behavior -- 1996," was the result of a survey of 15,699 consumers 18 or older, conducted nationally by the NRA.
Breakfast is the fastest disappearing home prepared meal since 1981, according to National Restaurant Association research. The study broke meal consumption into day parts, to discover morning meals prepared in the home are becoming as rare as lunch in the home.