We are a snacking nation: American adults consume, on average, about 25 percent of their daily calories from snacks, according to “What We Eat in America,” National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 2007-2008. That’s a significant portion of our daily calories, which means our snacking choices need to be smart.
While I know the snacking trend isn’t going away and can be an important opportunity to get the nutrients we need, my observation is that increased snacking coincides with two negative trends.
The point of snacking is to eat smaller meals of nutrient-dense foods to help bridge the gap between meals. But a walk through the mainstream grocery reveals too many foods marketed and packaged specifically for snacking are not what they seem. They carry many health and nutrition claims, but when it comes down to it they consist largely of low-nutrient ingredients.
What is most disheartening for me about the snacking trend is that it is being used as a meal replacement. According to a September 2014 report by Nielsen—Snack Attack: What Consumers are Reaching for Around the World—45 percent of respondents are consuming at least some of their snacks as a meal alternative. One of the five main bullet points on the first page of the report cites, “Snacks as meal replacements are a growing opportunity.”
This makes me sad, because there are so many benefits to sitting down to a meal. Research shows that children who sit down to a family meal at least a few times a week are less likely to be obese and have better eating habits, including eating more fruits and vegetables. Mealtimes also provide structure to a child’s day and uninterrupted time for the family to connect and bond. Plus, we eat more mindfully and digest our food better when we sit down to a meal without distractions.
So why am I ranting about the importance of sit-down meals to foodservice professionals? It would seem that if people are skipping meals at home they are turning to restaurants and foodservice operators as an alternative. Not necessarily so.
If snacking becomes the standard, your customers may not be seeking out meals at all. While there is no research to back this up, my guess is that people who value meals at home are more likely to be the ones sitting down to a meal at their company dining room or college cafeteria. Habitual snackers are more likely to grab something on the run, and that may not be from your dining location.
I am making a plea to you, the foodservice professional, to help keep the mealtime alive. While every foodservice operation is different, here are some suggestions:
• Provide recipes and/or sell meal kits so that your customers can make weekday meals at home in 30 minutes or less.
• Deliver programming and ambiance to keep your customers eating in the dining room.
• Offer cooking classes that focus on simple meal preparation techniques.
• Host recipe contests with incentives like a free meal(s) in your dining room.
• Post fun facts in your dining locations about the benefits of sitting down to meals.
Editor’s note: Is the snacking trend affecting your foodservice operation—whether for good or bad? Let us know by sharing your opinion/experience in the comments section below.