The snack generation

by CLARE KITCHEN, Daily Mail

From Delia Smith to the Naked Chef, we are bombarded with television shows and books telling us how to cook.

But it seems that fewer and fewer of us actually know how to prepare food - further eroding Britain's once-traditional eating patterns.

Snacks on the go or ready-made meals heated up and eaten on a tray in front of the television are more and more replacing three set meals a day, a survey confirms.

The study, by the Institute of Grocery Distribution, found that busier lifestyles, more impulsive and impatient consumers and the growing number of places to eat out or to get a takeaway are to blame.

Snacking has increased by almost ten per cent, and 25 per cent of us now eat light meals such as a sandwich or pasty instead of a main meal.

With fewer young people learning how to cook at school or in the home, increasing numbers are turning to ready-made meals from supermarkets or takeaways.

And the research suggests they will carry their habits into old age, changing our eating patterns permanently.

Most 30 to 39-year- olds said they do not expect to suddenly discover a desire to cook when they reach 60.

So skewed have eating habits become that 60 per cent of 17 to 24-year-olds said they regarded pasta with a ready-made sauce as a home-cooked meal.

Another 44 per cent counted pizza and salad as their own cooking.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, married and middle-aged women spend the longest time preparing and cooking the main meal, while young and single men spend the least.

Men are three times more likely than women to spend less than ten minutes cooking their main meal.

But many people simply do not have the time to cook. Those in work spend about 40 per cent less time on meal preparation than the jobless.

However, all may not be lost for the traditional meal. 'Consumers want more than just convenience,' said IGD chief executive Joanne Denney. 'They also want help and inspiration in choosing what to eat in terms of menus and not just products.

'Although 49 per cent of UK consumers eat pre-prepared meals at least once a week, traditional cooking and eating patterns are by no means redundant.

'The challenge for the food industry is to present food in such a way that it meets the needs and aspirations of as wide a group of consumers as possible.'

The British Nutrition Foundation-said: 'By not sitting down for a family meal, people are losing the opportunity to chat about the day and interact with each other.

'But what is actually eaten is immaterial as long as it is in balance with the other things we eat.

'Snacking is not necessarily a bad thing and the evidence is that people who do snack often eat less at a main meal.

'As long as people eat a balanced diet and try to increase their fruit or vegetable intake as part of their snacking, we would not be too concerned.

'This is more just a change in lifestyle and the pace we live our lives than a cause for real concern.'

Wendy Doyle, of the British Dietetic Association, said she is concerned families are missing the chance to catch up with each other at mealtimes.

She is also worried that people are taking in too much fat and sugar in snacks.

Although the IGD research showed most people said they snacked on fruit, the second most popular foods were chocolates and sweets followed by biscuits and cakes.

'So many of the snacks are high in fat or sugar that my plea would be that any alternatives are healthy ones,' she said.

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