Our country’s tendency toward fast-food eating has been in the news a lot recently. The fact is that as a country we’re just a busy bunch. We’ve got a lot to do and not a lot of time. But what about convenience foods? What about Hamburger Helper, prepackaged salads and cake mixes? A recent study about eating and cooking habits came to some interesting conclusions about these products.
The study by UCLA tracked 32 working families in the Los Angeles area between 2002 and 2005. Researchers monitored when people ate out, when they ate with friends, when they cooked at home using prepackaged items and when they cooked from scratch. The study discovered an interesting finding about the use of prepackaged/convenience foods. Meals took an average of 52 minutes to prepare no matter if they were made from scratch or if prepackaged foods were used. Why? If prepackaged/convenience foods were used then the meals tended to be more elaborate. In other words, if using frozen lasagna saved some time chances are that those extra minutes would then be spent making a making a nice salad or adding a dessert course. We seem to have an idea of how long cooking dinner should take and we stick to that schedule.
To me the interesting part of this study is about the expectations we have of ourselves. Convenience foods really aren’t so convenient if we expect more out of ourselves just because we use them.
I honestly try not to use prepackaged foods. Making things totally from scratch isn’t that hard (once you’ve done it a few times), things tastes better and it’s usually cheaper. But I guess the point is that it’s OK to give ourselves a break. Simple really is good.