Julia Child Would Be Thrilled: Most Americans Prefer to Cook at Home

December 4, 2016
Julia Child

On Thanksgiving Day, millions of Americans gasped in appreciation as the perfectly browned turkey was pulled from the oven. Across the kitchen, someone was whipping up potatoes and another was tossing a salad. The pies were sitting on a nearby counter, ready to pop into the oven as soon as the dinner dishes were cleared.

For most Americans, it’s likely this meal – one that traces back to the country’s early roots – like most of the meals we cook throughout the year, was prepared at home, by a family member (or two or three). That’s because cooking at home is still the preferred way to prepare a meal for 98% of Americans, according to a new survey by ReportLinker.

In a way, this finding could be viewed as surprising. After all, Americans have plenty of choices for meals. Restaurants, fast food, and the grocery’s prepared meals all compete for a share of the family food budget. Yet, despite this wide array of options, more than a third of Americans say they cook at home daily, and 50% say they cook between three and six days a week, ReportLinker says. Retirees and those who are at home all day are more likely than full-time employees to cook each day.

But cooking remains popular for two noteworthy reasons: it’s inexpensive and healthier. Thirty-one percent of Americans say the lower cost motivates them to cook at home, while 22% say their desire for healthy fare drives them into the kitchen, according to the survey. One in five Americans say they prefer cooking at home because it gives them better control over what they eat.

With the popularity of television cooking shows, recipe websites, and celebrity chefs, it is somewhat surprising that more Americans don’t cite a passion for cooking as one of their top three reasons for preparing meals at home. Only 13.7% of Americans said their love of cooking was the primary reason they spent time in the kitchen.

For busy families, time presents a significant obstacle to putting a healthy meal on the table. After all, a cook needs to devote at least a small portion of their day to shopping, preparing, and cleaning up after a meal. But long commutes and the demands of family activities make carving time for a home-cooked meal challenging. Still, more than half of Americans say they’re able to find between 31 and 60 minutes each time to prepare a meal, according to ReportLinker. Of these, 26% say it’s worth the time to be able to serve a healthy meal, and 12% do it because they believe it’s the best way to gather the family together.

The survey also reveals that the more passionate respondents are about cooking – or the more frequently Americans cook – the more likely they are to spend more time in the kitchen. For example, 48% of passionate cooks say they’ll spend more than an hour preparing a meal, as do 30% of those who cook every day.

Although cooking is still very common among Americans – particularly retirees, passionate cooks, and older generations – one group is much more reluctant to turn on the stove: Millennials. This generation, which ranges in age from 19-35 years old, has less cooking experience than older generations, and that, understandably, may make them less comfortable in the kitchen.

Nearly one in four Millennials say they cook just one to two times a week – or not at all. That’s far less than older generations, ReportLinker says. And because they cook less, Millennials are more likely to describe themselves as beginners. Almost a third consider themselves newbies, while about the same percentage of older generations call themselves experts in the kitchen.

In general, beginners tend to spend less time preparing meals, and when they do, it’s usually to prepare something simple. In fact, 13% say they spend less than 15 minutes cooking, and 25% say they often cook the same thing, according to ReportLinker’s survey.

Still, although Millennials are often beginners, they do seek opportunities to learn how to cook new dishes. For example, a third say they turn to cooking blogs and websites for inspiration. But one of the more interesting avenues they’re exploring are meal-kit delivery services.

This emerging trend is led by startups such as Blue Apron, a subscription service that packages ingredients together with recipes and delivers a kit right to the cook’s doorstep. Kits range in price from $60 to $140 and include up to four recipes a week for a family of four. All ingredients are farm-fresh and pre-measured. With little effort, even a subscriber with no cooking skills can prepare a meal of Spicy Cauliflower, Potatoes, and Egg Tostadas or Pan-Fried Francese-Style Chicken.

Convenience is a key selling point. Buyers don’t need to shop for dozens of ingredients each week. But another, equally important, reason is health. These services don’t simply offer pre-packaged food, rather, they promise organic, healthy ingredients. There are hundreds of these meal-kit delivery services, normal in a nascent market. But analysts believe the industry could grow up to $5 billion over the next decade, reports the New York Times.

Millennials could be a promising market for the services. They appear to be early adopters who are already driving growth. In the ReportLinker survey, 15% of Millennials said they had used one of these services in the last year, compared to just 10% of all Americans. For beginner cooks, especially Millennials, Blue Apron and other meal-kit delivery services serve up an important advantage: They can teach them how to cook. Seventy percent of subscribers say meal kits have helped them improve their culinary skills.

Still, with such a large portion of the population doing their own cooking, it may be difficult for meal-kit delivery services to catch on. Eighty percent of those who have never used these services say they have no interest in trying them. To increase adoption and gain momentum, Blue Apron and similar services will need to market to Millennials more aggressively, finding mouthwatering ways to appeal to their desire for fast, fresh, easy-to-prepare meals.


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