I can’t stop thinking about the comments that I received after a blog I wrote a few months ago about how menu labeling was not having the desired effect on some restaurants in low income areas. A lot of you brought up some really good points about consumer responsibility and education, but I was really intrigued by the comments that I got about lack of cooking skills and less in-home food preparation. I was a bit shocked to hear restaurant industry professionals advocating meals eaten away from their restaurants, but the points are valid, and from recent statistics it looks like restaurants don’t have much to worry about in regards to competition with I current day home economists.

Once upon a time Home Economics was taught in schools (so my mother tells me), not only in high schools, but you could get a college degree in the subject. What was once the Home Ec cooking classroom at my University had been converted into a “cooking lab” by the time I got there. Where students once learned to master the kitchen in aspirations of creating well-run household, we learned the effects that different food chemicals had on each other in hopes of someday making enough money to support 50% of a modern-day life.

With most households having two working parents these days, going out to eat is much more common than it was back in the days of home economists. Picking something up or going out to eat is just easier for many families after a full day of work than trying to prepare nightly meals, not to mention many people in generations X and Y haven’t a clue how to cook more than toast, we were never taught.

In 2008 the National Restaurant Association reported that 48% of the average household food budget went to restaurants (up from 25% in 1995). Another study from The U.S. Energy Information Administration in 2001 reports major decreases in home meal preparation as compared to the early 1990’s. This movement away from the kitchen and into restaurant dining rooms is said to be partially to blame for our current obesity epidemic.

Even though restaurants are beginning to offer more health conscious choices, consumers will never have the control over what goes into their meals that they do by preparing meals themselves. By preparing meals at home consumers can prioritize their dietary needs (i.e. low sodium, limited carbohydrates, gluten free, …etc) in their meals by modifying their ingredients, whereas in restaurants priority will always lean towards flavor.

People seem to have more specialized dietary needs than ever before (diabetes, hypertension/salt sensitivity, gluten intolerance, allergies…etc), and are consequently putting their health in the hands of strangers when it comes to dining out. As a result restaurants are more responsive than ever to accommodate special orders based on their demands.

I wonder if American society will ever return to cooking most meals at home. What do you think?

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Tags: cooking, diet, dietary, dining, eating, ec, economics, foodcalc, healthy, home, More…meals, nutrition, out

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Comment by Nancy Backas on March 11, 2010 at 8:29am
Home Ec didn't die, it just got renamed. My mother was a Home Ec teacher. I didn't take home ec classes in jr. high or high school--I learned at home, and through girl scouts. But I did major in Food in Business in college, part of the school of home economics renamed the school of consumer economics and family studies, in the college of agriculture. It still exists, believe me! But it is a travesty that basic cooking, sewing (yes even sewing), family relationships (also under home economics) and child care are no longer requirements for high school graduation. Who doesn't need those skills? I am constantly amazed how many of my generation (and I'm 55), not to mention the younger generation, has no concept of basic cooking skills.

I have a catering company myself. I am shocked at how many of my clients have state of the art kitchens and they don't know how to operate much of the equipment, save the microwave. I don't think it's a disconnect for the restaurant industry to be advocating people learning home cooking skills, nor do I think it should go against the restaurant industry grain to offer more healthful food in smaller portions. The restaurant industry started the supersizing craze, we can end it!

Non-Operator
Comment by Keith Bernhardt on February 18, 2010 at 7:51pm
I took a boys' home ec class as a senior in high school.
After I graduated college, I went by the university of Missouri and saw the Dept of Human Environmental Sciences.

I asked a friend what it was. "Home Ec".

Non-Operator
Comment by Paul Green on February 17, 2010 at 7:23pm
Alyson,

I believe economics have been the leading force in the change in our dining habits.

In the fifties it was still possible for one partner, usually the husband, to work while the other saw to the home and children. One income was sufficient to buy a house, have a savings account and get ahead in life.

That allowed time for scratch cooking, canning, and baking. My parents started like that, as did all my fore bearers.

Then came a shift. I don't know if it was corporate and personal greed or some combination of that and other factors, but it now takes both parents working just to stay even.

Home cooking has devolved into fast and convenient out of necessity because parents and children have chaotic schedules.

No, I don't see a us returning to that life style any time soon.

After watching the video that Michael Biesemeyer posted on "The Future Is Up For Grabs" by Zachary Adam Cohen, I do agree that we are in the midst of another dynamic shift the result of which will be known in time, but, quite possibly, not our time.

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