The Future Of Healthy Eating? Generation Z More Likely To Eat Fresh, Home-Cooked Meals

Couple playing with food in kitchen
Generation Z, the rising generation, is expected to be healthier than the rest, as they prefer more home-cooked meals and fresh food. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

With campaigns, food labels, and TV commercials pushing toward a healthier future to curb childhood obesity, Generation Z (ages 0 to 23) has been the hub of all these healthy eating initiatives. The rise of the health-conscious consumer has begun to shape the country’s eating behaviors and has even forced some food makers to remove unhealthy ingredients from their products. As the power continues to shift from companies to the hands of its consumers, a “Future of Eating Report,” by NPD, a market research group, has found Generation Z is more likely to eat fresh, home-cooked meals than their predecessors, as fresh food consumption is expected to rise by 11 percent in five years.

“Generation Z, Millennials, and Hispanics will be the growth drivers of this country’s eating patterns over the next five years,” said Darren Seifer, NPD food and beverage industry analyst, in the NPD news release. The youngest generation and millennials are driving changes with the way they approach food choice and preparation, as they are seen to want more involvement, not more complexity, in the way they prepare their foods and meals, especially the most important meal of all, breakfast. They opt for home-made breakfasts like omelets and French toast, over processed ready-to-eat meals, such as cold cereal.

Although spending more time in the kitchen may seem counter-intuitive, especially for this time-pressed generation, this may be driven by the need to have a say in the final output of their prepared foods. “There seems to be a need to have their say or approval on the final product,” said Seifer on his blog. “It's almost as if they want to have a hand in the production of the food so that when it hits the plate they can say that they were part of the project.”

This generation also shows a tendency to use stove tops rather than microwaves for preparing meals because they prefer consuming fresh ingredients and using additives — like putting fruits and syrups on their foods — to feel more involved. Although Generation Z could eventually make microwaves obsolete, Generation X (ages 38 to 48), are more contingent on preparing microwavable foods because they are more convenience-driven.  

This finding can be explained through the concept of aging dynamics — aging and generation — where eating behaviors will influence consumption rates based on the current and previous generation’s preferences. The report highlights that as we age we are more likely to consume fresh foods, with the largest momentum occurring from young adults to the age of 40, and from there the number begins to increase, but slowly. Generation X will no longer drive the forecasted growth of fresh food consumption, as Generations Z and Y (millenials), are expected to increase the use of these foods at breakfast by nine percent, seven percent at lunch, and five percent at dinner.

Not only will fresh food consumption increase, but also Latino foods by seven percent, as Hispanics will make a large portion of millenials, along with Generaton Z, in five years, according to the NPD. Whole grains, protein, and calcium, or foods low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium will continue to take precedence for the younger generation and older baby boomer groups as time progresses. It is important for Generation Z to continue to adopt healthy eating habits as baby boomers will be more concerned with what they need to sustain their health and lifestyle, compared to be driven by the latest health fad.

Despite this report, doctors and parents continue to remain worrisome as a report from Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says, most U.S. residents will be obese within the next two decades. Currently, more than one-third of U.S. adults are obese, while childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and quadrupled in adolescents in the last 30 years. Perhaps, Generation Z will learn from their predecessors’ eating behaviors and want to strive for a healthier future.

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