Americans are gathering around the dinner table to eat healthier foods, according to a new national survey released by the Food Marketing Institute and Prevention magazine. The study found a strong correlation between consumers who try the hardest to eat healthfully and those who eat dinner at home nearly every day.

Nearly three in four shoppers (71 percent) believe the food they eat at home is healthier than meals consumed out. More than nine in 10 consumers prepare at least one home-cooked dinner from scratch every week, and more than half (68 percent) do it almost daily.

This home-equals-health belief extends to school lunches. Parents are far more satisfied with the nutritional value of the bagged lunches they prepare at home for their children (60 percent) vs. school cafeteria food (30 percent).

"These findings underscore the powerful impact of the family dinner," says Tim Hammonds, FMI president and chief executive officer. "Regular family dinners are the best way parents can help their children eat healthy meals. These dinners also help children perform well in school and avoid abusing alcohol, tobacco and illegal drugs, according to research by Columbia University."

"The study shows most Americans recognize the importance of eating healthier and are laying the foundation to do so: eating at home, buying organic and making healthier choices," says Cary Silvers, director of consumer and advertising trends for Rodale, the publisher of Prevention. "But Americans are still having trouble doing this. Supermarkets have a real opportunity to offer and package solutions rather than just display products."

Relatively few shoppers believe that grocery stores offer many healthy options in frozen entrees (16 percent), packaged foods (8 percent), or even ready-to-cook (10 percent) and prepared foods (12 percent). Even fewer feel this way about healthy options from fast food (5 percent) and other take-out establishments (6 percent).

Many shoppers expressed interest in nutrition guidance from supermarkets through:

• Signs indicating healthy food choices (73 percent)
• Signs and information about disease management (66 percent)
• Staff who can answer nutrition questions (62 percent)
• Weight loss and diet information (56 percent)
• Cooking classes to teach consumers about healthy meals (49 percent)

The report also found that Americans continue to strive and struggle to eat more nutritious diets: 57 percent are trying "a lot," 55 percent say they are overweight, and 23 percent of parents report having an overweight child.

Consumers tend to be "free agents," trying to manage diets on their own, which makes them more susceptible to fads, according to the study. Among those who diet, 59 percent say they are just "calorie watching or watching what they eat," 11 percent follow a low-carb diet, and 9 percent follow the Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers program.

Consumers Buying More Organic Foods Throughout the Store More consumers are turning to organic foods to improve their diets. In fact, organic food purchases increased in virtually all the major categories: • 44 percent purchased organic fruits and vegetables in the past six months vs. 37 percent last year • 30 percent, organic milk or other dairy products vs. 23 percent • 29 percent, organic cereals, breads or pastas vs. 25 percent • 24 percent, organic meats or poultry vs. 17 percent • 24 percent, organic packaged foods (e.g., snacks and beverages) vs. 21 percent • 21 percent, organic eggs vs. 18 percent • 16 percent, organic soups and sauces vs. 12 percent

The chief motivation to buy organic foods remains the perceived nutrition value, cited by eight in 10 shoppers, and nearly two-thirds mentioned long-term health effects. Just over half listed the environmental impact of growing or producing these foods.

This Shopping for Health 2006: Making Healthy Eating Easier survey examines shoppers’ interests and attitudes regarding health and nutrition, their efforts to manage diets, and the ways in which health and nutritional concerns play out in buying decisions at the supermarket.

Source: FMI news release