- Author: Ann King Filmer
- Food prepared away from home accounts for 32 percent of Americans’ caloric intake and 41 percent of food expenditures. (Food prepared away from home includes restaurants, fast-food establishments, and take-out or delivery meals.)
- Americans increased their away-from-home share of calories from 18 percent to 32 percent in the last three decades, mainly from table-service and fast-food restaurants.
- Caloric intake rose over the last three decades from 1,875 calories per person per day to 2,002 calories per day.
- Food prepared at home became significantly lower in fat content and richer in calcium over the past three decades; food prepared away from home did not.
- Food prepared away from home is higher in saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol, and lower in dietary fiber than food prepared at home.
Consumers should be health-savvy when they eat away from home. Don’t be afraid to ask for nutritional information or preparation methods, and don’t assume that restaurants (even high-end restaurants) serve healthy food. Restaurants serve what consumers like — fat, salt, sugar and lots of calories. The American Heart Association offers a variety of very useful information for dining out, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest has guidelines on labeling at fast-food and chain restaurants.
Opt for healthier choices, and don’t feel compelled to “clean your plate” at meals. Some people routinely eat no more than half the restaurant meal, saving the other half for another meal. Ask your restaurants to serve healthier options — restaurants will respond only if consumers commit to making healthy food choices.
There is hope. Americans may be getting the message about dietary fat — consumption of fat has dropped from 86 grams of total fat per person per day to 75 grams per day over the last three decades. But, on average, food prepared away from home still has more fat (37 percent) than food prepared at home (30 percent).
The University of California offers many free and low-cost publications on food, health and nutrition. Here are a few:
- Nutrition and health information sheets – free downloads on fat, fiber, calcium, cholesterol, energy drinks, and other topics.
- Lunchbox series – free downloads on healthy lunches for preschool children.
- Healthalicious cooking – free after-school curricula on food and physical activity.
- Food, nutrition, and health publications in the UC ANR catalog: some free, some with a cost.
- Free nutrition publications from the Department of Nutrition at UC Davis.