The purpose of this paper is to examine the family dinner in Los Angeles County, California, focusing on the role of commercial foods and the time invested in food preparation. Popular media emphasize the increasing use of processed commercial foods in the USA.
A total of 64 dinner preparation and consumption events were videotaped and observed (32 families, two weeknights each). Observations determined the source of food served (restaurant, take‐out, or home‐cooked), the ingredients and dishes in each meal prepared at home, and the time required to prepare it.
The findings in this paper showed that, even when prepared at home, most evening meals included processed commercial foods in at least moderate amounts. Home‐cooked meals required an average of 34 minutes' “hands‐on time” and 52 minutes' “total time” to prepare. Heavy use of commercial foods saved, on average, ten to 12 minutes, hands‐on time but did not reduce total preparation time. Commercial foods require more limited cooking skills and permit more complex dishes or meals to be prepared within a given time‐frame than do raw ingredients. They may also reduce time investment at stages other than meal preparation, such as shopping.
This paper provides a rare glimpse of food preparation and meal consumption behavior on the family level. Most reports on US food habits are based on survey and purchasing data, rather than direct observation of household activities as used here.
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