Prepared Foods July 25, 2005 enewsletter

A new national survey reveals 43% of Americans view lunch as the least important meal to overall health, and it is the least favorite eating experience among the daily mealtimes. In fact, the mid-day ritual is perceived with such little importance that the majority of Americans (58%) will skip it altogether if too busy.

The nationwide survey commissioned by Smoothie King, which interviewed adults ages 18 to 54 about their lunchtime habits, suggests a hectic, on-the-go lifestyle contributes to both skipped meals and subsequent unhealthful food choices. Half of all individuals surveyed view lunch as an opportunity to merely grab a quick bite or to keep working. The vast majority of consumers today (82%) regularly spend 30 minutes or less on lunch; 43% spend as little as 15 minutes or less.

According to Sports and Lifestyle Nutritionist Molly Kimball, LDN, RD, the survey findings point to several challenges that Americans believe keep them from making healthy lunchtime choices, such as lack of time, need for convenience, and an on-the-go lifestyle. Some 35% of poll respondents indicated that the need to eat lunch while doing something else, like driving or working, is a challenge to eating a healthy meal.

"Today, many time-crunched Americans are multi-tasking lunch, sometimes even dining in their cars. When people are in a hurry, they're more likely to grab a high-calorie, fast-food combo meal or just skip lunch entirely," said Kimball. "Short-term effects like mood swings, headaches, mental and physical fatigue, and loss of concentration should be enough to convince anyone from skipping meals. There are also serious long-term effects that can stem from lack of proper nutrition, including obesity, high blood pressure, and heart disease."

Americans suffer the following consequences of skipping a meal, according to the Smoothie King Lunchtime Survey:

* Nearly half are more likely to indulge in unhealthy foods as between meal snacks;
* One third feel tired or moody;
* About a third confess to overeating at the next meal if the previous one was skipped; and
* One out of five feels nauseous or has problems concentrating or thinking.

More survey respondents indicated that they eat lunch in a car (15%) than at a restaurant (14%). For those that dine out for lunch, half expect to get a food order in less than 10 minutes, and nearly three out of every 10 Americans choose restaurants with quick service over healthy fare. Among the poll findings, four out of every 10 Americans eat lunch alone each day, and a third eat lunch at work.