Parade magazine's annual “What America Eats” survey finds Americans want well-balanced meals but ultimately undermine such efforts by indulging or seeking a convenient, if unhealthful, alternative. In fact, 84% try to eat well-balanced meals but fail, according to the research.

For 42% of consumers, diet is a balancing act, where a healthy mix of foods is countermined by the “reward” of snacks and other indulgences. Some 30% describe their eating choices as “the good, the bad and the ugly,” mirroring the frantic pace of their lives. Roughly 4% regard themselves as “health nuts,” avoiding preservatives and fast food. The remainder, according to Parade, pays no attention to nutritional facts and figures.

That is, when they eat at all. Half of consumers eat fewer than three meals a day: of these, seven in 10 eschew breakfast, with nearly four in 10 (37%) bypassing lunch. At the same time, for 51% of respondents, the notion of “homemade” has come to describe a meal combining fresh fare (such as steak or chops) and convenience foods (such as bagged salads and frozen vegetables).

In addition, the increasingly adventurous American palate is looking for bolder flavors. The most popular ethnic cuisines include Chinese (cited by 74%), Italian (73%) and Mexican (73%), but more than one in five “wants to try Caribbean, Greek, Latino, French, Thai, Indian and Middle Eastern” cuisines.