There’s seemingly no end to stories about how US consumers are coping (or not) with the nation’s coronavirus pandemic. Yet how does life in this “new normal” impact decisions about such topics as dinner and diets? That’s exactly the type of question posed by The NPD Group Inc.

Actually, the Port Washington, N.Y., consumer research firm looked at those topics in two distinct reports. In August, the firm reported on consumers’ diet decisions. Stuck at home with no place to go coupled with the stress of a worldwide pandemic have caused many US consumers to put dieting on the back burner, except for dieters on keto and other lifestyle diets, like gluten-free and clean eating, reports The NPD Group.

NPD Group Dinner Infographic
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US adult participation in total diet or nutrition programs dropped from 48.3% in April 2019 to 43.8% in April 2020, while participation in the keto and other specialty diets remained unchanged in April from a year ago, according to NPD’s Health Aspirations & Behavioral Tracking Service.

“Nutrition programs, like keto and gluten-free, offer a clear roadmap that provide consumers a sense of control,” says Darren Seifer, NPD’s food and beverage industry analyst. “On the other hand, indulgent, comfort foods provide an escape from increased stress levels and offer a simple splurge that is popular during challenging times. Both paths are coping mechanisms to managing stress and disruption.”

Looking more directly at dinnertime eating, NPD finds that while other traditional dayparts have seen disruption due to US consumers spending more time at home during the public health crisis, dinner has held steady. NPD Group research suggests that what has changed about dinner involves consumers’ attitudes as they realign daily routines.

Here are four fast facts from NPD Group, which publishes an annual Eating Patterns in America report.

  • 63% of dinner meals take less than 30 minutes to prepare. Even so, this occasion takes the most prep time of any main meal.
  • 82% of dinners are in the home. That includes home-prepared dinners, restaurant take-out and delivery items.
  • Even before the crisis, the percentage of restaurant dinner occasions eat at home continued to grow steadily during the past five years.
  • People describe almost three-fourths of their eating occasions as “atypical” now, compared to before COVID-19.