Americans spend more than half their food money on meals that require no cooking

CC BY 2.0 Eddie Welker -- Groceries

Latest numbers reveal some disturbing culinary habits and preferences.

If the Bureau of Labor Statistics has it right, then Americans don’t like cooking very much. The latest numbers reveal an annual average food budget of just over $7,000 (approx. $150/week). More than half of this is spent on food products and services that require no cooking. Here’s a little breakdown:

An impressive $3,008 per year is spent on dining out, which includes “fast food, take-out, delivery, concession stands, buffet and cafeteria, at full-service restaurants, and at vending machines and mobile vendors.”

$726 goes toward ‘miscellaneous foods’, which Business Insider defines in more detail:

“This category appears to be comprised mostly of premade meals and snacks (think Hot Pockets and Lean Cuisines, as well as Doritos and almonds), though it also includes: ‘condiments and seasonings, such as olives, pickles, relishes, sauces and gravies, baking needs and other specified condiments; and other canned and packaged prepared foods, such as salads, desserts, baby foods, and vitamin supplements’.”

Finally, a hefty $374 is spent on non-alcoholic beverages, which likely means soda, juice, and milk, none of which are particularly good for human health.

Most shocking, for me, was how little is spent on whole fresh foods. A mere $247 a year on fresh vegetables and $284 on fresh fruits? That’s about as much as I spend per month on those same items. More than twice as much is spent on sugar ($155) than eggs ($63), and bakery products ($344) are another clear yet questionable favorite. A whopping $832 goes toward meat and fish, although the Bureau divides this number into different categories based on the type of animal protein, which is why it’s not in the top three.

The numbers reveal a cultural preference for quick prepared meals, food on the go, and meats, which is unfortunate. As we’ve been saying on TreeHugger for years now, cooking from scratch can be a powerful force for change in one’s life. It addresses so many issues at the same time, from saving money to improving personal health to supporting local farmers to providing an important space for family engagement.

A shift away from spending on sugary drinks, baked goods, meats, and takeout foods could free up dollars for more fresh ingredients, many of which are quick and easy to prepare, once you get a few simple recipes under your belt.

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