Changes in eating habits over the years

by Expat Life
Big family dinner


Are our grandparents’ food choices and lifestyle better than ours now?

Over the last century, our eating habits have changed dramatically, with our diets becoming almost unrecognisable to those of our grandparents and great-grandparents. The way we shop, cook and dine has been altered by our attitudes towards food. Here we look at the changing habits and compare our grandparents’ food choices with our own.


A Strict Weekly Routine

Compare your grandparents’ attitude towards meal times with your own: how do they differ? Chances are your grandparents had a much stricter routine than you do now. Fifty to eighty years ago it was typical for a family to have their meals at the same time every day (breakfast at 7 am, lunch at 12 pm and dinner at 6 pm) so your body was accustomed to knowing when to expect food. This sort of discipline helped to keep waistlines slim and food waste to a minimum. In the modern day, however, a lot of people have lost this disciplined approach to meals and no longer stick to the 3-square-meal-a-day rule. Skipping breakfast, snacking and several cups of coffee a day are notions that our grandparents would never have considered.

Snack in between

The weekly routine didn’t end there either – it’s likely that your grandparents also had a strict rota when it came to what they ate on which day of the week. It was often the case that the family ate a roast dinner on Sunday, followed by leftover cold meat on a Monday, then any further leftovers made into a pie or other dish for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Most families also followed the routine of having fish on a Friday. The weekly food rota was very much always the same, using up all leftovers and serving them with fresh vegetables every night. Whilst people often didn’t have a huge variety of choice, it was true that people always ate freshly prepared meals and vegetables on a regular basis.

Today, however, we are surrounded by choice. Not only do we get to choose when we eat our food, but we are also provided with a vast selection of food choices. Takeaways, fast-food and ready meals have changed the way that meals are prepared and eaten. Why bother spending hours cooking up a shepherd’s pie with yesterday’s leftover beef and preparing vegetables when you can head to the supermarket and buy everything ready-made? Whilst convenience is a huge selling point, think about how this shift has changed our eating habits on a global scale.


The Change in Eating Habits

As has been seen, modern day cooking allows far less time than days gone by. Long gone are the hours spent slaving over the stove. Instead, convenience food has become much more popular, with people reaching for convenience foods and microwave meals several times a week. Contrast this with the 1930s when convenience food simply meant food in tins – a convenience because it allowed people to eat fruit and veg out of season and provided them with easy-to-prepare meat and fish. Convenience is a real selling point for people these days: many people in the modern world don’t make time for food and believe that they’re always too busy. Yet cooking fresh food doesn’t have to take hours – compare making a quick fresh pasta dish with standing in a queue at a fast-food restaurant.

Fast food

Similarly, in today’s world, we spend a lot more of our days dining out at restaurants than we did in the past. For your grandparents, eating out was likely to be a rare treat saved for special occasions. Nowadays, many families eat out on a weekly basis. Additionally, you’re likely to consume more calories when you dine out as to when you eat at home. This increasing trend in eating out is increasing our waistlines – perhaps the older generation had it right after all – staying in may need to become the new going out!

To Snack or Not to Snack

The strict mealtime routine of our grandparents allowed 3-square-meals-a-day and no more. Snacking was almost unheard of and there were limited pre-packaged goods available to grab and go throughout the day. The modern world is much different. Restaurants, supermarkets and other places selling food are open 24/7, meaning that food is available whenever we want it. The fast-paced lives that people lead today mean that we pick up packets of crisps, biscuits and other snacks without hesitation. With food available whenever and wherever, our waistlines just cannot keep up with the number of calories consumed. Maybe it’s time to take a leaf out of our grandparents’ book and return to the days of the strict routine?


An Increase or Decrease in Cooking Skills?

In our grandparents’ day, learning how to cook was the only way to be sure of a good meal on the table, and it was usually done by the woman of the house. These days, cooking has become almost a hobby rather than a necessity, with many people not knowing a wooden spoon from a spatula. Many people just haven’t acquired the culinary skills that their parents had and, alongside the rise in convenience foods, cooking fresh every day has become a dying art. When our grandparents were cooking meals they lived a much more self-sufficient life, growing a lot of their own vegetables and shopping daily for groceries due to the lack of refrigeration. It was a generation of ‘making do’ and being creative with what few ingredients were available.

cooking skills

From Forward Rolls to Sausage Rolls

People in the modern day do far less exercise (on average) than people in our grandparents’ day and this has a huge impact on our general health and our waistlines. Modern life is all about the sedentary lifestyle – many of us drive to work, sit at a desk all day, drive home and then sit in front of the TV until we go to bed. We then still have our 3-meals-a-day as well as all the snacks and hot drinks in between. Many of us consume more energy that we use, which causes us to become lethargic, unhealthy and overweight.

Back in your grandparents’ day, it was commonplace to walk or cycle everywhere, and evenings would rarely be spent sat in front of the TV. They also didn’t snack throughout the day, making the meals they ate equate to the amount of energy they were using. However, does that necessarily mean that their diets were any healthier? If you move more, you can eat more. Perhaps our grandparents could get away with eating that food, only because they were much more active?

gentle exercise

Nutrition, Ill-Health and Allergies

Food allergies and intolerances are more common now than they ever have been. This is often attributed to processed, unnatural and chemical-filled foods – none of which were present back in our grandparents’ days. Can these alterations to our food make our immune systems weaker? There’s also the suggestion that our ‘cleaner’ lifestyle means we are less exposed to germs, that we don’t do as much activity and that we eat less fruit and vegetables, all of which may weaken our immune systems and reduce our toleration to foods.

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