A new study from Dalhousie University suggests the time-honoured tradition of three square meals a day is increasingly endangered, with many people – most notably women, single people and lower-income Canadians – opting to skip breakfast and lunch.
The 33-page study, Disintegration of food habits: A look at the socioeconomics of food, the blurring lines between traditional meals and out-of-household food consumption, found women are three times more likely than men to skip breakfast, as are people earning less than $40,000 annually and British Columbia residents. Single people, meanwhile, are twice as likely to skip breakfast compared with those who are married or divorced.
“As a society we’re redefining what a meal is,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Sylvain Charlebois, a professor of food distribution and policy at Dalhousie’s Faculty of Management. “Work/life balance is becoming a precious asset, with more and more people feeling pressured to eat anywhere, alone, and outside the house.”
The pattern is repeated at lunch, with women and single people more likely to skip. Among those who do eat lunch, an increasing number are choosing to eat at their desk (including nearly 50% of people in the Atlantic provinces) with people in Ontario, the Prairies and Atlantic provinces tending to eat lunch alone.
The study also underscores changing dinner habits, with 41.4% of respondents indicating they buy ready-to-eat food or eat out at a restaurant at least once or twice a week, and 6.2% saying they never cook.
More than a quarter of Canadians (26%) indicate their work/life balance prevents them from preparing or eating meals at home.
Charlebois says the grocery industry is evolving to meet new consumer habits with an increased emphasis on snack items and ready-to-eat foods. “I suspect you’ll see grocers devote more space to these products,” he says. “The middle of the store is being repurposed.”
He likens the current grocery industry to the music industry of the early 2000s, ripe for a radical reinvention similar to how Apple’s iTunes changed how consumers purchased and listened to music.
“What’s happening with grocery is a bit similar: You have non-traditional companies like Amazon really imposing new rules of engagement with their customer base. They’re redefining grocery from the outside.”
The study is based on a survey of 1,019 Canadians 18+ conducted between March and April. The results are considered accurate within plus or minus 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.