In 2020 – the year of quarantining and social distancing – many Americans have chosen to eat like a kid again, according to new research. No matter gender, age or location, feel-good, nostalgic food has made perhaps the biggest comeback of all time.
A new poll of 2,000 Americans found that two in three are reverting to childhood food favorites and eating more comfort food during the pandemic. That includes an uptick in such favorites as pizza (55 percent), hamburgers (48 percent), ice cream (46 percent), French fries (45 percent), mac and cheese (38 percent), spaghetti andmeatballs (32 percent) and others.
The study, conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with St. Simons Island, Georgia-based Farm Rich, looked at the eating habits of Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic and discovered that the average person is enjoying comfort meals at least five times a week and snacks six times a week in 2020.
Survey Quick Bites
- 69 percent say they’ll continue to enjoy the same amount of comfort food that they are now, post-pandemic.
- Americans are spending 30 more minutes each day cooking in the kitchen compared to the same time last year.
- 41 percent reach for comfort food to bring happiness.
- 85 percent have gained a few pounds staying at home: an extra six pounds on average.
- 67 percent would rather give up alcohol instead of their favorite comfort food dish.
- 90 percent say their online and social searches for food inspiration have increased during the pandemic.
- The comfort food meal everyone is most looking forward to enjoying at a restaurant post-pandemic is steak.
Seeking solace in food
In times of uncertainty and stress, it’s no secret people seek solace in food. Cooking, sharing, experimenting and reviving old family or classic recipes have brought small joys to lives and extended time at home.
Roughly 30 more minutes are spent each day cooking in the kitchen compared to the same time last year. It’s Millennials who are spending most on comfort food items at the grocery store – averaging nearly $71 a week. And when it comes to cravings, age plays a factor, with 75 percent of those between the ages of 26-56 gravitating toward comfort food more this year than last. In the 18-25 age bracket, that number was 54 percent, while 57 percent of those ages 57 plus reported an increase.
When asked what they’d rather give up for a year, 67 percent would rather give up alcohol instead of their favorite comfort food dish, and 67 percent would also give up social media over having to be without their go-to indulgent dish for a year.
And respondents are showing off their crave-worthy plates: nearly half (49 percent) of those aged 26-41 have posted a picture of a meal on social media while in lockdown, with men sharing two times as much as women. Almost everyone is turning to the web and social media for inspiration with all this extra time at home – over 90 percent say their online and social searches for food inspiration have increased during the pandemic.
More home time also means more time around the family dinner table. Two-thirds of respondents reveal they’ve been spending more time eating meals together at the kitchen or dining room table since March. And it’s been a welcome change. Seven in 10 of those polled say they’ll genuinely miss all the time they got to gather around the family table once the pandemic is over and things get back to normal.
“When things are uneasy, it’s the little joys that get us through, whether that’s FaceTiming with family and friends or stronger bonds made over homecooked meals,” said Ciera Womack, Farm Rich senior marketing manager. “And as these responses show, sometimes it’s seeking comfort in certain foods which provide us more relief.”
According to the poll, 41 percent say they reach for comfort foods because they bring them happiness, while 39 percent say these types of foods provide them with something to look forward to in these uncertain times. And 33 percent say it offers “stress relief.”
Three in four believe comforting foods made a positive impact on their lives in 2020 and during the pandemic as they spent more time at home. Most don’t plan on that changing: 69 percent say they’ll continue to enjoy the same amount of comfort food that they are now, post-pandemic.
Americans hold such a special place for feel-good foods and nostalgic childhood dishes that they would even name their kid after their favorite for a lifetime supply of it. Thirty-five percent would name their kid “Pizza” for a lifetime supply of it, 28 percent would name their kid “Mozz Stick” and 27 percent “Ice Cream.”
When asked what characteristics make meals or snacks comforting, 47 percent associate them with great taste, while 36 percent say foods that enhance their mood or make them feel better are what makes something “comfort food.” And 34 percent associate these types of foods with indulgence. No matter the day – whether stressful or happy – 38 percent find themselves reaching for indulgent food as a reward or treat.
As more restaurants open back up for business, the comfort food meal everyone is most looking forward to enjoying at these establishments is steak (top spot at 30 percent), followed closely by burgers (27 percent) and pizza (26 percent).
“Food is a common denominator in what gives us comfort during these stressful times, and this survey throws a spotlight on the changing American table in 2020 and how these types of foods are having a positive impact on our lives right now,” Womack said.
Other survey findings
The top 15 most devoured comfort foods of 2020 are:
- Pizza – 55 percent
- Hamburgers – 48 percent
- Ice cream – 46 percent
- French fries – 45 percent
- Mac & cheese – 39 percent
- Potato Chips – 39 percent
- Cookies – 38 percent
- Chocolate – 37 percent
- Cereal – 34 percent
- Fried Chicken – 34 percent
- Spaghetti & Meatballs – 32 percent
- Mashed Potatoes – 32 percent
- Bread – 31 percent
- Hotdogs – 31 percent
- Pancakes – 30 percent
Top 5 reasons Americans reach for comfort food
- Tastes good – 48 percent
- Satisfying – 43 percent
- Brings happiness – 41 percent
- Something to look forward to – 39 percent
- Sense of comfort in uncertain times – 38 percent
Top 5 components of comfort food
- Great taste – 47 percent
- Food used to enhance mood/feel better – 36 percent
- Indulgent – 34 percent
- Simple preparation – 31 percent
- Sweet – 31 percent
Top 10 comfort food snacks
- Chocolate – 49 percent
- Chips – 46 percent
- Cookies – 39 percent
- French fries – 38 percent
- Candy – 37 percent
- Mozzarella sticks – 31 percent
- Popcorn – 31 percent
- Chicken nuggets – 27 percent
- Cereal – 27 percent
- Peanut butter – 26 percent
The Farm Rich-sponsored survey was conducted in July 2020 by OnePoll, with a sample of 2,000 Americans between the ages of 18-55+.
A division of Rich Products, Farm Rich makes frozen snacks and appetizers.