As families fall back into routines with the start of the school year, most parents are concerned about saving money and time, and providing nutritious foods for their families that fit into their household budgets, according to the new SUPERVALU Back-to-Routine Survey, which looks at the mealtime habits and concerns of American families with school-age children.
The Back-to-Routine Survey, which was conducted for the company by Harris Interactive, also shows that children play a large role in what goes into their meals — whether it’s influencing the meal decision all together or personally being responsible for their own breakfast.
SUPERVALU, whose portfolio of grocery stores includes Acme, Albertsons, Cub Foods, Farm Fresh, Hornbacher’s, Jewel-Osco, Shaw’s/Star Market, Shop ‘n Save, and Shoppers Food & Pharmacy, created the survey to gauge how families with school-age children approach various meal occasions and what their needs are during the busy school year.
According to the inaugural Back-to-Routine Survey, 68 percent of parents list “saving money” as their top food-related concern entering the new school year. Other top concerns among parents nationwide include “finding healthy foods on a budget” (52 percent), “making mealtime preparation easier” (48 percent), “being better prepared for meals” (44 percent) and “figuring out how to pack healthy lunches” (30 percent).
“It’s clear from the survey that today’s parents want nutritious, family-friendly foods that fit their budgets and busy lifestyles,” said Craig Stacey, SUPERVALU’s director of health and wellness marketing. “As families gear up for the school year, we are focused on providing parents with simple, affordable food solutions and tasty, nutritious meal ideas that help them ease back into their school-year routines.”
The new meal planners: kids
The survey found that 74 percent of children have some or a lot of influence on the meals their parents make, and 54 percent of kids fend for themselves in the kitchen for breakfast.
Stuck in the same-old-meal doldrums
Results also show that the foods kids eat throughout the day end up falling into the same-old-meal doldrums, with cereal preferred for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch and fruit after school.
Not surprisingly, when asked to describe the type of meal provider they are, 43 percent of parents chose “a spinning wheel” — someone who doesn’t mind cooking but always seems to make the same four or five things.
For breakfast, cereal outranks all other items served to school-age children during the school week, perhaps because the majority of kids are on their own for breakfast, as noted above.
At lunchtime, roughly one-fourth of children nationwide bring a bag lunch to school all five days of the week. The top reasons parents say they pack lunches are to save money (50 percent), to have peace of mind knowing what their children are eating (41 percent) and to provide a nutritious meal for their kids because they don’t believe that schools provide them (35 percent).
Among those who carry bag lunches, 93 percent contain sandwiches. Other top lunch box choices, in rank order, include fruit or fruit juices, salty snacks such as potato chips and crackers, cookies or dessert items, vegetables and dairy products such as milk, yogurt or cheese.
After school, fruits or fruit juices are the most frequently served snack, indicating parents’ preference for providing healthy snacks for their kids.
Fifty-two percent of families dine together every night of the school week. Only 4 percent never have a chance to sit down together because everyone in the family is on a different schedule.
When asked if the amount of money spent on food this year has changed compared with the prior year, 62 percent of parents reported that they are spending about the same. Nearly one-third of parents say they are spending more than last year.
Families’ food routines vary by market
To help meet its customers’ needs, the SUPERVALU Back-to-Routine Survey also took a closer look at the mealtime routines of people living in markets where its family of stores are located, including the Baltimore and Washington, D.C., area; Boise, Idaho; Boston; Chicago; Las Vegas; Minneapolis/St. Paul; Orange County/Los Angeles; Philadelphia; Norfolk, Va.; St. Louis; and San Diego.
Some of the key findings from these markets include:
Baltimore and Washington, D.C.: Compared with the general population, this area had a significantly higher percentage of parents who personally pack bag lunches for their children all five days of the school week. Parents also had significantly higher frequencies of packing fruit or fruit juices in their kids’ lunch bags. Of all the individual markets surveyed, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., had the lowest percentage of parents (43 percent) who said that their children make or serve their own breakfast before school, compared with 54 percent across country.
Boise: This city is by far one of the healthier markets in the country with significantly higher percentages of parents serving their school-age kids eggs and meat for breakfast and including vegetables in their children’s bag lunches. In keeping with the area’s strong agricultural roots, Boise parents also offer more fruits, vegetables and dairy products to their kids as after-school snacks. Approximately 50 percent of Boise-area parents, the highest in the survey, consider themselves to be “a kitchen god or goddess” — someone who loves to cook and is always trying to find new and exciting recipes.
Boston: Children in this market are more likely to purchase their lunch at school than to bring a bag lunch, compared with the national average. For after-school snacks, Boston parents serve a higher percentage of dairy products, cookies or other desserts, and cereal to their children, than do parents in other markets across the country. When it comes to meal preparation, Boston has the highest percentage of parents who describe themselves as “kitchen nightmares” — someone who tries to prepare meals but they never seem to come out quite right.
Chicago: Of all the individual markets surveyed, the Windy City had one of the highest percentages of parents who said they do not make or serve their children breakfast before school; and as expected, 69 percent of kids in Chicago make breakfast for themselves, compared with 54 percent nationwide. The city also is home to the significantly highest percentage of self-proclaimed “microwave kings or queens,” compared to the national population and the other individual markets surveyed.
Las Vegas: Children in this market are significantly more likely to have a “meaty” breakfast before school that includes sausage, bacon or ham, compared with other kids across the United States. Parents also are more likely than parents in the general population to pack bag lunches for their children all five days of the school week (34 percent versus 23 percent). For after-school snacks, Las Vegas parents are more likely to pick up treats from a quick-service restaurant or a convenience or grocery store. More than 80 percent of parents in Las Vegas said that their kids have a lot or some influence on the meals they make — the highest rate in the country.
Los Angeles area: Parents in L.A. are more likely than parents across the country to pack bag lunches for their children every school day (30 percent versus 23 percent). Compared with the general population, Los Angeles-area parents were least likely to describe themselves as “a kitchen god or goddess” — someone who loves to cook and is always trying to find new and exciting recipes. Nearly 30 percent of L.A.-area parents (the highest percentage in the survey) said that their children’s preferences for meals are secondary to making sure they eat right.
Minneapolis/St. Paul: Parents here are significantly more likely to be concerned about how to make mealtime preparation easier (62 percent versus 48 percent nationwide) and how to be better prepared for meals (58 percent versus 44 percent) than are parents in general across the nation. The Twin Cities had the highest percentage of children responsible for making or serving their own breakfast. Only 12 percent of Twin Cities parents say they personally pack a bag lunch for their school-age children all five days of the school week, significantly lower than the 23 percent of parents who do so nationwide. Children are significantly more likely to find vegetables, as well as dairy and bread products in their lunch bags, and to get dairy products for their after-school snacks.
Norfolk: Norfolk had a higher percentage of school-age children (47 percent) who eat breakfast meats, such as sausage, bacon or ham, compared with the national population (35 percent). Fruit or fruit juices also are a popular item among school-age children in the Norfolk area where 71 percent of parents report they serve it for breakfast during the school week, compared with 59 percent nationwide. Compared with the rest of the nation, however, Norfolk-area parents are more likely to offer their children salty snacks such as potato chips and crackers (66 percent versus 53 percent) and soda or sports drinks (30 percent versus 21 percent) after school.
Philadelphia: Parents in Philadelphia are significantly more likely to serve their school-age children breakfast five times a week than were parents in the general population (61 percent versus 50 percent). Philadelphia-area parents serve significantly more pancakes, waffles or French toast to their kids for breakfast than parents on average across the nation (70 percent versus 62 percent). Compared with the general population, parents in Philly also are more likely to pack bag lunches because it gives them peace of mind knowing what their kids are eating (56 percent versus 41 percent) and because they want to provide a nutritious meal for their children and don’t believe that schools provide them (50 percent versus 35 percent).
San Diego: Compared with their counterparts across the country, parents in San Diego are significantly more likely to pack their children’s lunch bags all five days of the school week. They also include more bread products in those lunches than the general population (42 percent versus 27 percent). For after-school snacks, San Diego parents are more likely to pick up treats from a quick-service restaurant or a convenience or grocery store. Of all the individual markets surveyed, San Diego had the lowest percentage of parents (43 percent) who said that they personally serve their children breakfast before school all five days of the week.
St. Louis: Children in St. Louis were significantly more likely than the national population to be served donuts or pastry items for breakfast before school (40 percent versus 26 percent). Only 14 percent of parents in St. Louis personally pack a bag lunch for their school-age children all five days during the school week, significantly lower than the 23 percent of parents who say they do so nationwide. Children’s lunch bags are significantly more likely than the national population to include salty snacks such as potato chips or crackers (88 percent versus 69 percent). Fifty-seven percent of St. Louis-area parents (the highest percentage in the nation) say they sit down to dinner with their children every night of the school week. Parents in St. Louis use product packaging as a source for meal inspiration at a significantly higher percentage than parents nationally and in the other markets surveyed.
Additional results from the local market surveys are available upon request.
Some simple meal planning tips for getting back to routine
The SUPERVALU “Back-to-Routine Survey” found that friends, family and cookbooks are the most frequently sought-after sources for meal ideas and menu advice, followed in rank order by the Internet (48 percent), magazines and newspapers (42 percent) and television cooking shows (42 percent). Yet there are additional resources available, and they’re as close as the neighborhood grocery store.