Chances are you, you’ve heard some buzz about millennials’ eating habits. Maybe from this very site! The Spoon research indicates that younger millennials are the generation that cooks at home the most frequently: 95 percent prepare meals at home at least once a week, compared to 92 percent of those aged 30-44 and 93 percent of those aged 45-59. And when millennials do cook, over a quarter of them choose to make elaborate meals that take more than 30 minutes to prepare.
But what do millennial cooking habits look like in real life? And what about the eating habits of older generations; are their dining practices changed by evolving technologies like meal and grocery delivery, or new trends like plant-based meats and local, sustainable ingredients?
We decided to investigate, using our own team. Three of us — me, a millennial; Jenn Marston, an older millennial (milleXial?); and Chris Albrecht, a Gen X-er — kept track of what we ate, and where we ate it, over one weekend. The goal was to compare our food “journals” and try to tease out similarities and differences in our eating habits. Here’s what happened:
Friday: For breakfast I ate a few spoonfuls of an olive oil chocolate cake—straight from the pan—that I’d made the day before. I found the recipe online, which is where I find most of my recipes, though I still have cookbooks for fun/aesthetics/hoarding purposes.
Lunch was leftover cauliflower pasta eaten out of a microwaved tupperware at my coworking space. Sometimes I get $9 salads from the vegan shop around the corner but other times it is too taxing on me mentally to justify paying that much for nut cheese and a few sprigs of kale.
Friday night I went to a friend’s birthday party and ate a meal of guacamole, cheese cubes leftover from someone’s art gallery opening, and risotto scooped up with crackers.
Saturday: I had also consumed a healthy amount of wine on Friday, which is why, for breakfast, I made pasta carbonara with peas and ate it on my sofa. (Eggs + carbs = surefire hangover cure.) I usually get most of my fridge fixings from my Imperfect Produce membership, which comes biweekly.
I know I should be making coffee at home, but there are so many amazing coffee shops close to my house it’s hard to justify. So I went to one of those coffee shops (no robot baristas, sadly).
Before dinner I went to a brewery, then headed to a dinner party. This meal was unusually sophisticated: fresh crab flown over from Alaska (where two of my friends fish in the summers), lemony pasta, and a big board of bread from a local bakery and butter. Wine, of course.
Sunday: I indulged in the hallowed millennial tradition which is Brunch, at a hip spot which is not Southern but serves “Southern-style” food (shrimp, grits, etc.), has very long lines, and doesn’t give coffee refills. Still very good.
That afternoon I prepped my lunch for the week which involved roasting a large salmon filet I had forgotten about in my freezer alongside some limp broccoli that was past its prime.
Dinner was another dinner party (I am usually not this popular), with more crab, salad, and chicken thighs. Dessert was a smorgasbord of items from Trader Joe’s.
Jenn, Older Millennial:
Latte for breakfast, as usual. I’ve made them at home, on the stovetop, for years.
Lunch on weekdays is kind of ridiculous, since it’s just me, working from home, alone. It usually consists of sporadic handfuls of whatever’s in the fridge. Today it’s leftover rice, cheese cube, spinach right out of the box. Handful of tortilla chips later on. More lattes.
Headed to a friend’s place for dinner, where there was enough Mediterranean food to feed the block. Nothing too outside the ordinary fare you’d expect. I took a little of everything, including beets. I’ve been trying to like beets for year. As of this writing, my attempts have been unsuccessful.
I’m terrible at eating breakfast and almost never do, unless a glass of Filmjölk counts.
Went to Whole Foods in the morning looking for taro root, because making Poi is on the list of things to do soon. No taro root. I did, however, get some Beyond Burgers, which we cooked for lunch, along with salad, pineapple, and plantains.
Ate dinner w/ friends, at the only “Mexican” restaurant I’ve found in NYC that’s remotely comparable to the west coast. Tore into a plate of enchiladas like nobody’s business.
Filmjolk. Coffee. Leftover plantains.
Did my busy (lazy?) person’s lunch, which is to just pick at a bunch of stuff in the fridge, including this thing my family constantly makes fun of me for, which is literally just chicken that’s been boiled then put in the fridge. More plantains.
No meat for dinner b/c I try to eat it only a few times per week, and never twice in a day. Had salad and yams instead. Felt pretty good about overall food this weekend, then proceeded to ruin that feeling with four pieces of shortbread. I regret nothing.
Chris, Generation X:
Friday nights are always pizza + movie night at the Albrecht house. Always. While we usually have it delivered (my 7 year old likes to tip the drivers), this past Friday we opted to make our own. We used store fresh dough and sauce, and baked up a delicious lamb sausage and spinach pizza (plain cheese for the kiddo).
Had a swim lesson at 8 a.m. My son eats the same breakfast every day: a toasted “round” (flatbread with raisins), Fage yogurt with some kind of jelly mixed in, a hard boiled egg (no yolk), and some sliced mango. My wife’s not a big breakfast eater, preferring to stick with coffee. I blended up a smoothie with frozen berries, soy milk, and protein powder.
Saturday lunch was reheated pizza from the night before all around.
Saturday dinner was… complicated. I spent the day blowing new insulation into our attic, so I was more tired than hungry. I think all I had was a chocolate shake from Sonic. More leftover pizza for the rest of the family.
Sunday morning is usually for waffles, but we were out of the ingredients. The kiddo had his normal breakfast. I had some Ellenos yogurt and a piece of bread with bulk peanut butter and honey.
Sunday lunch for me was prepared Chicken Tikka Masala from the local grocer while my wife brought home a salad bar salad for her. The kiddo was on a playdate and we were told he ate some mac-n-cheese and apple slices there.
Sunday dinner was at the table, the wife made delicious homemade beef burgers from scratch with a side salad.
Keeping in mind that this was a very limited time window with a very small sample size, the general millennial eating trends — convenience, lots of dining out, involved home cooking — still proved mostly true. I spent a lot of time cooking elaborate recipes, ordered groceries through a delivery service for optimized convenience, ate out more than anyone else, and prioritized eating (and drinking) local, “artisanal” food and beverages. For me, eating is not a means to an end — rather it’s an experience, one that is very social.
Though Jenn is also a millennial, she’s a slightly older millennial. The fact that there were distinct differences between her weekend eating and mine — she ate out less often and prepared simpler meals — suggests that even within generations, there can be significant differences. That isn’t surprising; millennials span an age range of 15 years, and a lot of them are now at the age where they’re starting to get married, have kids, and stop blowing all their money on craft beer and tasting menus.
However, she did highlight a focus on eating plant-based foods (Beyond Burger!), which is distinctly millennial. And anyone who goes out seeking taro root to make Hawaiian poi at home is at least a semi-adventurous eater who wants to experiment in the kitchen.
Chris also cooked pizza, a semi-involved meal, though he admitted that he usually gets it delivered (maybe soon it will made by a robot?). Compared to Jenn and I, he also ate at home more, or brought food home.
All in all, nothing from our food journal bucked the trends: the younger generations ate out more, spent more time preparing elaborate meals, and prioritized local and sustainable food. Now if I could just start getting more food delivery and using meal kits on the reg, I would be the ultimate millennial.