Nutrition-wise blog

What food trends define the millennial generation?

By Jennifer K. Nelson, R.D., L.D. and Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. December 7, 2011

When is the last time that you sat down to eat three square meals a day — or two or even one? If you are a "millennial" (born somewhere between 1980 and 2000) chances are you haven't had much experience with this ritual.

According to trend watchers, 35 percent of meals eaten by millennials are really snacks. Although the Pew Research Center describes this generation as "confident, connected and open to change," others have described them as driven by "cravings, cost and convenience."

The millennials now outnumber the baby boomers, and food marketers have taken notice. To entice this population they are:

  • Promoting cereal as snack food, not just for breakfast
  • Deconstructing sandwiches into faster food — nugget-sized pieces that can be popped into the mouth while on the run
  • Combining foods traditionally served at breakfast, lunch and dinner, which has led to terms such as "linner," "brinner" and "slunch"
  • Being open 24 hours a day, 7 day a week
  • Making food more portable — have you ever "dashboard dined?"

As early as 2002, food businesses were targeting this generation with enticing food ads, product placements in TV shows, Hollywood-style commercials and novel ways to create brand loyalty.

It seems that this generation has been captured — and there are downstream health effects. In addition to being large in numbers, many millennials are large in size. One-third of those between the ages of 16 to 27 are overweight or obese. The eventual impact of obesity on health, employment, productivity, insurance costs and health care are greatly concerning.

Who's to blame? Food marketers? The boomers who raised the millennials? The millennials themselves? The pace of modern life? Lack of education about nutrition and health? I'm sure some blame falls in each of these areas — and others as well.

It is going to be a challenge to get millenials to eat healthier. The solutions for the "I-eat-what-I-want-when-I-want" generation will need to capitalize on this generation's traits (confident, connected, open to change) as well as what's driving them (cravings, cost, convenience). And the solutions will certainly need to be creative.

Thoughts?

- Jennifer

Dec. 07, 2011