How Often Do You Cook?

I am only half-way through Mark Bittman’s Cooking Solves Everything and my brain is already whizzing. I’m going around quoting statistics and asking everyone I know questions about their food habits. I’ve exhausted my in-your-face friends and now I’m going to tackle you, my online friends.

According to Mr. Bittman, Americans don’t bother to cook anymore. He said, “Seven percent of Americans say they never cook; 30 percent say they cook three or four times a week.” He said most Americans “rely on anything but cooking to put breakfast, lunch, or dinner on the table.”

I’m having a hard time believing those statistics. I’m not saying Mr. Bittman is wrong. He is a reliable source, a member of the New York Times staff. (I’ve read his column for many years, here.) It’s just that most people I know cook at home. Is my impression wrong? It could be that I only know home cooks, but still – one-third of Americans only cook three or four times a week???

I’ve decided to conduct my own informal survey. I’m asking all of you to participate. Here’s what I want to know:

How often do you cook at home?

It only requires a little simple math. I’m asking you to concerned on the three main meals a day – breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don’t count snacks, unless a snack is your meal, such as popcorn (see last week’s post). For one week, that’s 21 meals. Think back to a recent, typical week. Deduct from 21 meals all the times you didn’t cook.


21 total meals possible

 -1  dinner out on Saturday night

 -1  ordered pizza

 -1  brought home take-out food

 -5  bought lunch while at work

 13  total meals cooked at home

The survey is located in the right side bar. (See the black and white place setting.)  I’ll let you know the results and more about Mark Bittman’s latest book on Saturday, January 28th. The survey will end January 27th.

One clarification: If you eat a home-cooked meal at a friend’s or family member’s home, that counts as a home-cooked meal.

This post is linked to Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature at Beth Fish Reads. Click the button below and it will take you there.

Photo credit: Food Clip Art

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32 Responses to How Often Do You Cook?

  1. Kay says:

    Margot, this is very interesting. I’ve voted in your poll, based on my last week (which was 18 meals cooked at home). However, if you went back to when I was working at the library and our kitchen at the old house was not being renovated, my total would probably be half that or even less. I used to eat at home for breakfast, but ate lunch out mostly and we ate dinner out a lot. Let’s see – my weekly total then would likely have been 8 or 9 at home.

  2. I don’t cook very often anymore. I hate the cleanup too much!

  3. Barbara says:

    When I worked, we ate out a lot. Since I retired though, we eat at home almost all the time. The exception is when we are running errands in the city at mealtime or are on our way to a basketball game. At home we don’t always cook, i.e. if we’ve had a big lunch out. Then we have cheese, crackers, and fruit.

  4. Beth F says:

    I cook about 350 nights a year — okay, maybe 340. So I always find these stats astounding! I’ll take the survey from last week, which puts us at 20 meals home-cooked. I was on a deadline last week and Mr. BFR brought home take-out turkey club sandwiches, but I supplemented them with a salad and vegetable (which I made at home). Still, I’ll count that meal as not cooking. My husband always packs a lunch, which is leftovers from dinner.

    Most weeks we eat 21 meals from home.

  5. Uniflame says:

    I cook about 19-20 meals at home each week. I guess bento making helps and the fact that take out is so expensive in the Netherlands that we only opt for that every other week or so. Sometimes we get our lunch in a bakery as well.

    It is a coincidence that I happened to have bought Bittman’s Vegetarian cookbook for the iPhone this week. So I am quite curious.

  6. Interesting. I love to cook but I don’t as often as I would like. And it all depends on the week, we’ll order take-out a lot. Son on average, I cook probably around 12 meals a week, give or take.

  7. In a typical week, I eat one lunch out (we do that for our dates instead of supper since it’s cheaper and we’re usually more energetic and interested mid-day rather than evening) and do one take out lunch from Whole Foods during my shopping trip there, which is once a week or so in the winter, only once or twice a month in the summer.

    For a few years after college, eating out was the default rather than cooking. I think I was spoiled by the college expectation of always getting food in the campus eateries. And I happened to graduate about the time that the US was making a big shift away from home cooking. It took a long time for it to feel more normal to cook.

    I think one thing that Weekend Cooking does for us is normalize that, make us feel like the people in our circle cook regularly, which helps us do it and that’s better for our health and our planet.

  8. I have been trying to cook much more, since it’s my 2012 resolution. I don’t think that I can come close to even 10 dinners cooked from scratch in a week yet, but I’d like to get that number up considerably!

  9. Molly says:

    Hmmm…I am a bit stumped by this survey. I think it is the “cooked” word that is throwing me off 🙂

    I typically eat every breakfast at home – but breakfast for me is a bowl of cereal, which hardly falls into the “cooked” category.

    I must confess that far more of our annual budget is spent on eating out than I care to admit. I actually enjoy cooking – and I have learned that dicing vegetables is a great stress reliever! But cleaning up the pots and pans….not so much

  10. Kate says:

    Interesting question! I answered based on my average week: breakfasts always at home, lunches I’ll generally eat out (i.e. grab a sandwich at the cantina) maybe 4 days out of 5 (depending greatly on whether or not I have lunchy foods at home to pack to the office), and dinners usually home with maybe eating out one night a week (if that) as a treat – so 16 minimum at home put probably more like 17-20 depending on a lot of circumstances.

    Our reasons for eating at home are many-fold, among them saving some money (we are a one-income household whilst I’m back in graduate school) and having a better idea of what we put in our bodies. We have access to a really good farmer’s market, which makes us interested in experimenting. We also both genuinely like cooking, though my partner is better at weekday evening cooking, i.e. he can get dinner on the table quickly and well, while I’m better at ‘experimental’ nights, i.e. mussels Wednesdays (I love our fishmonger!) and trying out new dishes on the weekend. Also, in a very practical sense, we live in an area where our eating out options are either Michelin-starred-type places or pub food with little in between. We like to save up our eating out either for those weeks when we’re both bushed or as a nice treat.

    This will be interesting to see the results!

  11. I live in NYC now, and many people here do not cook because it is too easy to get take-out or go to a restaurant; the options are endless. When I lived in Central New York, we had a group of four couples who would get together and the funny thing was I was the only woman who cooked regularly. I would chat with the men in our group who did most of the cooking. We’d swap recipes, tips, etc. I do cook dinner most nights for my husband and I, and breakfast on the weekends.

  12. I definitely think this is an interesting study. I mean, I cook/eat almost every single meal of every single day at home (or friend or family home). However, I find that this isn’t the norm. It’s the “norm” in my circle of friends, because it’s a circle of foodies/food-lovers. But like I said, when I’ve taken the time to step back and talk/ask others about this, I find that they marvel at my home cooking abilities. Wondering at the time, the talent, the know-how. I think it is a matter of priorities and pocket books these days. I don’t know for sure, though…

  13. TheBookGirl says:

    Great survey 🙂
    I estimated about 18 meals generally. Some weeks, it’s more, some less. One meal that I almost always cook at home is lunch — whether I cook and eat at home, or cook and take it with me.
    When my daughter was still at home, we ate out very rarely. Now that it’s just the two of us, we do eat out at least once or twice a week.

  14. candice says:

    Great survey & great blog post! I think i might need some clarification, does cereal or peanut butter toast count as a “cooked meal”? Also, what about quick meals like packaged ramen or mac&cheese? I always think we eat out too much- but clearly a lot less than the US stats… If cereal/toast count and the occasional ramen/mac&cheese, then I score somewhere in the 19-20 times a week.
    i loved reading everyone’s entries, can’t wait for the results!

  15. Margot says:

    CLARIFICATION TO CANDICE: I’m defining a home-cooked meal as one prepared at home using ingredients purchased or grown for this purpose. Processed foods like mac and cheese, peanut butter, bread, cereal, etc. count as meals prepared at home. Now if you bought a peanut butter sandwich at the deli, that doesn’t count since someone other than a family member prepared it.

    Heat is not required. I probably should have used the term “home-made” meals. For instance, a salad prepared at home qualifies as a home-cooked meal in my mind, even though there was no cooking involved.

    I agree with you on the comments. Readers have been very thoughtful and insightful. Good information. Thanks.

  16. Aarti says:

    Hmm, I think I cook a good amount. Not as much at school, though, as my mom sends me home with TONS of food and then I don’t really have a chance to cook my own food. But I love trying new things- for instance, I’ve just started making bread with yeast and it’s changed my world- SO YUMMY!

  17. Annie says:

    As I’m not an American people, I don’t want to answer in the side-bar ! But I find the question very intersting. Last week I cooked 18 meals at home. I take the three others in restaurants : Two salads after skying and a real meal in Oulx-Italy : polanta ans saussages very yummy ! Have a good week with numerous home cookes meals, Margot !
    I have to say that I like a lot cooking !

  18. It depends on my work week, but probably averages about 15. But it can be as low 8 if I have a particularly busy week.

  19. Fay says:

    Not living in a city, my count is higher than it would be otherwise. Living in New York or Los Angeles, I would eat out a lot. So much delicious, nutritious, and not very expensive food in the big cities.

  20. Staci says:

    I think I know a lot of people that don’t cook very often at all!!!

  21. Staci says:

    Oops…I thought we were going to click on a link for your survey. So hear are my results:
    We don’t eat breakfast at home. I eat oatmeal every morning..I don’t think that counts.

    So figuring it all out: I make lunch 5x’s/week and dinner 4x’s. Then lunch/dinner on weekends. Very seldom do I make breakfast…so that would be 13!

  22. Vicki says:

    When my kids were younger I cooked 100% of our meals. Now, no more than I have too.
    Here’s Mine

  23. We usually eat 2 meals a day at home, but most are quick fixes except on Sundays.

  24. My hubby and I are working like crazy and neither of us are home for breakfast or lunch…. that said I probably cook maybe 5 times a week. WOW – when you say out of 21 that sounds so small but there is just the two of us here and sometimes there are leftovers so I dont cook…

  25. Tami says:

    What an interesting question! I cook every day – usually just one meal on days that we both work, but rarely does the kitchen go unused for a day. Interested to see the results of your survey.

  26. We eat at home more and more often the older we get! But when we do go out I am always surprised (and a little shocked) to see so many young famiies eating out, not as if it were a special treat but as if it were just a daily thing. So maybe Mr Bittman is right. Is he the one who used to write that NYT column called “the minimalist”? I’ll do the survey.

  27. kaye says:

    Both TBG and I like to cook and consider home meals better than any restaurants- only for the reason that we know what is in them. We try to eat as little chemically enhanced foods as possible. That’s getting more difficult as the years go by. We do like to go out for lunch once a week or so. This is an interesting survey and I am surprised by how much people eat out. They must be rich or not have to be as budget conscious as we do.

  28. Cerrin says:

    ok so if I go by your math I have a number of 19. But I rairely eat 3 meals a day. I eat probably 2 meals a day. And even during Tax season I am still cooking my meals. It is just too expensive to eat out.

  29. Vasilly says:

    What a great questions to ask! I cook at least once a day, usually dinner. Now that school’s in, it’s going to be harder to get a cooked meal on the table. 🙁

  30. Heather says:

    After reading all the comments, lots to ponder. I am one for cooking at home. I make family breakfast of steel cut oatmeal 5 mornings a week and lunch for myself all week. Most days I do cook dinner, though we might go out for one meal on weekends. In general, I find too many restaurant meals are a disappointment. too salty or fatty. and there is way too much dairy. I don’t want to feel icky after eating. Lately I also cook for my parents when I am visiting them. Usually a pot of soup that will last a few meals as well as a casserole or a stew.

    Should also be asking, who eats breakfast? I never miss it unless I am sick and sleep in.

  31. Came back to read all the rest of the comments on this fascinating post …. and to say that I’m glad I can comment again (thanks for reposting my earlier one here)…I was able to enter the survey on the same day….looking forward to seeing the results.

  32. jehara says:

    Those statistics are sort of scary, but I totally see it. I know a lot of people-at work, family members, some friends-that live these numbers.

    As for my husband and me, it really depends on the week. Most of the time we eat at home, but there are weeks when we go an extra week in between market trips due to time constraints and end up eating a lot of Subway. Usually that isn’t too often. I keep oatmeal and cereal at my desk, and soymilk in the fridge at work. I also keep a plate, small bowl, tea mug, and silverware at my desk.

    I don’t cook everyday as I just don’t have the energy to do so. Usually I prepare two big meals on Sunday evenings. We’ll take one for lunch and eat the other for dinner. We might whip up an easy meal of pasta during the middle of the week too for a little variety. I try to keep the fridge stocked with a few different options that have been already prepared to save time during the week. Since it is just the two of us this works well. 🙂

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