October 1, 2004 in Nation/World

Dining takes second seat to just about everything

Nanci Hellmich USA Today
 

If you eat breakfast in the car, gobble lunch while working at your computer, and watch TV while cooking or eating dinner, you’ve got a lot of multitasking company.

About 62 percent of people in a nationally representative online survey say they are sometimes or often too busy to sit down to eat, and about nine out of 10 say they do other things while preparing meals. On top of that: 31 percent do not consistently wash their hands when switching tasks during meal preparation.

The survey of 1,521 men and women was commissioned by the American Dietetic Association and ConAgra Foods Foundation Home Food Safety program. (Margin of error: 2.5 percentage points.)

Other findings:

•91 percent typically watch TV while eating meals at home.

•35 percent say they eat lunch at their desk. While they’re eating, they typically work on the computer, read, make and receive phone calls, write, do calculations or clean their desk or work space.

•26 percent say they often eat while driving, and 3 percent say they eat most of the time while driving.

Nutritionists say multitasking during meals has become common among time-crunched, harried Americans.

“People really don’t stop and smell the aromas,” says Bonnie Taub-Dix, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association. One of the reasons so many people are overweight is they are not taking the time to taste the food they eat, she says.

Of desktop dining at work, she says: “I don’t know why they call it the lunch hour. It should be the lunch minute.”

Many women who shuttle kids around all day are doing a lot of dashboard dining, she says. “You need to sit down and look at your food and think about whether it’s hot or cold, crunchy or soft, sweet or salty, so what you’re eating registers with you. Otherwise, you could sit and have Styrofoam and you wouldn’t know the difference.”

Robyn Flipse, a registered dietitian in Bradley Beach, N.J., agrees. She believes people who eat quickly while doing other chores don’t realize how much they’re consuming, nor do they enjoy the meal as much as they could.

“It may be beautifully prepared food and adequate amounts, but if you gobble it, you don’t feel satisfied because you haven’t registered the sensory aspects – the smells, the texture, the taste.”

She tells weight-loss clients to block out time at least once a day to sit and enjoy a meal in a pleasant setting and get in touch with the “act of eating.” For instance, they might have their lunch on a park bench where there are no phones, faxes or computers.

Even if you’re just heating up frozen dinners or bringing in a pizza, “it’s worth getting to a table or other flat surface and eating with utensils while doing nothing else,” she says.

“People value leisurely meals and treasure them when they have them on holidays like Thanksgiving or special occasions like birthdays, but they don’t seem to know how to make that happen on a regular basis, let alone a daily basis.

“People are spending all their time working, commuting and running errands, but they are not living,” Flipse says. “It will take a master changing of our universe to get people to respect eating, resting and just living.”


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