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Opinion: Canadians spending less time cooking as pandemic wanes

Fewer people abiding by Canada’s Food Guide recommendation to “put away distractions like the TV or electronics” while eating: poll.
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More than half the meals consumed in Canada are eaten in front of the TV, a new poll shows

I did not know what a “sourdough starter” was until someone mentioned the term during a virtual meeting.

In March 2020, as Canadians were starting to realize that some features of their lives would be absent for weeks or months on account of COVID-19, many of us turned to the kitchen as the place to play, improvise and learn.

Now that lockdowns and restrictions are a thing of the past, we are starting to see some Canadians leaving their pandemic lifestyle behind. Client meetings are happening once again at cafés and restaurants. Some animal rescue groups have unfortunately reported an increase in abandoned dogs, as owners go back to the office and no longer have the time to properly take care of them.

Research Co. and Glacier Media have asked Canadians about their eating habits before. This year, we looked again into how much time we spend in the kitchen, what our relationship with Canada’s Food Guide actually is, and whether we prefer dinner table conversations or the distractions of a television set.

This year, practically two in five Canadians (40 per cent, up three points since our 2020 survey) say it takes them anywhere from 31 minutes to an hour to prepare dinner for themselves and others in their household on an average weekday. Only three in 10 (30 per cent, down six points) usually manage this task in less than half an hour, while 11 per cent (up three points) require more than 60 minutes.

The sweet spot for meal preparation – from 31 to 60 minutes – has not changed dramatically since 2020. The interesting fluctuation in 2022 is the reduction of quick food preparers across the country. Some Canadians are not trying to maximize their time at home away from pots and pans.

There is no movement on our awareness of Canada’s Food Guide. As was the case in 2020, almost two-thirds of Canadians (65 per cent) say they are “very familiar” or “moderately familiar” with the document. Canadians aged 55 and over appear to be more oblivious to these guidelines (56 per cent) than their counterparts aged 35 to 54 (71 per cent) and aged 18 to 34 (70 per cent).

Across the country, more than two-thirds of Atlantic Canadians (71 per cent) and Ontarians (68 per cent) are familiar with Canada’s Food Guide. The proportions are lower in Alberta (65 per cent), Quebec (64 per cent), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (59 per cent) and British Columbia (58 per cent).

In spite of this high level of awareness, Canadians are not following the document religiously. Only 35 per cent of Canadians say they follow the recommendations of Canada’s Food Guide “all the time” or “most of the time” when choosing what they eat in an average week. This represents a six-point drop since our 2020 survey.

Women (40 per cent), Canadians aged 18 to 34 (43 per cent), Atlantic Canadians (40 per cent) and Ontarians (also 40 per cent) are more likely to take the document into account when planning their meals. There is little fluctuation on the political front, with 41 per cent of Canadians who voted for the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 2021 saying they rely on Canada’s Food Guide “all the time” or “most of the time” in an average week – compared to 38 per cent for supporters of both the Liberal Party and the Conservative Party.

The biggest surprise of this year’s poll arrived after we asked Canadians how they eat. Over the course of the past month, 45 per cent of Canadian dinners (down six points since June 2019) took place at the dining room, with no television, while a majority (55 per cent, up six points) occurred at a different part of the home, with the television on.

Among Canadians aged 18 to 34, practically the same number of meals happen at the dinner table (49 per cent) and at a room where the television is on (51 per cent). The proportion of homemade meals that are enjoyed watching a show, a game or the news rises to 56 per cent among Canadians aged 35 to 54 and to 57 per cent among Canadians aged 55 and over.

On a regional basis, Quebec is the one province where the fewest dinners are enjoyed with the assistance of a television set (50 per cent). The proportions are higher in British Columbia (53 per cent), Saskatchewan and Manitoba (54 per cent), Atlantic Canada (58 per cent), Ontario (56 per cent) and Alberta (62 per cent).

Our survey shows that, compared to 2020, we are spending less time cooking and more time eating in front of the television. While most Canadians are aware of Canada’s Food Guide, just over a third actually follow its recommendations. One of the non-nutritional suggestions that the document makes is to “put away distractions like the TV or electronics” while having dinner. The youngest adults are doing this more often than their older counterparts.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from May 7 to May 9, 2022, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.