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How America Became Snack Nation

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American diets have changed over the years. The Industrial Revolution introduced the three-meal-a-day template. Innovations in packaging in the early 20th century made snacks mainstream. Large supermarkets had a seemingly endless supply of bright, shiny items for consumers to choose from.

And the profound shift in the way millions of Americans work during the pandemic has opened up new snack categories.

Fruit snacks, ice creams, biscuits, snack bars, candies, savory snacks in the category.

“Snacking is ubiquitous today. It’s a lifestyle,” said Sally Lyons-Watt, executive vice president of market research firm IRI.

However, not until recently.

Anytime from three meals to snacks

Ashley Rose Young, a food historian at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, says that while it may be the norm today, historically, eating three meals a day “certainly wasn’t the norm.” The practice became fashionable in the United States thanks to the Industrial Revolution, when factory schedules determined workers’ eating patterns.

“You’ll want to eat before you go to work and get your day going,” Young said. It’s a meal after

As diets have become more standardized in the United States, new dietary rules have emerged, and with them new attitudes toward snacking.

A peanut stand on West 42nd Street in New York City, circa 1905.

In the 19th century, snacks like peanuts were sold by street vendors and were stigmatized as associated with the working class and the poor. “As meals, especially dinners, became more social, more polite and more rigidly defined, snacking became transcendent,” she wrote.

But food distributors saw a business opportunity in snacks. If only we could find a way to bring it home off the street. To do that, they needed better packaging that sealed the product and kept it fresh.

Eventually, a series of entrepreneurs cracked the code and opened the door to the rest of the industry. their product? cracker jack.

Snacks go mainstream

German brothers Frederick and Lewis Lucheim, who lived in Chicago, developed a sweet popcorn and peanut snack. In 1896, they took it from city to city, sharing samples and spreading the word about the product, Carroll said. I worked with a guy called , to develop a special wax lining for the bags in which it was sold. Companies like Nabisco and Kellogg then built on the technology or applied it to their products. , kick the door open for others.

Cracker Jack's innovative packaging ushered in a new era of snacking.

Over the years, other changes in American culture and technology have made snacking on the go even more appealing, noted food historian Young.

First introduced in 1955, the microwave oven enabled a whole new type of packaged food. And after World War II, more people bought their groceries from mass retailers rather than their neighborhood greengrocer. said Young, which contributed to the country’s snack culture.

This trend has accelerated as millennials shop for themselves.

Today’s snack

Baby boomers and Generation X tend to enjoy snacking in the afternoon or evening, says Watt of IRI, which has been tracking snacking trends for decades. But millennials also snack in the morning.

“Millennials are [people] “You’ve definitely started to see fewer meals and snacks being consumed throughout the day,” she said.

Then came the pandemic and another change, Watt noted. People started eating more late-night snacks.

That’s partly because of how people were spending their days during the pandemic. With children stuck at home during traditional work hours, some parents are reaching for snacks to boost their evening shifts and refuel. Others have developed new routines that involve staying up late.

Thanks to the rapid proliferation of 15-minute delivery services, new options are available to grab a late-night feast without leaving your home. This led to him ordering one or he two items when people suddenly wanted to eat.

Now, as people return to offices and more regular work schedules, they may be less interested in late-night snacks. “I don’t think they’ll fade away and become irrelevant,” Watt said.

Not all snacks are the same

So what does this snack mean for our health? It depends on what you consider a snack.

“People who are choosing whole fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean protein sources, or who are conscious of snacking portions should follow specific recommendations and guidelines,” says registered dietitian Jessica Bifniak. It may help to fill the gap.” She is Assistant Professor of Clinical Nutrition at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development.

But other items with saturated fat, high sodium levels, and sugar, such as candy, soda, and chips, can create unhealthy habits. According to one nutrition source, “regular consumption” of these types of foods “may increase your preference for these types of foods, altering your eating habits and the quality of your diet.”
Looking at ingredients and nutrition information helps consumers understand exactly what's in their snacks.

Snack vendors offer so-called “better” options. This may be lower in sugar or served in smaller packs for portion control.

Consumers should read the nutrition information on any shelf-stable packaged product, even if it claims to be good for you.

“They did something to stabilize it,” Bifniak said. Your healthiest options are probably the ones that aren’t packaged at all, like fruits and crunchy veggies, she said.

It’s also worth noting that a recent study found that all ultra-processed foods were associated with cancer and early death.

It’s not clear if when and how often you eat matters. For some people, it’s easier to snack between meals than to make time to sit down and eat, Bifniak said. I think”.