Over recent years, In the United States, people are spending less time eating at home. There are many reasons for this. For example, work schedules, commutes to work, families, and local availability of food affect how much time families invest in cooking. We also know that lower-income families are more likely to work longer hours, have longer commute distances, and have less local availability of food.
Food assistance programs are not perfect
For low-income families, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) helps 20 million U.S. households by giving participants around $125 each month to spend on food. SNAP helps to reduce food insecurity. However, much of the food that people buy through this program is unhealthy, such as processed foods and sugary drinks. SNAP recipients also tend to be more obese and have a higher rate of type 2 diabetes than people with higher-income.
More time to cook promotes better food choices
A new study looked at whether the time available to prepare and cook meals at home impacts the quality of food eaten by SNAP recipients. Researchers found that increasing the amount of time a person has to cook increases home-cooked meals. It also increases the number of servings of fruits/vegetables eaten and lowers salt intake. More time availability was also linked to eating and/or drinking more sugar. This is most likely due to increased consumption of sugar-heavy breakfast foods, such as pancakes. Providing participants with more money to buy food helped increase the fiber content of meals, including snacks of fruits and vegetables. However, more money also increased sugar and salt consumption due to the high sugar and sodium content of many frozen foods and restaurant meals.
Improving the health of SNAP recipients requires more than just money. This study shows that more time to cook and home-cooked meals improve what people eat.