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12. Cost, Time, and Convenience

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, almost 15 percent of American households experienced food insecurity in 2008. That is, the people living in these  households are not able to meet their nutrient needs every day (you'll learn more about hunger and food insecurity later.

It's not surprising, then, that many people may be forced to base their food choices on cost. The large, store-brand bag of potato chips, on sale, may be an economically appealing way for a struggling family on a tight budget to fill a dinner plate, rather than with more nutritious fresh or frozen vegetables, which tend to cost more.

The good news is that cheaper food doesn't have to always mean junk food or fast food. When healthy foods are offered at lower prices, people do buy them. Researchers found that lowering the cost of fresh fruits, vegetables, and lower-fat snacks improves the consumption of these nutritious foods.

For those with adequate food budgets, time is often at a premium. Because of this, the types of foods that many people choose have changed. Research shows that Americans, especially working women with families, want to spend less than 15 minutes preparing a meal.

Consequently, supermarkets have changed the types of foods they sell as well as how the food is presented. If chicken is on the menu tonight, you can go to the poultry section in the store and buy it uncooked. Or you can go to the take-out section of the store and buy it hot off the rotisserie, precooked and stuffed with bread crumbs, or grilled with teriyaki sauce.

You can also probably get the cooked vegetables and rice side dishes to take home and reheat with the chicken. Convenience also influences food choices. Foods that are easily accessible to you are more likely to be eaten. Let's say you have a long walk back to your dorm building after your last class of the day.

On the way, you pass a food stand selling slices of delicious-looking pizza. The wonderful smell reminds you that you are hungry, so you buy a slice, or two. Or consider coffee. Decades ago, the most convenient way to get a hot cup of coffee was to brew it yourself. Americans today are more likely to get their java from one of the 17,000 coffee shops, carts, and kiosks across the United States. Pizza and coffee are just two examples of a broad trend of Americans spending more of their household food budget on eating out.

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