happy family shopping vegeatables at supermarket

Why do parents buy pre-packaged, processed meals?

Many of us are faced with traumatic situations in life that make us afraid, sad, anxious or depressed. Usually, these symptoms last for a short while and we learn to resolve them over time, but sometimes traumatic events can have lasting and debilitating effects and hinder our ability to function normally in life.

Preparing meals for the family can be time-consuming. In an age where time is of essence and we’re rushing around juggling responsibilities at work and Home as well as managing kids, pre-packaged meals at the supermarket can be life savers. These pre-packaged and processed meals definitely reduce the time spent cooking or developing cooking skills. Such meals are also inexpensive and kids love them. So why not?

Well, previous studies have shown that youth who eat pre-packaged processed food are more likely to have higher energy, sugar, sodium and saturated fat intake, giving rise to negative health impacts from such food in the long term.

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Duke University wanted to understand why parents would still choose to purchase pre-packaged processed food for meal times. Gaining such information can give researchers the insight to develop intervention methods to aid in better food choices.

Parents report a variety of reasons for purchasing pre-packaged processed meals beyond just a lack of time.

The study used data from Healthy Home Offerings via the Mealtime Environment (HOME), plus randomised controlled trials from parents of children aged 8-12 years. The researchers used psychosocial survey to understand and examine the motivation of parents in buying pre-packed processed food.

A majority of the parents, at 57 per cent, identified time-saving as a major motivation for buying pre-packed food. Forty-nine per cent bought frozen meals because their family really liked them, 33 per cent stated that the food was easy for kids to prepare, 27 per cent reported that these meals were inexpensive, 22 per cent said that they didn’t know what else to make and 11 per cent were convinced that pre-packaged processed food was all that their family would eat.

The researchers also found that parents who bought pre-packaged processed meals where those who didn’t have the time to cook and worked longer hours. Parents who reported not knowing what else to cook were more likely to be white compared to parents of racially diverse backgrounds.

The study also revealed that parents who endorsed buying pre-packaged processed and frozen meals had lower cooking skills and meal-planning abilities, with the exception of those who found frozen meals easy for their kids to prepare. Researchers identified the relationship between expense and availability of processed food and found that parents who gave reasons related to expense, family preferences, ease of preparation for children and not knowing what to cook had low availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in their home, increasing the likelihood of less nutritious meals for their families.

The parents studied reported many reasons for buying pre-packed processed and frozen meals for their families, though, and these reasons go beyond sociodemographic and lifestyle characteristics. Researchers say that this study is significant for all families and give invaluable insight into the reasons for such purchases. By identifying the reasons, researchers can now explore intervention options to enhance parents’ meal-planning skills and healthy-meal preparation skills to help guide them toward preparing meals at home rather than purchasing ready meals.

By understanding how unhealthy pre-packaged food and processed food is, and by being aware of why we buy such types of food, we can make conscious decisions to increase the fresh fruit and vegetable intake in family meals.

Source: Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior

Meena Azzollini

Meena Azzollini

Meena is passionate about holistic wellbeing, alternative healing, health and personal power and uses words to craft engaging feature articles to convey her knowledge and passion. She is a freelance writer and content creator from Adelaide, Australia, who draws inspiration from family, travel and her love for books and reading.

A yoga practitioner and a strong believer in positive thinking, Meena is also a mum to a very active young boy. In her spare time, she loves to read and whip up delicious meals. She also loves the smell of freshly made coffee and can’t ever resist a cheesecake. And she gets tickled pink by anything funny!

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