How America Became Snack Nation

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.

microwave, First introduced in 1955, a whole new type of packaged food is now possible. 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.

The option of having a late-night feast without leaving the house Rapid increase in 15-minute home delivery servicesThis led people to order one or two items when they suddenly felt like eating.

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.

“If you’re choosing whole fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean protein sources, or are conscious of snack portion sizes, there are certain recommendations and guidelines,” says registered dietitian Jessica Bifniak. 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. “targeted intake” may “increase preference for these types of foods, altering diet and diet quality.” Nutrient sourcethe school’s general guide to healthy eating.
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 low in sugar or come in small 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. “The key there is to look at the food label,” she says, and watch for sodium content, additive content, and saturated fat. She said it probably wasn’t in the package at all.

It is also worth noting that a recent study found that: All Ultra Processed Foods Are Linked to cancer and premature 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”.


Scroll to Top