Eating trends: Staying fit, staying trim ... and staying home

What's for dinner? In our household, in times past, that question sometimes ended with, "Aw, let's just go out."

But times are changing. "Dining in" is one of the hottest new food trends, according to the April issue of "Food Technology" magazine. The author, A. Elizabeth Sloan, and other food experts, indicate we are increasingly less inclined to wolf down a burger in a moving car and much more interested in eating thoughtfully, nutritiously and on our own turf.

Another "foodie," Joan Lang ( summarizes it this way: "Move over organic and natural, there's a new generation ... foods that make a minimal impact on the earth but provide maximum flavor."

The hottest food trends suggest we are becoming "seriously healthy" when it comes to making food choices. We want "trans-free" and "gluten-free." If we are over age 50, we increasingly buy and eat specific foods we believe will reduce or moderate the risk of certain disease conditions."

We still want our chocolate treats (see the recipe to the right) and we will still have our indulgent moments but, overall, we want lighter fare.

Dr. Carolyn Raab, Oregon State University food and nutrition specialist is my favorite expert on food trends. She indicates we're eating "on-the-go" 30 percent less often than previously.

Her contention is we're paying more attention to where our food comes from and the quality of what we eat.

There's a strong trend toward texture, crispness and crunch. People want "fresh" but they also want "grass-fed, free-range, meatless/vegetarian dishes." There are beckoning new descriptors like "artisan" and "house-made" on foods we purchase. We are dining in more, but we still want the preparation to be an easy, convenient fit with our busy lives.

Frozen meal starters are a hit (slow cooker dinners, soup starters) and their sales are up a reported 95 percent. There are increasingly successful food entrepreneurs who have set up community kitchens with pre-readied ingredients that allow us to combine and season in our own way and prepare multiple, varied entrees in a single visit.

You "prepare away" so you can "dine in" later by pulling a gourmet dinner from the freezer, defrosting it in the microwave and enjoying "fresh-frozen" and "better-for-you" foods right at your own dinner table. There are other trends worth talking about. "Local" is a word that draws us like a magnet. As does "heirloom" (old-fashioned cultivars of tomatoes, beans, lettuce and other vegetables) or "heritage" (forgotten breeds of poultry, lamb, pork and beef.).

But here's the best news of all. One of the hottest trends for 2007 is "bite-sized desserts." Hurrah!

Desserts are still "in." About the same time I read desserts were trendy, I received an e-mailed recipe for "Tofu Chocolate Mousse." There it was, a dessert with no-sugar and good-for-you tofu-protein submerged in chocolate. The recipe came from a colleague, a very reliable source, who described it "to die for." Well, I didn't want that to happen, but she did get my attention.

I felt like I was definitely meant to prepare and enjoy this dessert (fat content acknowledged). And I did. So much for the bite-sized approach. I ate the whole thing.

Sharon Johnson is an associate professor in the College of Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University and on the faculty of the OSU Extension Service. She can be reached at

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