Image: stu_spivack

Quick, how much time do you think you spent eating yesterday? What about the day before that?


The USDA just wrapped up a big survey of current American eating trends. Of particular interest was its deep dive into the time we spend eating—and just how much of that time is also devoted to doing something else. On average, Americans spend just 80 minutes eating during the day.

The big surprise is that distracted eating—sitting down to a spreadsheet and a sad desk lunch, or eating a sandwich one-handed while driving—makes up so little of the overall total. In contrast to the 64 minutes that Americans spend only eating (or “primary eating,” as the USDA puts it), just 16 minutes a day are spent on secondary eating (i.e., eating and doing something else at the same time).


The most popular activities to do while eating were, unsurprisingly, watching television and movies or working. About half of all secondary eating took place in people’s homes, but offices and cars also made strong showings.

Though we know how much time we spend secondary eating, though, we don’t know just how much food we consume during that time. Just because we’re spending less time eating doesn’t mean that we’re eating less food. On the contrary, people eating in circumstances that don’t encourage lingering (the car, the desk) may be eating even quicker to compensate for that.