There were a lot of options the food markets in 1960 didn’t have that we do, like a baffling array of Oreo flavors, or tube-encased yogurts. But there’s one change that’s bigger than the explosion in novelty-food choices.

The USDA put together data on Americans’ food shopping habits over the last 55 years. When you look at its chart, the first thing that may strike you is the overall rise in dollars, but (when inflation is accounted for) that’s not really the biggest change. It’s in where those dollars are going.


In 1960, going out to eat was barely part of the American food budget. By 2014, it had become just barely over half, marking the first time that Americans were spending more to eat outside of their homes than inside.

So why the change? In part, it’s because people are busy and there’s less time allocated to food prep now than in the the past. But even more than that, it’s a change to how we go out to eat that’s fueled the change.


If you look at the data from fifty years ago, going out to eat meant going out to a restaurant, ordering there, and staying for the entirety of the meal. Today, though, it’s a much more casual experience, with takeout, fast-casual, and delivery being just as common (and growing much faster) than going to a full-service restaurant. Essentially, in 1960 restaurant-eating was something to plan for and look forward to; today, it’s simply one more answer in how we solve our regular nightly question: What’s for dinner?

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Image: Grocery shopping 1989, Bill Branson, NCI/ NIH