USDA ERS – Dietary Quality by Food Source and Demographics in the United States, 1977–2018


Food prepared away from home (FAFH) has become a mainstay in U.S. consumers’ diets, accounting for more than 50 percent of total food expenditures since 2009 and more than 30 percent of total food energy intake since 2011. This report analyzes data from nationally representative food consumption surveys conducted between 1977 and 2018 to examine U.S. consumers’ dietary quality relative to the Federal dietary guidance and how this varies by food source. The food sources this report examines include food at home, food purchased at restaurant, food purchased at fast food, food obtained at school among K-12 school and daycare children, and other food away from home. Dietary quality is measured by nutrient and food-group density (i.e., intake amount per 1,000 calories) for 12 nutrients and 35 food groups. All analyses are conducted for individuals aged 2 and above, both as a group and subdivided by demographics. In general, U.S. consumers make more nutritious choices when grocery shopping for foods than when obtaining food from commercial eating establishments. Compared with FAFH, food at home (FAH) is denser in underconsumed nutrients and food groups—e.g., fiber, iron, whole grains, fruits, dairy, and dark green vegetables—and lower in the density of overconsumed nutrients and food groups including saturated fats, sodium, and refined grains. However, FAH has more added sugars in addition to lower intake of seafood and most types of vegetables. In recent years, school foods differ from other FAFH consumption due to a lower density of saturated fats and a higher density of whole grain, fiber, and fruit.

Errata: On March 16, 2023, table 2 was updated with the correct recommended density per 1,000 calories for grains. Text on page 105 and figures 25 and 27 were also updated to reflect the correction. No other tables, text, or figures were affected.

Errata: On April 11, 2023, figures 25 and 27 were updated using the correct conversion factor for total fats. No other figures, tables, or text were affected.

Keywords: Food Consumption Survey, NFCS, CSFII, WWEIA, NHANES, food at home, food away from home, restaurant, fast food, school, consumer dietary quality, Healthy U.S.-Style Dietary Pattern, nutrient density, food group density

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