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COVID-19 dining trends hit home

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS
                                Homemade pizza is trending as a cooking project for stay-at-home days.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

    Homemade pizza is trending as a cooking project for stay-at-home days.

In normal times, food trends often started in restaurants, with top chefs. Maybe they got written up in food magazines or blogs. After some time, you could find the trending ingredients on grocery store shelves.

These days, the coronavirus pandemic is determining what we eat and how we prepare it. There’s lots more home cooking, and many more family meals.

Even when people do eat restaurant food, they’re often looking for familiar dishes, experts say.

In general, “the trend is looking backwards rather than forwards,” says Esmee Williams, who looks at where home cooking is heading for Allrecipes.com, based in Seattle. Recipes from the 1960s and ’70s like chicken Kiev, chicken a la king, cheese fondue and salmon patties have become more popular, she says.

“There’s a lot of disappointment happening in our days, so nobody wants tears at the table. Let’s treat ourselves to something we all will like,” says Williams.

BACK TO BASICS

A year ago, Williams says, many foodies were aspirational about their diets. Less so now.

As Darren Seifer, a food and beverage industry analyst for the NPD Group in Chicago, puts it, consumers aren’t looking to explore new and fancy. Most “are just trying to get by.”

People are juggling a desire for comfort food with the need to find a healthy diet and avoid “stress eating,” he says.

“If you are a food and beverage manufacturer, you need to be thinking about convenience and comfort right now,” Seifer says.

That leads to some contradictory trends. Home cooks are doing more with vegetables, particularly seasonal produce, while also hunkering down with indulgent sweets and treats. Seifer cites higher sales of both vegetables and ice cream in May 2020, compared with the previous May.

TAKING IT EASY

Seifer and Williams also see a trend toward shortcut products, like refrigerated dough and pancake mixes.

Carli Baum of New York City says she has been baking refrigerated biscuits or crescent rolls for her young kids, but pairing them with eggs and fresh berries. She is happy to make breakfast, but doesn’t want “to make everything from scratch.”

Baum has been going to more farmers’ markets and leaning into the idea of cooking what is available. She says her kids seem to be more open to trying produce they have seen displayed at the markets.

STRETCH THOSE SKILLS

Another trend cited by Williams: more recipe searches for authentic ethnic foods, such as Asian, Mexican and soul food.

“People are traveling with their taste buds, recreating dishes they ate out but now have to cook instead,” she says. “Also, these dishes connect us with relatives we can’t be with right now.”

And don’t forget today’s fascination with what Williams calls “self-reliance” cooking — homemade bread, pasta and yogurt, as well as canning. These provide a way to keep busy, learn new skills, save money and eat well, she says.

FAMILY MEAL

“The family meal is back — and it’s happening across all three meals,” Williams says. “Home is the epicenter of all activity, and meals are a big part of that,” she says.

Searches for family- friendly recipes on Allrecipes are up 34% from last year. Searches for breakfast recipes are up 35%, and lunch up 45% in page views. “We are making many more meals for `we’ rather than ‘me,’” Williams says.

Other trends include simpler recipes with fewer ingredients, one-pot or sheet-pan meals, finger food and pantry-ingredient recipes. Vegan and vegetarian cooking is on the rise, she says. Tofu and tempeh searches, which have declined in recent years, are now increasing.

Homemade pizza “is going crazy — family pleasing, creative and fun, a good alternative to takeout,” says Williams. “People have become more comfortable with yeast, and people are also buying pizza ovens.”

Multicooker, air fryer and slow cooker sales also are up, as are recipe searches for Instant Pot recipes (68% higher than this time last year on Allrecipes.com).

And sales of bread makers were up 800% in April compared with the previous April, Seifer said.

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