For many of us, it’s hard to imagine life without freezers. Where would we keep our frozen pizza? What would become of our thirty-pound bags of crinkle-cut french fries? Our taco kits and fish sticks? Prior to the Great Depression, ice boxes kept milk and eggs cool for a few days, but forget storing prepared food there.
Refrigeration and freezers changed the way we select and make our meals. Once derided as convenience products, frozen meals and TV dinners were normalized. And while some people may only supplement their cooking with a frozen vegetable now and then, many still rely on frozen entrees. In fact, according to ongoing tracking, CivicScience found that frozen entrees might see a resurgence.
As a rule, frozen food consumption generally ebbs and flows with the seasons. In winter, as our gardens and farmers’ markets go bare, frozen food consumption tends to rise. But once the sun emerges and more people gain access to fresh food, consumption wanes.
In the last two years, the percentage of adults who say they prepare one frozen entree a week has risen two points, from 25% to 27%, up to about where we were in 2015. The amount of adults who prepare two entrees a week is also up, while adults who say they never prepare frozen entrees has dropped slightly.
Why might this be the case? One reason could be financial. Food choices—and options—have historically been tied to economics, and while consumer confidence in the economy has increased, it was a slow and steady start in October.
Frozen entrees are still used across the economic spectrum, though wealthier people rely on them less. About 60% of adults who make more than $150,000 a year say they never prepare frozen entrees, compared to 45% of people who make $50,000 or less. People with less money generally depend on frozen entrees more times per week, as well.
It’s tempting to think that parents, after a long work day, would be the most likely to reach for an easy frozen entree. But according to the data, they’re a bit more likely to say they never prepare these foods. When it comes to cooking for themselves, non-parents tend to rely on frozen entrees more times per week.
The New TV Dinner
Though preparing frozen entrees doesn’t correlate with younger ages, it does match well with device addiction. People who admit they’re addicted to their computers or smartphones are more likely to use frozen entrees than people who don’t believe they’re addicted.
Likewise, as time spent on social media goes up, so too does the frequency of using frozen entrees. Only 39% of adults who spend more than four hours a day on social media say they never prepare these meals. These same adults are nearly twice as likely to rely on frozen entrees three or more times per week as adults who don’t spend any time on social media.
In the 1950s, frozen entrees got people to spend less time in the kitchen and more time in front of the TV. Now that our tablets and smartphones occupy much of our time, frozen entrees could be the way we make up for having less time to cook. Additionally, they’re inexpensive. And depending on whether or not economic sentiment continues to rise, we could see even more people reaching to find their main courses in the freezer aisle.