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Americans Love Food Fast, More Than Fast Food

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Whether it's fast food from a restaurant or a home-cooked meal, Americans want their meals quickly regardless of whether they're healthy, according to recent data.

"Convenience is the driving force of our dietary change. Make no mistake about that," said NPD Group Chief Independent Analyst Harry Balzer on "Big Data Download." "We always want things to be convenient. Now the question is will it be healthy as well."

Fast food chains offering salads help Americans make meal decisions both quickly and healthy, but salads have actually fallen out of favor in the American diet over the past 10 years, according to NPD. Salty snacks, often in portable bags, have actually replaced salads among the top 10 American foods, NPD research found.

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And other portable, grab-and-go items like the sandwich have been a staple of the American diet, but where we're getting them has changed, according to NPD.

"It's really [about] how restaurants have gotten into the fresh sandwich product," said Ballzer. Americans are more likely to get their sandwiches from a restaurant like Subway, Quiznos or Panera Bread (PNRA) than they would make their sandwiches at home, Ballzer added.

Yet Americans aren't actually going out to eat more often than 10 years ago. The average American goes out to eat about 193 times per year, about 10 visits fewer than in 2003, according to NPD's research.

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Coffee is one thing Americans may be willing to take their time on, or at least spend the time it takes to pop a K-cup into a single-serving coffee machine. Despite the popularity of coffee drinks made by the likes of Starbucks (SBUX), Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's (MCD), four out of five cups of coffee consumed in America are made at home, according to NPD.

"A lot of new coffee machines are coming into the American home and changing the way we prepare coffee these days," Ballzer said.

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But there's only one appliance that's seeing increased use in homes across the country: the crock pot, according to NPD. Slow-cooked, set-it-and-forget-it meals can be complete with meat and vegetables and eliminate the need for side dishes.

"We're a main dish society," Ballzer said.

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