Buckingham Palace with crowds on the Mall

These days, any main street has a plethora of restaurants and cafes to suit every taste: in addition to Chinese and Indian we have a choice of Italian, Turkish, Japanese, Thai, vegetarian, fusion, Polish etc.  You can eat formally or informally, you can take-away. You can have breakfast at lunchtime or lunch for breakfast. There are now neither rules nor structure to our eating habits. People eat when and where they choose.

Several market research studies have tracked the changes in our eating habits which we now take for granted.

An article in Survey Spring 1989* reports on the studies conducted by the then Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, which for half a century collected data monitoring the nations’ eating patterns. The National Food Survey was conceived in the 1930s , drawing on the food baskets  of the past-depression years and World War II and it continued to provide a monitor of the changing larders and fridges of British households.

 The Family Food Panel was established by Taylor Nelson in 1974, with the objective of filling a gap in the availability of continuous s research tracking the nation’s eating habits. The Food Panel identified changing trends in eating habits and behaviour such as convenience/time saving and healthy diets. An article in Survey, January 1985 discussed how changing patterns of work, leisure and personal relationships and attitudes towards health and well-being affected eating habits. It also focused on the changing habits of eating out and ‘grazing’ and snacking throughout the day. In Spring 1989 an article discussed the demise of ‘tea-time’ with cakes and sandwiches and a 30% decline in cooked breakfasts. It reported a huge increase in awareness and consumption of foods like curries, pasta and pizza. In 1989 microwave ownership, now a staple in most kitchens, was approaching 50%.

In 1989 the trend towards individual tastes within families had begun: no longer were members of the family necessarily sitting down together and eating the same meal: they were exercising autonomy over what they eat.

In 1986, to mark the 40th Anniversary of The Market Research Society, Gallup, on behalf of the MRS, interviewed a nationally representative cross-section of people throughout Great Britain. The question put to them was ‘If expense was no object and you could have anything you wanted, what would you choose for a perfect meal?’ The ideal menus for 1986 were compared with those of 1947, in the days of post-war austerity. In 1986 respondents chose vegetable soup, prawn/shrimp cocktail, steak and chips and gateau; in 1947 it was tomato soup, sole, roast chicken and roast potatoes, and trifle. Chips had taken over from roast as the most popular choice of potatoes. The change in drinking habits was most remarkable: in 1986, 61% would like wine with their meal; in 1947 only 4% chose wine. Coffee had supplanted tea as the British favourite after-dinner drink.


  • ‘Will we be what we eat?’ Christine MacNulty. In Survey, January 1985, ‘The Day after Tomorrow’.
  • ‘A question of taste’, Bob Wybrow. In Survey, Winter 1986, ‘Then and Now’.
  • ‘Family Food’ Rick Holder. In Survey, Spring 1989 ‘Food and Farming’
  •  ‘National Food Survey’ Peter Backman, ibid.


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