Is this you? Lunch survey: One in two Americans eats homemade every weekday

It's official: America is taking back the lunch hour. According to our polls, one in two Americans eats a homemade lunch every weekday, and the number of women carrying in has spiked 33 percent in 10 years. The savings we reap ($79 a month, according to a survey of our foodie friends) sure doesn't hurt. But health may be the biggest driver behind the make-at-home trend. "Twenty years ago there wasn't so much enthusiasm for adding healthy ingredients into our diets," says Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst for NPD Group, a consumer market research firm. "We were only focused on subtracting the bad things." Now it's a balance: Experts are seeing more made-from-scratch dishes, fewer fatty cold cuts and processed cheeses, and increasing amounts of fresh fruit (it's the most popular lunch ingredient in women's bags).

Here are a few other trends:

TREND #1: You're Savvy About Salads

  • Sixty-four percent of Americans are changing what they eat for health's sake, according to a survey from the International Food Information Council, and 42 percent of our readers said salads are their go-to healthy meal.
  • Fiber is now the most important factor Americans look for when shopping for healthy groceries, and 79 percent said they always have fresh vegetables on hand.
  • We're now using a greater variety of lettuces: Almost 60 percent of Americans buy spring and mixed salad greens instead of iceberg, compared to an estimated 14 percent that did so in 1980.
  • However, we're not forgoing hearty, tasty toppings. Many interviewees said they supplement their leafy entrées with mix-ins and sides, from couscous to noodles. Others multisource, taking a main salad to work and buying fruit from a market, snacks from the vending machine, or desserts from a nearby bakery.
Steak-and-Potato Salad with Mustard Dressing

Satisfying on its own, you can also add hard-boiled egg wedges to bulk up the salad.
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Buffalo Turkey Cobb Salad

If you don't have buffalo turkey (ours is leftovers with bottled sauce), pack your own fresh greens and pick up the meat from a deli or convenience store.
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Citrus Beet Salad

This 5-ingredient recipe can be eaten over any mixed greens for an extra boost of veggies.
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TREND #2: Ladies, You Love Your Leftovers
  • Women are 16 percent less likely to carry a sandwich for lunch than they were a decade ago, according to the NPD. While it might be due in part to the demonizing of carbs in the 1990s and 2000s, Balzer says costcutting is mainly driving the trend.
  • Two out of three of our readers say they plan dinner specifically with leftovers in mind. And 80 percent of American households now make a point of eating leftovers to save money. Women are more likely than men to bring them for lunch and cook meals large enough to last several days, according to one poll.
  • Americans say they feel healthier eating meals cooked at home, too. "The lunches I bring to work are balanced meals," says Marlene Bonacci, a manager at the Stew Leonard's grocery store in Danbury, Connecticut. Like many others interviewed, she likes that homemade lunches afford her control over ingredients. "I like knowing exactly what is going in my system."
Deconstructed Lasagna

Make Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meal for dinner, and pack what's left (if there is any!) for a delicious lunch.
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Shrimp and Corn Chowder

Stretch leftovers of this flavorful dinner dish by reheating with more broth and adding some cooked rice.
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Zucchini Ribbons and Peppers

No cooking required for this great-for-summer dish, which makes for a nice next-day lunch on its own or over whole wheat noodles.
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TREND #3: Guys, You're Smitten with Sammies
  • Men tote a sandwich about 47 percent of the time, according to NPD data.
  • Cold cuts have sold steadily over the past decade, with healthier sliced meats like ham and turkey (37 and 24 percent, respectively) outselling fattier options like salami (18 percent).
  • We're now using more exotic condiments (black currant jam and pesto came up on our survey), gourmet cheeses and healthier breads.
  • Wheat bread is the American sandwich mainstay: Seventy-seven percent of baby boomers have it on hand, compared to 34 percent 30 years ago.
  • The fastest-growing grocery store sandwich is the pita, according to the Perishables Group, a Chicago-based fresh-food consulting firm.
Tex-Mex Pulled Turkey Sandwich

Store-bought barbecue sauce and canned chipotle give this sandwich a real kick.
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Vietnamese-Style Steak Sandwiches

It takes 5 minutes to make this sandwich in the morning before work, and then the flavors can meld until lunchtime.
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Overstuffed Chicken Pitas with Mushrooms and Wilted Arugula

Save time! Use rotisserie chicken to throw this together.
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By Stacy Adimando

Budget lunch recipes »
Vegetarian lunch recipes »
Rachael Ray's 30-Minute Meals »