Make a dinner reservation: Eating at home leveling off

Nanci Hellmich
Customers eat at a sandwich shop in Washington.
Andrew Harrer | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Make a dinner reservation.

It looks like Americans' love affair with eating at home is leveling off, according to new data from the NPD Group, a market research firm that tracks eating trends.

About 80 percent of meals were prepared at home in November of 2013 about the same as 2012, NPD data show. The percentage of meals prepared at home has risen steadily from 77.4 percent in 2008 at the beginning of the recession.

"The move back home for our meals looks to be over," says Harry Balzer, NPD chief industry analyst. "I'm sure restaurants are happy to hear this."

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Many people experienced a drop in income during the recession, and people lower their food costs by using restaurants less because restaurant meals cost three times more than meals made at home, he says.

Restaurants' winter woes

"We cook a lot, but we don't want to do it any more than we're already doing. We want to do it less," Balzer says.

"About 65 percent of women prepare at least one meal a day at home. It could be for themselves or their families. About 39 percent of all men will prepare at least one meal at home," he says. "That could be me putting a Pop-Tart in the toaster."

(Read more: Why restaurants care so much about your breakfast)

He also expects people will start dining out more as the weather improves this spring. "It has been a horrible winter weather-wise, and that's not good for restaurants."

Elizabeth Ward, a registered dietitian in Boston and mother of three, says, when the economy was really bad a few years ago, she buckled down and cooked more at home, but now is dining out a bit more and relieved to have the break.

"I still make dinner five nights a week, and by the fifth night, I've just about had it," Ward says. "Two nights a week we are dining out or getting take out. And I like to cook, but you get tired."

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"It's a lot of work to round up all the ingredients, cook and then afterwards clean up all the pots and pans," she says. "So a lot of what I make during the week is very simple, to minimize all that."

Dawn Jackson Blatner, a registered dietitian in Chicago, says she saves dining out for "social or business reasons, not convenience. I save dining out for date nights with my husband, friends and family."

—By USA Today's Nanci Hellmich