It's official: America is taking back the lunch hour.

You're Savvy About Salads

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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. 

Guys, You're Smitten with Sammies

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We get it: It's hard to have a bad day when there's a huge hoagie in your lunch bag. Men tote a sandwich about 47 percent of the time, according to NPD data. This fuels a bright spot for takeout: Fast-casual eateries, which include sandwich delis, are one of the segments of the restaurant industry that has grown substantially in recent years, says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president for research at the National Restaurant Association.

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.

Ladies, You Love Your Leftovers


Sandwiches aren't your style, gals -- 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 Every Day with Rachael Ray 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."