Whether stressed or depressed, almost everyone has a favorite go-to dish that seems to help make everything all better. According to a study conducted by Harris Poll, Rochester, N.Y., just over half (53%) of Americans indicate they eat more when they’re stressed, and two-thirds (67%) agree they use their favorite comfort food as a pick-me-up.
So, which food seems to do the trick? For Americans, pizza lands in the No. 1 spot as the ultimate comfort food.
With a 15% slice of Americans hailing it as their No. 1 choice, pizza received more than twice as many votes as any other food choice. Chocolate and ice cream tie for second at 7% each, while macaroni and cheese and chips round out the Top 5 (5% and 4%, respectively).
Looking at favorites by various demographics – gender, generation and geographic region – it seems as though pizza is No. 1 for just about everyone, with the exception of Matures (those 70+), who instead turn to ice cream.
However, some clear differences do arise for second and third choices:
- Women turn to chocolate and ice cream as their second and third choices, respectively. Men, on the other hand, opt for ice cream and then chips.
- Ice cream is the second choice for Easterners and Southerners alike, while Midwesterners turn to chocolate and Westerners prefer to dig into some mac and cheese. In third place, those in the South and West opt for chocolate, while those in the Midwest want a bowl of ice cream and the East is hankering for mac and cheese.
- While chocolate is No. 2 for Gen Xers, this treat is reserved for third place by all other generations. Millennials’ second choice is mac and cheese, while Baby Boomers opt for ice cream and Matures reach for steak. Gen Xers name chips as their third-place pick.
Roughly six in 10 Americans name soup as their go-to when sick, with nearly four in 10 (39%) mentioning it more broadly and an additional 22% specifically mentioning chicken soup. Soups reign supreme as the Top 2 under-the-weather foods across all key demographics. The Top 5 foods eaten while sick are rounded out by ice cream (3%), toast (2%) and pizza (2%).
When it comes to celebrating a special occasion, steak has a strong hold on the No. 1 spot, with over two in 10 (22%) adults choosing it as their favorite special occasion meal, while 12% turn to cake. Americans across all key demographics cite these two as their favorite celebratory foods. Rounding out the Top 5 celebratory dishes are pizza (7%), lobster (4%) and other types of seafood (3%).
Over four in 10 Americans say they need an edible pick-me-up when stressed (45%) or after a really bad day (43%). One third (33%) indicate they turn to a comfort food when depressed. Nearly four in 10 indicate they’ll turn to their tried-and-true dish after a really good day (38%) or on their birthday (37%).
More distantly, 13% indicate they eat it after a break-up, and among those 21 or older, 9% each say they need that special dish either the day after or during a night of heavy drinking.
Demographically speaking, there are clear differences in the top reasons for needing some comfort food.
- Women are most likely to reach for their favorite comfort food when stressed (54%), while men are most likely to turn to comfort food after a really good day (43%).
- Looking to the generations, Millennials and Gen Xers are most likely to need comfort food when stressed (58% and 50%, respectively). Baby Boomers, on the other hand, need it after a really bad day (38%), while Matures look to it after a really good day (39%).
Furthermore, a vast majority of Americans (90%) are going one step further to say there’s nothing like a home-cooked meal. In fact, over six in 10 adults (62%) say their favorite comfort food reminds them of their childhood.
Though Americans may not feel guilty after indulging, over four in 10 (41%) do indicate they’ll sometimes work out longer or more intensely to justify eating a favorite comfort food. This is particularly true of Millennials, compared to their older counterparts (57% vs. 42% Gen Xers, 29% Baby Boomers, 22% Matures).
This Harris Poll was conducted online in English the United States Dec. 9- 14, 2015 among 2,252 adults (aged 18 and over).