There was a time when Millennials were referred to as one big generational group and their behaviors were attributed to their generation vs. their age or life stage. But, now that Millennials are older and vary in their life stages — single, married, parents — when it comes to dinner planning, some of their behaviors are similar to when the generations that preceded them were in that life stage, according to research released by The NPD Group, Chicago.  

Parents with children in the household, whether Millennials or Gen Xers, invest more time in preparing the dinner meal. The majority of meals are prepared and consumed in-home; it takes about 10-59 minutes to prepare and cook a family dinner. These types of invested dinners are forecast to grow over the next five years, according to the “Future of Dinner” study.

An example of a generational trait that sets Millennials apart from Gen Xers is that they believe that as long as they play a part in the meal preparation process, they made it. They don’t have to literally make the whole thing from scratch for it to be homemade in their eyes. Gen Xers, on the other hand, having grown up exposed to in-home cooking from scratch, acknowledge the difference between a homemade and a partially prepared meal.  

Many Gen Zs, those born 1997 to present, were raised by Gen X parents who taught them to understand the purpose of food and how it fits into a well-lived life. As a result, this generational cohort has set expectations that food and food brands will follow their needs and not the other way around. When older Gen Zs, now young adults, plan their dinner, they exhibit the same life stage behaviors that Millennials and other generations did as young adults. They are constantly blurring the line between access (how fast it gets to them) and convenience (how easy it is to use). Where the Gen Z generation differs from other generations is that they are growing up in a globally connected and fast-paced world and expect flavors of the world to be available.

“It’s a common oversight not to age generations or recognize how life stage can impact behavior,” says David Portalatin, food industry advisor. “To understand the difference between generational and life stage behaviors enables food companies and foodservice operators to develop products, menus and marketing messages that are more relevant to their target consumer audiences.”