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Americans Aren’t Eating as Much McDonald’s Anymore

Americans Aren’t Eating as Much McDonald’s Anymore

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McDonald’s quarterly financial report shows that for three months in a row, McDonald’s sales have fallen in America

Are we just plain-old getting tired of McDonald's?

We just aren’t craving the Big Mac anymore, it seems. McDonald’s has come out with its quarterly financial report showing that sales in America are down for the third month in a row. McDonald’s has said that they are blaming the cold weather snap and that profits should be back and booming as the spring and summer months continue.

“We continue to view McDonald’s domestic business as hampered by a menu with far too many items on it, which is slowing average service times (most worrisome regarding the drive-thru), which in turn makes same-store traffic growth that much more difficult to achieve,” Janney Capital Markets analyst Mark Kalinowski wrote in a memo according to the Chicago Tribune.

In layman’s terms, it basically means that the fast food competition, from Taco Bell breaking into the breakfast scene, KFC bringing back the Double Down and introducing a chicken corsage, or Chipotle re-vamping its menu to include vegan sofritas, is experiencing tremendous growth. There was good news for the Golden Arches though: international sales of McDonald’s continue to rise.

Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi

When Marcia Chatelain tells people about her new book, Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America, she sometimes describes it like this: “I trace how McDonald’s became black.”

She gets a lot of bewildered responses. “People are like, ‘What do you mean? Everyone eats McDonald’s,’ ” said Chatelain, a Georgetown University history professor and my co-host on the Slate podcast The Waves. “And yes, everyone eats McDonald’s. But everyone doesn’t experience McDonald’s the same way.”

Franchise offers a deeply researched history of McDonald’s push to establish itself in black neighborhoods on its way to becoming the world’s largest restaurant chain. Black consumers and civil rights leaders faced constrained choices when McDonald’s was coming into the picture. As a target of sit-ins and boycotts, a supposed engine of black economic development, and a highly visible philanthropic actor in areas neglected by the state, McDonald’s evolved within and alongside movements for racial justice.

Chatelain shows how a combination of pro-business public policy and racialized poverty allowed McDonald’s to represent its job openings and opportunities for black franchise ownership as paths to social and political power, even as those jobs paid little and those franchise owners were marginalized within their own company. “What fast food reminds us is how unforgiving capitalism is,” Chatelain told me. In a conversation last week, we spoke about what black customers taught McDonald’s, the difference between the white McDonald’s experience and the black one, and why an ad that seems racist today was a hit among black customers in the ’70s. The transcript that follows has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Christina Cauterucci: What got you interested in the racial history of fast food?

Marcia Chatelain: This book is really the sum total of my singular obsession with an industry that is so ubiquitous it’s easy to underestimate its impact and role in people’s lives. When I was in graduate school at Brown, I got really interested in food justice issues. I read John Robbins’ Diet for a New America—he’s a Baskin-Robbins heir who renounced his family’s wealth and was a very early proponent of solar panels and veganism. I was really moved by the thoughtful way he approached not only what he ate, but how he consumed in the world. My analytical brain always went back to the tone that was used to talk about poor people and how they fed themselves and their children. So my interest in fast food was about: What if the health and food movements focused less on what people ate and more about the conditions in which they have to eat?

The second part of it was growing up in Chicago, just having such a familiarity with African American franchise owners as these incredibly wealthy philanthropists in all sorts of community activities. In all of the places I’ve lived, when I’ve met people of color who are from big cities, they’ve been familiar with franchise owners as real-life people. I wanted to help people think about the fact that what we eat and how we eat has a history and has a story. There’s nothing inevitable about what people are drawn to.

The familiar narrative is that fast food is popular in communities of color because it’s cheap, and there aren’t many other food options, and the food is chemically engineered to appeal to the palate. But you’re saying there’s way more to it than that.

There’s a whole political infrastructure underneath it that is supported by people that, if we take a really simple view of history, are the good guys. There is a long relationship between major civil rights organizations and the fast food industry. As a historian, when I’m teaching students, I always want people to understand that our view of history is informed by the fact that we know what happened—we know where the bad guys are lurking. But for folks who are in that particular moment, they have to use their best guesses to think about what different relationships will bear out, what kind of economic system they’ll find themselves in. In 1969 and 1970, there’s the opportunity to have a McDonald’s in your community where people can eat, they can hang out, they can have jobs, and you can see the building of something like black wealth.

From our perspective, in 2020, we can be so sure that we would never make that bad decision. But 50 years ago, people knew that businesses were fleeing the inner city. They knew that the unemployment rate for black youth was in the double digits. And they also knew that there had been a series of promises made throughout the 1960s about equality and parity that never materialized. So when you think about it that way, why not invite a corporate giant like McDonald’s into your community and see what it can do?

And some civil rights leaders were ready to make that bet. You track this shift towards black business ownership in parts of the movement after the death of Martin Luther King Jr., which seems like a surprising response, to pivot to capitalism after losing this anti-capitalist leader. How did that happen?

If you look at Martin Luther King’s last few years, he is articulating a vision for the future that is really questioning: How are people going to enjoy the expansion of housing opportunities? How are they going to enjoy better schools if they are left behind because of poverty? In his last speech, a big chunk is about economic boycott and the power of the black dollar and all of these plans that he was making with Jesse Jackson and others to think about how they could negotiate some economic gains.

I think that the reason why this pivot towards business was so strong was because that was one of the few avenues that the federal government and some white allies, both on the left and on the right, were willing to concede. The thing that I think is bananas is that if you look at the major reports that come out of uprisings starting in the 1910s up to Ferguson in 2014, these commissions will say, “Why are people so overwhelmed by the strain of racism?” And people will say, “Police brutality. Poor-quality schools. Housing that is either substandard or not affordable.” And then they’ll say, “And we don’t have enough businesses in our community.” These are really very clear problems. Yet the business one will be the one that actually has the possibility of having some movement towards it, because the business thing is easy in the grand scheme of things. Getting businesses into a community doesn’t require challenging state violence and abolishing or reforming police.

So much of this story is about black franchise owners. McDonald’s credited them with the survival of inner-city franchises during riots, and they seem to have really built loyalty in their communities. But I don’t think I know a single owner of any McDonald’s I’ve been to. Do you think that’s a big difference in the way white people and black people experience McDonald’s?

I think so. The proximity of black business owners to the everyday workings of black communities has long been a feature of the hyper-segregated world we live in. Before the franchise owners, it would be the funeral parlor owners who are extending lines of credit to people because banks won’t. Or the black banker who isn’t just taking care of a bank, but also representing the community with the sheriff or the local judge and getting involved in the historically black college.

Black franchisees are often some of the wealthiest business owners in a community. This person is everywhere. I interviewed a black franchise owner who owns dozens of outlets in Dallas, and we went to his different stores, and in his store in the black community, people know who he is because they’ve heard him on local radio. They have seen this guy donate money to their kids’ Pop Warner football. I remember watching television on the syndicated channels that would have, like, Soul Train and the black programming on Saturdays, and “the Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana chapter of the National Black McDonald’s Operators Association” was something I heard all the time growing up.

When I go to a McDonald’s, I might find the black version of whatever McDonald’s campaign or commercial cheesy or a little silly. But if I’m able to take my child in and get them a coloring book about Martin Luther King, that’s actually pretty valuable. Having spent so much time with material from the fast food industry, I have come to see it as so innovative and creative. I think about the thought that goes into the design of a tray liner that is supposed to tell you about the great African Americans in history. Or a cassette tape where Queen Latifah raps about Harriet Tubman and someone else will introduce the importance of Arturo Schomburg to collecting African American history. What I really wanted to be respectful of is the fact that sometimes when we’re critiquing the quality of goods, we are losing sight of the joy and the pleasure those goods can still produce.

There is a way that what poor people eat is portrayed as unimportant and not creative. And for me, I think it is endlessly creative and interesting—because fast food has to convince you that something that may not taste very good does.

One of the things McDonald’s did was work to convince black customers, who were suspicious of a boneless chicken sandwich, that a boneless chicken sandwich was normal and good. And, like, they were right to be suspicious! It’s a fake cut of chicken! You also write about a 1970s ad that targeted black customers, that said, basically, “Don’t worry, you don’t have to tip or dress up at McDonald’s.” Now, just a few decades later, those boneless chicken sandwiches seem normal, and that commercial seems racist. How did those norms change?

When we look back at some of the old appeals to black consumers, they are very problematic from 2020 perspectives. But by the mid 1970s, when a black consumer is going to a restaurant, they have only been federally protected to do so for about a decade. In some of my early research while thinking about a book about food and civil rights, I would talk to older African Americans about dining out, and they would say, “I remember the first time I went to a restaurant. I was in my 30s.” Or “We didn’t go places. We couldn’t go places.”

So for a number of people who are entering a place like McDonald’s in 1975, it’s still kind of a big deal. Even if it’s not fine dining and even if the food isn’t particularly amazing, the fact that you know you can walk into this place without any fear of intimidation or violence, and the manager is black and the person who owns it is black, is no small thing, nationally. For those advertisements to assure black diners that whatever traumas that you have brought or your family brought, that will not happen here, is really, really important for understanding the popularity of fast food.

And then the second part of it, in terms of what the food provides—in some instances, they had a captive market, or a market that understood the food experience as more practical than an indulgence. Fast food delivers a lot of calories, a lot of carbohydrates, a lot of sugar, really quickly. If you’re working multiple jobs, if you just need to feed yourself, it actually is a pretty good choice.

There are all of these reasons why fast food is a rational choice. What is deeply irrational to me is that we live in a system in which people can’t make many food choices because they can’t afford electricity, or their landlord hasn’t delivered a proper refrigerator for them, or they can’t pay their gas bill one month because it got really cold. But we culturally fixate on the food problems because that’s a pathway to individualize real structural inequalities that are hard to grapple with. As I’ve gone through this process, I’ve realized I’m more indifferent about fast food and probably more indignant about capitalism than anything else.

The concept of choice under capitalism animates a lot of your book. You write that, sometimes, “the choice between a McDonald’s and no McDonald’s was actually a choice between a McDonald’s and no youth job program.” How did those community choices, or lack of choices, help make McDonald’s into this dominant force in food?

It’s not a story in which no one had any agency. It’s that people had incredibly limited options and made the best out of it. What McDonald’s understood from the beginning, before it started targeting African Americans, was that it could use its brand and its economic model to ingratiate the restaurant to the larger community. So very early on, franchise owners were expected to do philanthropy and be a presence in the store. Those bonds were really important in building the brand and generating trust because people were not quite sure if they wanted a very highly trafficked business in their neighborhood. [Influential McDonald’s CEO] Ray Kroc was such a genius in that he understood what we call corporate responsibility and philanthropy as the way that you cover yourself from criticism.

When I capture some of the conflicts that people have with McDonald’s, they are often about how much McDonald’s is going to relent. If the McDonald’s is the way to get the youth job program, then how do we get a solid number of how many jobs they’ll provide? When we learn the narratives of African American history, it’s often about these really heroic choices—escaping slavery or starting an uprising. The romantic version of history is one that would say, “People were so radically anti-capitalist that they didn’t want anything to do with fast food.” But I argue that the people who sat down at the table and said, “We may not like it, but maybe this is the way we are going to extend the services of our school”— they’re probably a more realistic representation of how people actually negotiate constrained choices.

At every beat in this story, it seems like you identify a vacuum that the government left and where McDonald’s rushed in to fill the gap, to expand its own footprint. Is that how you see McDonald’s major presence in black communities? As a failure of government?

Absolutely. I see everyone failing left and right. I sometimes say that McDonald’s replaced the state in black communities. That’s such an aggressive way of describing it. But I think about it in terms of the fact that I went to pretty good schools I got scholarships to private school.
And my first interaction with serious African American history was mediated through McDonald’s. And … good, I guess? But perhaps there could have been a place for the state to actually have provided that.

The reasons why a lot of uprisings happened in the ’60s, ’70s, and even today is because people had no space. There’s an episode of the civil rights documentary Eyes on the Prize where they talk about the Detroit uprising, and a guy basically says, “We were just outside of our houses on the stoops and in the corners. ’Cause we didn’t have parks, we didn’t have community centers. This is where we were. And these were the places where people would be terrorized by the police.” If your space is a fast food restaurant, I could tell you to stop eating cheeseburgers and you’ll say, “Thank you for your feedback.” So what I have come to think about fast food and McDonald’s is more and more not about the food they serve, but the role that they play, and how that role allows them to continue to serve the quality of food that they serve.

Between that public service role and the fact that black franchises were so profitable, which helped McDonald’s grow—it makes me think of that saying, “Black history is American history, and American history is black history.” To what extent is McDonald’s history black history, and black history McDonald’s history?

Without the African American consumer base, McDonald’s would have experienced a slowdown in the ’70s that contributed to the demise or the suppression of some of its competitors. What the African American market taught McDonald’s was that it needed to be flexible in ways that it never had to be with its suburban and mostly white markets. And once they realized that a little bit of flexibility could take them a long way, they developed the toolkit and the script that a lot of corporations use around culture and segmenting markets and understanding the appeal of crossover celebrities. All of those things were being done to some extent, but McDonald’s perfected it.

The African American contribution to shaping this industry had been erased, because there was a presupposition that black people had always been attracted to the food. When I started writing this book, people would ask me, “Did McDonald’s open their archives to you?” And no, they have a closed archive. But if we appreciate how much African Americans interfaced with this company and with these ideas of black capitalism and community building, then McDonald’s history is everywhere in the archives of African American history. And I think that that is something that I’m proudest of. This is an opportunity to push back against this idea that a group of people don’t have a history with something just because that history isn’t in the places we anticipated.

Fast Food Isn't Even Cheap Anymore

If you ask someone why they choose to eat at a fast food chain, one of the first answers you normally hear is because of how affordable it is—but it seems that the budget-friendly appeal of fast food is fading just as fast, according to new data presented by Bloomberg.

Sales gimmicks like Burger King's pile of 10 chicken nuggets for $1 may still be getting customers in the door, but the reality is that non-discount menu items have become increasingly expensive over the years. Hamburgers have seen price hikes of upwards of 55 percent over the last decade, to an average of $6.95, Bloomberg reports—and the costs of chicken sandwiches have seen a similar trend, with prices escalating by 27 percent since 2008. These cost increases exceed overall U.S. price inflation recorded during the same period.

Stay up to date on what healthy means now.

Bloomberg notes that McDonald's, once infamous among consumers for their vast Dollar Menu, recently introduced $6 meals that include a small burger, fries, soda, and a fried pie—but if you choose regular menu entrées, like chicken tenders or a burger with bacon the total can end up being twice that, or more.

The price gap between value menu items and regular menu items (both often highly caloric and nutritionally poor) are becoming more and more noticeable at many chains—in Chicago, the metropolitan market where Bloomberg pulled its data from, Taco Bell's "Grilled Stuft Burrito" is $5 and change, whereas a cheese, bean and rice burrito is $1. Prices vary by market, but data shows this trend is well on its way to becoming a permanent change at all chains.

But the most poignant aspect of this trend is that average fast food prices are now closer to being on par with items available at fast-casual chains. In the case of Shake Shack, menus used to be nearly 30 percent pricier than those at Burger King or McDonald's. According to research from Datassential, a food industry marketing firm, the cost difference between a hamburger from Shake Shack and a traditional fast-food drive thru is now less than 8 percent.

Fast-casual restaurants and fast-food chains are very distinct some, like Chipotle and Panera Bread, have proved that wholesome ingredients can be used in appealing meals at attractive prices, which are no longer far and away from those being charged at drive thru windows.

It's clear that menus at fast-casual restaurants aren't perfect by any means, but nutritionists have found redeeming, healthy options and orders at these restaurants. Cooking Light has published an in-depth guide to ordering the healthiest meals at national chain restaurants, and readers can easily discern the nutritional value between items at leading fast-food chains as well as the fast-casual restaurants on this list.

Since prices aren't noticeably cheaper at fast-food chains anymore, consumers could feasibly turn to fast-casual chains and their healthier on-the-go meals instead.

"It's weird not being able to buy random shit at 4 a.m." —u/TheSensualSloth

"How colorful people dress. In pretty much every European country I've been to, people dress in really neutral colors without big logos or graphics. In America it's pretty common to dress in bright colors or have a shirt with a cool graphic on it." —u/DoesRedditHateImgur

Why Americans Don't Cook as Much as We Used To

Remember when making dinner didn't entail pulling out an app, sorting by rating, filtering by cuisine, and Adding to Bag for checkout and delivery? So does Michael Pollan , the activist author behind blockbuster food books like Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food —and he wants to bring that pre-delivery world back.

In his book, Cooked , Pollan sounds the alarm that Americans not only cook less than people anywhere else in the world, but we, on average, spend only 27 minutes a day preparing food, compared to 60 minutes in 1965. How exactly did we get here? And what's to be done? Pollan lays it all out in his new four-part Netflix docu-series, Cooked , which premieres on Feburary 19 and spotlights labor-intensive cooking processes all over the world to inspire us to get back into the kitchen. Exclusive clip below:

The series is broken down into four parts corresponding to the four classical elements—Earth, Wind (or Air, here), Fire, and Water. Each episode's elemental theme corresponds to a specific slower style of preparing and eating food, particularly those anchored by long, labor-intensive processes: kneading fresh bread made from a sourdough starter, fermenting and curing, braising. If only we could recalibrate our expectations of what food is (and could be) and how long it should take to land on our plates, weɽ be more likely to put time and energy into making it, he argues.

But there are forces working against us.

Cooking is now optional we don't need to spend time in the kitchen to feed ourselves. And preparing food takes time. Or at least that's the myth that big food industry wants to perpetuate, according to Pollan.

In the "Fire" episode of Cooked, the Aborigines restored their diets by going back to traditional cooking methods. Still courtesy of Netflix/Cooked

He traces the shift to supply , rather than exclusively pinning it on demand—that is, women leaving the kitchen to join the workforce in the mid 1900s. Food companies that had been profitable during WWII saw how profitable instant, convenient, and processed food could be.

The companies put ad dollars behind it. Pollan singles out a vintage KFC ad with the tagline "Make Tonight Mother's Day" and copy that reads "Do it for Mother's sake. We fix Sunday dinner 7 days a week," as amplifying any feelings of drudgery and panic many homemakers (namely, women) associated with being marooned in the kitchen. According to Pollan, the big food companies basically stepped in and said, "Stop arguing. We've got you covered. We'll do the cooking," boosting processed food as modern and cool. A half century later, "We let restaurants cook for us, or buy home meal replacements, prepared foods from supermarkets, and we watch the process on television. Cooking has become highly mediated and removed from daily life for many of us," Pollan said in an interview with producers from the series. It's, ironically, why many of us spend more time watching cooking shows like Pollan's than actually turning on a stove or building a soup layer by layer.

Pollan cooks his way through Cooked, here with slow-way bread. Photo: Courtesy of Netflix/Cooked

As much as we all want to eat better-tasting food that's healthier for us and the environment, "People are starting to realize that unless you cook, you can't control your diet, and you're ceding control of the important elements of your life to corporations that really don't care about your health ," said Pollan. And if people don't start to cook, the alternative, sustainable food system we rally behind may result in nothing more than a par-baked, frozen dream we can order online.

Watch Cooked on Netflix, beginning Friday, February 19.

Travers says that Trump’s chefs and advisers should think about a slightly more balanced diet, and that a plate of food ‘should be half-filled with fruit and veg, a quarter with carbohydrates and a quarter with proteins.’

She also worried about his lack of food that contains omega-3s, such as oily fish, nuts and seeds. ‘His body will substitute with other types of fats, which are less fluid, making it harder for neuro transmitters to get through. This is linked to mood disorders’, Travers said.

Bloomberg has reported that Trump has been eating differently in recent weeks, with one source saying that he hasn’t eaten a burger for two weeks and has swapped his usual fare for soup and salads. So far Trump has embraced the routine.

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"Our job is to be responsible and relevant to the changing needs of consumers today," said Jackie S. Woodward, corporate vice president for global marketing. "Consumers the world over are looking for better education on how to lead balanced lives."

The campaign work completed thus far includes six new commercials, many featuring athletes like Venus and Serena Williams. Others use animation to show McDonald's drink cups, lettuce, straws and burgers performing exercises. The spots, which are to start appearing in the United States by May, were created by Leo Burnett USA in Chicago, part of the Leo Burnett Worldwide division of the Publicis Groupe.

Commercials supporting the global active-life campaign will also appear abroad McDonald's plans presentations on the subject this month in Britain and China. The effort will also emphasize McDonald's association with the Olympics it has been an Olympic sponsor since 1976.

Executives declined to disclose how much McDonald's will spend promoting the new theme, or how much it has invested in introducing healthier menu items.

Wayne Gretzky and other celebrities brought in by McDonald's enthusiastically endorsed its program yesterday, but analysts and consultants offered more diverse reactions.

"It's probably the right thing for the company to do from a marketing, public relations and even ethical standpoint, but it doesn't have a direct bearing on the company's financial performance," said John S. Glass, a restaurant analyst at CIBC World Markets.

Mr. Glass said he was paying more attention to the sales results issued yesterday. The company reported that global sales at restaurants open at least 13 months, called same-store sales, rose 1.6 percent in February, the smallest gain in nearly two years. Same-store sales rose by 4.6 percent in the United States, its largest market, but fell 3.4 percent in Europe, its second-largest market.

A consultant to many McDonald's franchisees, Richard Adams, said individual franchise operators view the emphasis on physical fitness as a company attempt to please investors. "Ninety percent of what they do is keyed to impress Wall Street," he said. "There may or may not be any connection to consumers."

One frequent critic of food companies and other marketers, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is based in Washington, said McDonald's was intentionally focusing on the wrong area.

"Food companies promoting physical activity is more about deflecting blame away from their products and the role of calories in contributing to obesity than it is about protecting the public's health," said Margo G. Wootan, director for nutrition policy at the center, which receives its financing from subscribers to its newsletter and donors like the Rockefeller Foundation and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

McDonald's excels at developing and selling food products, Ms. Wootan said, adding that it should improve the nutrition of its menu items further before moving on to physical fitness campaigns. "Promoting physical activity is absolutely critical but the food industry should do what they do best," she said. "Leave the fitness to Nike and gyms and sporting goods manufacturers and the Centers for Disease Control."

Other marketers have taken varying approaches to complaints over obesity. Kraft Foods, for example, said in January that it would shift advertising for some of its less-nutritious products, like Kool-Aid and Oreos, out of shows and publications primarily aimed at children age 6 to 11. Instead, Kraft will advertise products that it selects to have a new Sensible Solution label on the package, including Post Shredded Wheat cereal, Crystal Light drinks and sugar-free Kool-Aid.

THE MEDIA BUSINESS: ADVERTISING Correction: March 11, 2005, Friday A report by Bloomberg News in the Company News column of Business Day on Wednesday about an increase in sales for February at the McDonald's Corporation misstated a comparison in some copies. It was the 1.6 percent increase in global same-store sales that was the worst performance since April 2003 -- not the 4.6 percent rise in sales at United States restaurants open 13 months or more.

Hotcakes and sausage

An order of hotcakes and sausage contains 790 calories, 35 grams of fat, and 103 grams of carbs. This epically disastrous McDonald's favorite meal of hotcakes and sausage is the health-conscious person's worst nightmare. It doesn't take much to realize that combining sugar-laden bread with sodium-heavy meat does zero favors for your waistline, not to mention your poor heart. Those numbers factor in the whipped margarine and syrup, but keep in mind that the numbers just climb higher for every extra packet you add.

If you really feel like having something sweet in the morning, try ordering the fruit and yogurt parfait instead. With 150 calories and 2 grams of fat, it is subtly sweet, rich, and nourishing all at once. While it is a decidedly on-the-run kind of breakfast, this menu item gives you a chance at starting the day right.

30 Milkshakes With More Calories Than an Entire Meal

Milkshakes and malts (which are just shakes with malted milk powder added) have been around since the early 20th century, and started getting really popular in the 1950s. These blended combinations of (usually) milk, ice cream, various syrups or other flavorings, and add-ins like chopped up candies or crumbled cookies, are some of the most delicious things on fast food menus — part drink, part dessert.

They are also some of the most fearsomely caloric. Sometimes a single shake can match or exceed the total calorie count of an entire lunch or dinner, especially at a fast food restaurant. These are the fast food items with the most calories.

Of course, the number of calories each of us consumes when we sit down to eat varies widely. It is generally accepted, however, that to maintain current weight, an average adult male needs about 2,500 calories a day, and an average adult female about 2,000.

It has been estimated that the average American — one who is neither dieting nor splurging —
typically consumes 300 to 400 calories for breakfast and 500 to 700 calories each for lunch and dinner, plus about 200 for snacks. The balance would be made up with beverages. (A couple of glasses of red wine would add 250 calories, a fancy Starbucks Grande Frappuccino 500 to 600.)

Because Americans in general are more likely to overeat than undereat, 24/7 Tempo took the top number for lunch or dinner, 700 calories, and looked for chain restaurant milkshakes that exceeded that total. There were plenty.

Of course, chains aren’t the only places serving milkshakes, and many of the best ones — likely equally caloric — are found at independent diners, ice cream shops, and other outlets. These are the best places to get a shake in every state.

Surprisingly the milkshakes at some of the best-known fast-food operations actually fell below the 700 number, if not by much. McDonald’s shakes range from 490 to 530 calories. California-based cult favorite In-N-Out Burger serves just three flavors of shake — chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla — in a single size. Vanilla is 580 calories, the other two 590.

The shakes at Five Guys (vanilla only) come to 590 calories — though various extras (bacon, bananas, cherries, chocolate, coffee, malted milk, Oreo cookie pieces, peanut butter, salted caramel, or strawberries) add between 5 and 90 calories each. Chick-fil-A’s shakes don’t exceed 610 calories.

On the other hand, we found some shakes — at Baskin-Robbins and Sonic Drive-In, among other places — whose calorie counts not only exceed the standard for a single meal but approached the recommended intake for an entire day.


Calorie counts were taken from the nutritional information offered on the official websites of all the chains covered, with the exception of Baskin-Robbins, which doesn’t offer such data on its site. Calorie counts for that chain were drawn from the website of Nutrition Charts.

What’s on your table? How America’s diet has changed over the decades

Americans eat more chicken and less beef than they used to. They drink less milk – especially whole milk – and eat less ice cream, but they consume way more cheese. Their diets include less sugar than in prior decades but a lot more corn-derived sweeteners. And while the average American eats the equivalent of 1.2 gallons of yogurt a year, he or she also consumes 36 pounds of cooking oils – more than three times as much as in the early 1970s.

Americans’ eating habits, in short, are all over the place, at least according to our analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) data. Which is about what you’d expect, judging from the results of Pew Research Center’s recent survey on food and nutrition attitudes. In that survey, 54% of Americans said people in the U.S. pay more attention to eating healthy foods today compared with 20 years ago – the same percentage who said Americans’ actual eating habits are less healthy today than they were 20 years ago. And while 73% of Americans said they were very or fairly focused on healthy and nutritious eating, 58% said that most days they probably should be eating healthier.

So how do Americans really eat, and how has that changed over time? We analyzed data from the USDA’s Food Availability (Per Capita) Data System, or FADS, to find out. (Specifically, we used food availability adjusted for waste, spoilage and other loss as a proxy for consumption.) While the nation’s eating habits don’t change all that much from year to year, looking at them over 40 or more years shows some significant changes.

Broadly speaking, we eat a lot more than we used to: The average American consumed 2,481 calories a day in 2010, about 23% more than in 1970. That’s more than most adults need to maintain their current weight, according to the Mayo Clinic’s calorie calculator. (A 40-year-old man of average height and weight who’s moderately active, for instance, needs 2,400 calories a 40-year-old woman with corresponding characteristics needs 1,850 calories.)

Nearly half of those calories come from just two food groups: flours and grains (581 calories, or 23.4%) and fats and oils (575, or 23.2%), up from a combined 37.3% in 1970. Meats, dairy and sweeteners provide smaller shares of our daily caloric intake than they did four decades ago then again, so do fruits and vegetables (7.9% in 2010 versus 9.2% in 1970).

Most of the fats we consume are in the form of vegetable oils: soybean, corn, canola and other oils used as ingredients or in which foods are cooked. Such oils contributed 402 calories on their own to our daily diet in 2010 (although the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in its analysis of the USDA data, notes that the increase in fat consumption may not be as steep as it appears, because the number of manufacturers reporting data jumped suddenly in 2000).

While butter consumption, at 3.3 pounds per person per year, is about the same as it was in 1970, margarine use has fallen dramatically, from a peak of 7.2 pounds per person per year in 1976 to 2.1 pounds in 2010. (In 2011 the Census Bureau discontinued the report USDA relied on to make most of its fat and oil estimates, though the department has been developing a replacement. That’s also why overall calorie-consumption estimates aren’t available past 2010.)

Several interesting shifts are happening within food groups. For the past decade, for instance, chicken has topped beef as the most-consumed meat. In 2014, Americans ate an average of 47.9 pounds of chicken a year (2.1 ounces a day), versus 39.4 pounds (1.7 ounces a day) of beef. While average chicken consumption has more than doubled since 1970, beef has fallen by more than a third.

Over in the dairy aisle, Americans are drinking 42% less milk than they did in 1970: 12.6 gallons a year, equivalent to 4.8 ounces a day. However, we’re eating a lot more cheese: 21.9 pounds a year, nearly three times the average annual consumption in 1970. And yogurt has soared in popularity, from negligible levels in 1970 to almost 1.2 gallons per person per year in 2014 – a 1,700% increase.

Americans consume 29% more grains, mostly in the form of breads, pastries and other baked goods, than they did in 1970 – the equivalent of 122.1 pounds a year. But that’s actually down from 2000, the year of “peak grain,” when per capita annual consumption was a hefty 137.6 pounds. While corn products are a somewhat bigger part of the average American diet (14 pounds per person per year, up from 4.9 pounds in 1970), wheat is still the country’s staple grain.

America’s sweet tooth peaked in 1999, when each person consumed an average of 90.2 pounds of added caloric sweeteners a year, or 26.7 teaspoons a day. In 2014, sweetener use was down to 77.3 pounds per year, or 22.9 teaspoons a day. (Note that those figures don’t include noncaloric sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose and stevia.) While most of the sweetener consumed in 1970 was refined sugar, the market is now almost evenly split between sugar and corn-derived sweeteners, such as high-fructose corn syrup.


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