Comfort Foods, Sickbed Snacks and Celebratory Nosh: What are Americans’ Favorites?

Majorities use their favorite comfort food as a pick-me-up, and they don’t feel guilty about it.

05:00 AM EST Jan 25, 2016 Rating
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Comfort Foods, Sickbed Snacks and Celebratory Nosh: What are Americans’ Favorites?

NEW YORK, N.Y. – January 25, 2016 – There’s really no debate that food can be a comfort. Whether stressed or depressed, almost everyone has a favorite go-to dish that seems to help make everything all better. 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. But there’s no shame here. As the ultimate food connoisseur, Julia Child, once said: “Everything in moderation… including moderation.” Americans seem to hold a similar viewpoint, as two thirds (66%) indicate they don’t feel guilty after indulging in their favorite comfort food.

So which food seems to do the trick? For Americans, pizza lands in the number one spot as the ultimate comfort food.

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,252 U.S. adults surveyed online between December 9 and 14, 2015.

Pizza, anyone?  

Looking at comfort foods, pizza tops America’s list of favorites. With a 15% slice of Americans hailing it as their number one, it gets more than twice as many votes as any other food choice. Chocolate and ice cream tie for second, at 7% each, while mac & cheese and chips round out the top five (5% and 4%, respectively).

Looking at favorites by various demographics – gender, generation, and geographic region – it seems as though pizza is number one for just about everyone, with the exception of Matures (those 70+), who turn instead to ice cream. However, some clear differences do arise for second and third choices:

Comfort food has its time and place, however. When they’re sick, Americans would much rather turn to soup, by a wide margin. Roughly six in ten Americans name soup as their go-to when they’re sick, with nearly four in ten (39%) mentioning it more broadly and an additional 22% specifically mentioning chicken soup. Soups reign supreme as the top two under-the-weather foods across all key demographics. The top five foods eaten while sick are rounded out by ice cream (3%), toast (2%) and, yes, pizza (2%).

When it comes to celebrating a special occasion, Americans continue to have differing top choices as well. Steak has a strong hold on the number one spot, with over two in ten (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 five celebratory dishes are pizza (7%), lobster (4%), and other types of seafood (3%).

A Time for Comfort

So when do Americans turn to their favorite comfort food? Over four in ten say they need an edible pick-me-up when they’re stressed (45%) or after a really bad day (43%). One third (33%) indicate they turn to a comfort food when they’re depressed.

However, not everyone needs to be down in the dumps to dig into their favorite comfort food. Nearly four in ten 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.

Food for thought

While most will agree there’s no place like home, a vast majority of Americans (90%) are going one step further to say there’s nothing like a home cooked meal. With that sentiment in mind, it likely comes as little surprise that over six in ten (62%) adults say their favorite comfort food reminds them of their childhood.

Though Americans may not feel guilty after indulging, over four in ten (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).

 

TABLE 1a

FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD

Rank Summary – Top 10

"What do you consider to be your favorite food for each of the following?"

Base: All adults


 

Rank

Total

 

#

%

Pizza

1

15

Chocolate

2

7

Ice cream

3

7

Mac and cheese

4

5

Chips

5

4

Hamburgers

6

3

Steak

7

3

Popcorn

8

2

Pasta (general mentions)

9

2

Mexican food

10

2

 

 

TABLE 1b

FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD

TOP THREE FAVORITE COMFORT FOODS AMONG VARIOUS GROUPS

"What do you consider to be your favorite food for each of the following?"

Base: All adults

FIRST CHOICE

SECOND CHOICE

THIRD CHOICE

Men

Pizza

Ice cream

Chips

Women

Pizza

Chocolate

Ice cream

 

East

Pizza

Ice cream

Mac and cheese

Midwest

Pizza

Chocolate

Ice cream

South

Pizza

Ice cream

Chocolate

West

Pizza

Mac and cheese

Chocolate

 

Millennials (18-35)

Pizza

Mac and cheese

Chocolate

Gen X (36-50)

Pizza

Chocolate

Chips

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Pizza

Ice cream

Chocolate

Matures (70+)

Ice cream

Steak

Chocolate

 


 

TABLE 2a

FAVORITE FOOD WHEN SICK

Rank Summary – Top 10

"What do you consider to be your favorite food for each of the following?"

Base: All adults


 

Rank


Total

 

#

%

Soup (general mentions)

1

39

Chicken soup

2

22

Ice cream

3

3

Toast

4

2

Pizza

5

2

Cereal/oatmeal/porridge

6

1

Crackers/saltines

7

1

Tomato Soup

8

1

Tea

9

1

Pasta (general mentions)

10

1

 

TABLE 2b

TOP THREE FAVORITE FOODS WHEN SICK AMONG VARIOUS GROUPS

"What do you consider to be your favorite food for each of the following?"

Base: All adults

FIRST CHOICE

SECOND CHOICE

THIRD CHOICE

Men

Soup

Chicken soup

Ice cream

Women

Soup

Chicken soup

Toast

 

East

Soup

Chicken soup

Ice cream

Midwest

Soup

Chicken soup

Toast

South

Soup

Chicken soup

Ice cream

West

Soup

Chicken soup

Ice cream / Toast [TIE]

 

Millennials (18-35)

Soup

Chicken soup

Pizza

Gen X (36-50)

Soup

Chicken soup

Ice cream

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Soup

Chicken soup

Ice cream

Matures (70+)

Soup

Chicken soup

Ice cream

 


 

TABLE 3a

FAVORITE FOOD WHEN CELEBRATING A SPECIAL OCCASSION

Rank Summary

"What do you consider to be your favorite food for each of the following?"

Base: All adults


 

Rank

Total

 

#

%

Steak

1

22

Cake

2

12

Pizza

3

7

Lobster

4

4

Seafood (general mentions)

5

3

Ice cream

6

3

Mexican food

7

2

Alcohol

8

2

Prime rib/Roast beef

9

2

Shrimp

10

2

 

TABLE 3b

TOP THREE FAVORITE FOODS WHEN CELEBRATING A SPECIAL OCCASSION

"What do you consider to be your favorite food for each of the following?"

Base: All adults

FIRST CHOICE

SECOND CHOICE

THIRD CHOICE

Men

Steak

Pizza

Cake

Women

Steak

Cake

Lobster

 

East

Steak

Cake

Pizza

Midwest

Steak

Cake

Pizza

South

Steak

Cake

Pizza

West

Steak

Cake

Pizza / Lobster / Ice cream [TIE]

 

Millennials (18-35)

Steak

Cake

Pizza

Gen X (36-50)

Steak

Cake

Pizza

Baby Boomers (51-69)

Steak

Cake

Lobster

Matures (70+)

Steak

Cake

Lobster


 

TABLE 4

TIMES FOR COMFORT FOOD

By Generation & Gender

"When are you most likely to turn to your favorite comfort food?"

Base: All adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials
(18-35)

Gen Xers
(36-50)

Baby Boomers
(51-69)

Matures
(70+)

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

When I’m stressed

45

58

50

37

19

35

54

After a really bad day

43

46

50

38

28

34

50

After a really good day

38

40

35

37

39

43

32

On my birthday

37

42

38

30

37

37

36

When I’m depressed

33

42

35

28

14

24

41

After a break-up

13

24

12

6

1

10

16

The day after a night of heavy drinking [21+ only]

9

17

12

2

1

10

8

During a heavy night of drinking [21+ only]

9

18

9

3

-

10

8

Other

14

8

8

21

21

13

14

I don’t have a favorite comfort food

7

4

7

9

9

9

5

 

TABLE 5a

ATTITUDES TOWARDS COMFORT FOOD

Grid Summary

"How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?"

Base: All adults

 

AGREE
(NET)

Strongly agree

Somewhat agree

DISAGREE (NET)

Somewhat disagree

Strongly disagree

Not applicable

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

There’s nothing like a home cooked meal.

90

68

22

6

4

2

4

I use my favorite comfort food as a pick-me-up.

67

27

40

27

15

12

6

My favorite comfort foods remind me of my childhood.

62

29

33

32

17

15

6

I eat more when I’m stressed.

53

26

27

42

22

20

5

My favorite comfort foods change with the seasons.

47

17

30

48

24

24

5

I will sometimes work out longer or more intensely to justify eating a favorite comfort food.

41

18

22

48

19

29

12

I feel guilty after eating my favorite comfort food.

29

11

18

66

24

42

5

Note: Percentages may not add up to 100% due to rounding

 

TABLE 5b

ATTITUDES TOWARDS COMFORT FOOD

Summary of “Agree (NET)”

By Generation & Gender

"Please indicate how strongly you agree or disagree with the following statements."

Base: All adults

 

Total

Generation

Gender

Millennials
(18-35)

Gen Xers
(36-50)

Baby Boomers
(51-69)

Matures
(70+)

Men

Women

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

There’s nothing like a home cooked meal.

90

88

90

91

91

89

91

I use my favorite comfort food as a pick-me-up.

67

73

69

63

57

65

69

My favorite comfort foods remind me of my childhood.

62

70

65

56

54

65

61

I eat more when I’m stressed.

53

65

50

48

35

51

55

My favorite comfort foods change with the seasons.

47

55

48

40

41

48

46

I will sometimes work out longer or more intensely to justify eating a favorite comfort food.

41

57

42

29

22

42

39

I feel guilty after eating my favorite comfort food.

29

39

33

20

18

26

32

 


 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between December 9 and 14, 2015 among 2,252 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #6, January 25, 2016

By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll

About The Harris Poll®

Begun in 1963, The Harris Poll is one of the longest running surveys measuring public opinion in the U.S. and is highly regarded throughout the world. The nationally representative polls, conducted primarily online, measure the knowledge, opinions, behaviors and motivations of the general public. New and trended polls on a wide variety of subjects including politics, the economy, healthcare, foreign affairs, science and technology, sports and entertainment, and lifestyles are published weekly. 

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