TIME Food & Drink

Americans Eat More Than Half of Their Meals Alone

Party for one?

Here’s some good news for your self esteem: It turns out you aren’t really alone when you’re, well, eating alone.

A new report from the market research firm NPD Group finds that Americans are solo more than half of the time that they’re eating and drinking. People are the least lonely at dinner—eating with others some two-thirds of the time—but breakfast and lunch are their most solitary meals.

NPD Group

NPD Group tracks the daily eating habits of some 2,000 households a year and collects 5,000 individuals’ food diaries every two weeks, a spokeswoman told TIME. These findings are the result of two years of research, ending in late February.

This results shouldn’t really come as a surprise, since the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 27% of households are made up of just one person and the stigma of eating alone appears to be slowly lifting. There are even restaurants designed specifically for parties of one.

TIME Food & Drink

Best Kale Dishes in the U.S.

Kale pizza from Stella Barra Anjali M. PInto—Lettuce Entertain You Inc

In recent years, dark leafy kale has undergone a spectacular transformation from a humble, overlooked ingredient to the supergreen-of-the-moment whose popularity shows no signs of ebbing. Credit its unparalleled nutritional makeup—kale packs in plenty of vitamin A, folate and calcium—and its immense versatility. Crisp, pop-in-the-oven kale chips certainly smashed the green’s once-staid reputation—and that was only the beginning. Now enterprising chefs are using kale in any number of ways, from ingenious salads (the sturdy leaves hold their texture well under heavy dressing) to an untraditional topping for pizza.

Chicago; Los Angeles and Santa Monica: Stella Barra

Mathematician-turned-pizzaiolo Jeff Mahin is no traditionalist when it comes to pie toppings; one favorite combination calls for crispy purple kale, young pecorino, roasted garlic and cracked black peppercorns.

Miami: Michael’s Genuine

Menus change daily at this Miami favorite, but one recent fixture is its kale and farro salad, accompanied by always-varying shaved market vegetables that might include zucchini, radish and fennel, and dressed with a punchy buttermilk vinaigrette.

Fort Worth, Texas: Woodshed Smokehouse

Leave it to Texan chef Tim Love to give a meaty twist to kale salad. House-cured guanciale accompanies three varieties of kale, crisp celery greens, smokedpepitas and shavings of Manchego cheese. A lemony dressing made with rendered fat from the guancialeputs the salad over the top.

San Francisco: Bar Tartine

Chef Nicolaus Balla’s tahini—which he prepares with toasted sunflower seeds instead of the traditional sesame—packs an umami punch to kale that’s been quick-wilted in a sauté pan and tossed with torn pieces of the multi-seed-studded Rene’s rye bread from Tartine. Thick house-made yogurt, plus a sprinkling of yogurt powder, add a pleasing tartness.

New York City: Betony

Chef Bryce Shuman gives crisp–fried black kale a sumptuous accompaniment: seared foie gras with smoked pork hocks plugged into its center. A hock-flavored consommé is poured over the dish tableside.

READ THE FULL LIST HERE.

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TIME Diet/Nutrition

5 Most Confusing Health Halo Food Terms

Local vegetables
David Malan—Getty Images

I frequently meet my clients at their local supermarkets so we can walk the aisles together. Most find it incredibly eye-opening: sometimes what they think they know about which products to select or how to read food labels turn out to be misconceptions. For example, one client recently told me she avoids oats because they contain gluten. In reality oats are gluten-free, unless they’ve been contaminated with gluten during growing or processing, but many companies make pure, uncontaminated oats, and label them as such. She was thrilled to be able to eat oats for breakfast again!

But gluten aside, there are a number of other issues and terms that can confuse even the most educated shoppers. Many of them sound healthy on their own—that is, they have a health halo effect. Here are five of the buzziest, what they really mean, and what they don’t.

Natural

The Food and Drug Administration has not developed a formal definition for the term natural. However, the government agency doesn’t object to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. Natural does not mean organic though, and it doesn’t necessarily indicate that a food is healthy. For example, today I saw a cereal labeled natural, and it contained a whopping four different types of added sugar. Tip: when you see this term, read the ingredient list. It’s the only way to really know what’s in a food, and if it’s worthy of a spot in your cart.

Health.com: 12 Crazy Things That Happen to Your Food Before You Eat It

Organic

The USDA Organic Seal indicates that a food was produced without synthetic pesticides, bioengineered genes (GMOs), or petroleum or sewage sludge-based fertilizers. The symbol also means that organic meat and dairy products are from animals fed organic, vegetarian feed and are provided access to the outdoors, and not treated with hormones or antibiotics. If the seal says ‘100% Organic’ the product was made with 100% organic ingredients. Just the word ‘Organic’ indicates that the food was made with at least 95% organic ingredients.

Health.com: 16 Most Misleading Food Labels

‘Made With Organic Ingredients’ means the product was made with a minimum of 70% organic ingredients, with restrictions on the remaining 30%, including no GMOs. I strongly support organics, but like natural, the term organic doesn’t necessarily mean healthy—in fact, there are all kinds of organic “junk foods” like candies and baked goods. Once again, when buying packaged food, the real litmus test is the ingredient list.

Local

This term generally indicates that a food was produced within a certain geographical region from where it’s purchased or consumed, such as within 400 miles or 100 miles or perhaps within the borders of a state. Like natural, there is no formal national definition for the term local. What local does not mean is organic, which is something 23% of shoppers falsely believe according to a recent U.S. and Canadian survey (17% also believe that a food labeled organic is also local, which isn’t accurate either).

Health.com: 14 Fast and Fresh Farmers Market Recipes

Nearly 30% also think that “local” products are more nutritious, and that’s not a given, since there are no specific standards pertaining to ingredients or processing. Also, it’s important to know that a locally produced food may not contain a Nutrition Facts label, because small companies with a low number of full-time employees or low gross annual sales are often exempt from the FDA’s food labeling laws. Hopefully a locally produced goody, like a pie from your farmer’s market, will include a voluntary ingredient list, but if not, be sure to ask what’s in it and how it was made.

Gluten-Free

According to the FDA, the term gluten-free means that a food must limit the unavoidable presence of gluten to less than 20 parts per million (ppm). The FDA also allows manufacturers to label a food as gluten-free if it does NOT contain any ingredient that is any type of wheat, rye, barley, or crossbreeds of these grains, or has been derived from these grains, or if it contains ingredients that have been derived from these grains, but have been processed to remove gluten to less than 20 ppm.

Health.com: 18 Health Benefits of Whole Grains

This means that foods that are inherently gluten-free like water, vegetables, and fruits, can also be labeled as gluten-free. The term gluten free-does not indicate that a food is whole grain, organic, low carb, or healthy. In fact, many gluten-free foods are highly processed and include ingredients like refined white rice, sugar, and salt.

Grass-Fed

Recently, I’ve had several clients who eat beef and dairy tell me that they only buy grass-fed, but most mistakenly believed that grass-fed also means organic. The actual parameters, as defined by the USDA, state that the cattle must be fed only mother’s milk and forage (grass and other greens) during their lifetime. The forage can be grazed during the growing season, or consumed as hay or other stored forage, and the animals must have access to pasture during the growing season.

Grass-fed does not mean that the cattle’s feed is organic, and it doesn’t mean they cannot be given hormones or antibiotics. Compared to products produced conventionally, grass-fed meat and dairy have been shown to contain more “good” fats, less “bad” fats, and higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants. But if you want to ensure that the product also meets the organic standards, look for that label term and the USDA organic seal as well.

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

5 Most Confusing Health Halo Food Terms originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME fitness

63% of Americans Actively Avoid Soda

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Crushed can Getty Images

The soda craze is going flat–at least, according to a new Gallup poll, which found that almost two-thirds of Americans actively avoid soda in their diet.

While 41% percent of those polled in 2002 said that they try to steer clear of soda, that number has now jumped to 63%. Gallup’s poll shows that generally Americans are making more effort to have healthier diets. More than nine out of ten Americans try to include fruits and vegetables in their diets, and 52% said that they are trying to avoid sugars.

Don’t start pouring one out for the dying soda business just yet, though. A 2012 Gallup poll also found that 48% of Americans drink at least one glass of soda a day.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Zebra: The New Red Meat

Africa, Tanzania, Safari, Common Zebra in the Serengeti
Zebra in the Serengeti, Tanzania on Feb. 1, 2013. Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Hungry for something different? Zebra meat is now an option.

If you’re looking for the leanest source of animal protein, you can now add zebra meat to your diet. It has one-tenth the fat of beef (zebra has 0.5g per 100g), making it leaner than chicken, and 35 grams of protein per serving.

UK’s fitness food supplier Musclefood.com now provides zebra steaks from the haunches of South Africa’s Burchell’s zebra, the only zebra species that can be legally farmed for its meat. Zebra meat can also be sold in the U.S., say health officials, although it may still be hard to find. “Game meat, including zebra meat, can be sold [in the US] as long as the animal from which it is derived is not on the endangered species list,” an official with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told TIME. “As with all foods regulated by FDA, it must be safe, wholesome, labeled in a manner that is truthful and not misleading, and fully compliant with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and its supporting regulations.”

Like many high-protein meats, zebra is packed with zinc and omega 3 fatty-acids that contribute to muscle repair, maintaining the immune system and improving heart health. Penn State’s Penny M. Kris-Etherton, professor of nutrition, recently conducted a study examining heart benefits of lean beef, showing that along with an optimal lean-protein diet, lean meat may help reduce high blood pressure. And for the more adventurous eaters, there are a growing number of options, from bison sausage to ostrich patties and venison steaks. And now, zebra filets, presumably minus the stripes.

TIME Food

Fruit Recall Expands Across U.S. Over Listeria Concerns

Trader Joe's and CostCo are among the grocery stores pulling peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots

Grocery stores across the nation are pulling peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots off the shelves after a central California company issued a recall over concerns of a potential listeria contamination. The recall affects popular chains like Costco and Trader Joe’s.

Wawona Packing Co. announced the voluntary recall of fruit shipped between June 1 and July 12 after consulting with the Food and Drug Administration. The president of the company said in a statement that he is not aware of any illnesses caused by the produce so far, but that anyone with peaches, nectarines, plums or pluots recently purchased from those stores should throw it away.

“By taking the precautionary step of recalling product, we will minimize even the slightest risk to public health,” Brent Smittcamp wrote.

Listeria can cause flu-like symptoms including fever, headache, nausea and diarrhea and may be deadly to children and the elderly. It may also cause miscarriage or stillbirth in prgnant women.

Wawona Packing Co. shut down and cleaned their facilities after it discovered the contamination, and new tests are negative for any bacteria.

TIME Fast Food

CMO: Chipotle’s Successful Because It’s Been ‘Very Consistent’

Inside A Chipotle Restaurant Ahead of Earnings Figures
Employees prepare lunch orders at a Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant at Madison Square Park in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

TIME spoke with Chipotle's chief marketing officer, Mark Crumpacker, about why Chipotle is wrapping up the competition

Chipotle, the food industry’s fastest-rising star, reported earnings Monday that far exceeded Wall Street’s expectations. Despite higher menu prices because of some food supply shortages, Chipotle’s burritos (from the bowl-sheathed varieties to the tortilla-ensconced specimens) and tacos (soft and hard) are flying off the counters. The company’s sales at locations open for at least a year bounced up 17 percent over the last year, an enviable figure for any restaurant. The company’s stock rose 12 percent on Tuesday with the announcement that in three months alone, Chipotle had revenues of over $1 billion. And Chipotle predicted it will open between 180 and 195 stores in 2014. (That’s at least one every 48 hours.)

Founded in 1993 with the opening of its first store in Denver, Colorado, Chipotle was one of the first chain restaurants to move to using naturally raised animals, which meant securing a meat supply that wasn’t — and still isn’t — fed hormones and antibiotics. It got an early boost from McDonald’s, which divested its assets in 2006 when Chipotle went public. Chipotle started serving naturally-raised pork in 2000 and naturally-raised chicken 2002 and continues to refine its food supply.

To find out more about what is making Chipotle so hot, we talked to the company’s chief marketing officer and right-hand man to CEO Steve Ells, Mark Crumpacker.

TIME: I have to ask, because it’s a question I ask myself whenever I go to Chipotle: When is the guacamole going to be free?

Mark Crumpacker: [Laughs] When it costs less than steak. Guacamole is incredibly expensive. I wish it were free because people love it. I think more than half of our orders include guacamole in one form or another.

T: Chipotle raised its menu prices this year, but in-store sales still increased 17 percent. Why are people so into Chipotle despite higher prices?

MC: I wish there were a super-simple answer for it. We haven’t changed a lot about what we’re doing. We’ve been very consistent with what we’ve done over the years. Chipotle doesn’t play the typical marketing game where we add new menu items and try to get people in with gimmicks like that. So I don’t think we’ve changed so much as consumer demand has changed. I have to wonder if maybe consumers aren’t catching up with us, in a way. Frankly, we’re just really positioned well to be where those folks want to go.

T: What are foodies demanding these days, and how does that line up with what Chipotle cooks?

MC: We see a trend toward people wanting higher-quality food. And it comes in a number of different flavors. Some people are interested in health, other people are interested in the impact of the food they eat on the environment. Generally speaking, across most of the different age segments we look at, we’ve seen an increase in people’s propensity to do that. If you’re going to do that, if you’re going to care a little bit more about where your food comes from, and you’re going to eat fast food, your choice is going to get limited pretty fast. There’s not a lot you can do, and Chipotle is quite well-known for having higher quality ingredients.

T: Who does Chipotle compete with? Do you compete with non-chain, mom and pop restaurants, or Taco Bell?

MC: A lot of people talk about doing the things we’re doing, but I don’t think there’s a competitor our scale that’s doing what we’re doing with regards to spending more on our ingredients. Our food costs are just higher than the other guys’ are. We’re spending more on them and there aren’t processed menu items. We do a lot of the cooking by hand in the restaurant. There’s not a lot of that going on [with other chains].

Having said that, we compete with everybody. Our customers definitely go to McDonald’s, some of them go to Taco Bell, they go to a lot of different restaurants.

T: McDonald’s was an early investor and divested its assets in 2006. In what ways did Chipotle overlap with McDonald’s, and then how have the two companies now become different entities?

MC: The companies were always very different entities. McDonald’s had a very hands-off relationship with Chipotle. They provided support where we wanted it and that was largely on real estate, logistics, supply chain issues initially. But it quickly become apparent that we were essentially heading in a different direction and there was really no influence on the food side in the experience we created in our restaurant.

T: Do you have a favorite menu item?

MC: I’m partial to the carnitas. In fact, I snuck out of a meeting today and had that. I visit all these farms and know where all the ingredients come from and that’s the one I’m most proud of. It’s delicious.

Of all the proteins we serve, the difference between commodity pork and naturally-raised pork is the most dramatic. If you’ve ever been to a confinement hog operation, it is absolutely terrifying. It’s brutal, it’s unpleasant for the animals and the people working there. And the difference between that and our hogs which are raised, even if they’re not totally outdoors‚ and just deeply bedded pens, is really, really dramatic. The alternative is very grim.

T: So it feels good to eat it, then?

MC: Yeah. I think if you’re going to eat meat, that’s a pretty good one to eat. Having been to the farms and seen all the animals, I feel best about that one.

T: Does Chipotle’s growth have something to do with the rise in popularity of Mexican cuisine? Would this have been possible 30 years ago?

MC: When Chipotle started 21 years ago, Mexican food in the United States was very, very different. It was a large plate with multiple items, usually something doused in red or green chili sauce and refried beans. Chipotle introduced to the masses the San Francisco-style burrito, which even frankly those San Francisco burritos were smothered in chili sauce. So I wonder how much it’s people more interested in Mexican food, as it is Chipotle introduced them to a different kind of cuisine altogether.

T: What is the most number of times you’ve eaten at Chipotle in one week?

MC: This is probably going to be embarrassing. I’d say five times. I’ve never eaten there every single day. But you know, if you work there and you’re in the restaurant, that’s what you’re going to eat. I know our crews eat our food every day.

T: Any complaints about getting sick of it?

MC: [Laughs] Well, you know, one of the things I learned about Chipotle, which fascinated me when I first started, you need to be very careful about what you order the first time at Chipotle because most people eat that same thing for like, the next decade.

T: What’s Chipotle going to be doing differently five years from now?

MC: Our menu has stayed the same, but underneath that menu we’re constantly striving to improve each individual ingredient. Each one of them is one its own trajectory. If you went through our 25 or so primary ingredients, each one would have a path for some distant goal of where we’d like to go with it. There’s a particular path for chicken, and then for beef and then for pork and all those veggies. We’re almost rid of any ingredients on our menu that are genetically modified. When I look out five years I suspect that the menu will be pretty much the same, but the ingredients underlying will continue to transform as we go.

T: Thanks.

MC: Thank you.

TIME Education

School Administrators: Kids Like Healthy Lunches Just Fine

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Female student carrying tray in cafeteria Tetra Images—Getty Images/Brand X

According to a new survey published in the Childhood Obesity journal

As the battle rages on over whether or not to scrap healthier options in public school lunch, a new survey suggests students actually like the nutritional meals they’re being offered. Well, at least they like it enough to keep from complaining to school administrators about it.

Last school year, administrators reported students started off complaining about the healthier take on lunch, after the USDA introduced new standards in 2012 that called for a reduction in sugar, sodium and fat in meals and the addition of more whole grains, vegetables, and fruit in an effort to confront childhood obesity.

But most had come around by the spring, they reported in a new study backed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Now, around 70% of elementary school students “generally like the new lunch,” they said. Middle and high school administrators reported similar reactions, with 70% and 63% of students “generally” liking the new lunches, respectively.

Schools also report few drop-offs in school lunch participation with the advent of the new standards. About 64.6% of elementary schools said “about the same” number of students purchased school lunches last school year, compared to the year before.

“The updated meals standards are resulting in healthier meals for tens of millions of kids,” said Lindsey Turner, lead author of the first study, and co-investigator for Bridging the Gap, a research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), which funded the study in a statement. “Our studies show that kids are okay with these changes, and that there have not been widespread challenges with kids not buying or eating the meals.”

Yet, according to the new survey to be published in an upcoming issue of the Childhood Obesity journal, high school students and students in rural schools have been more reluctant to accept the changes. About 25% of middle and high school administrators reported noticing “a little more” plate waste during the 2012-2013 school year, while 16% of middle schools and 20% of high schools reported noticing “much more” waste.

Administrators at rural schools also reported more plate waste and more complaints than their urban counterparts, which is troubling given the higher rates of obesity among youth in rural areas. But among poor urban youth, the researchers found higher rates of consumption and more meal purchases—suggesting those kids opting out of the school lunch program are those who can afford to eat elsewhere.

“It is possible that widespread implementation of national policy has been effective for improving the diets of socioeconomically disadvantaged children,” said the study’s authors, “but more research is needed to understand the effect of changes in the meal standards on children’s participation and dietary intake.”

There has been much debate over the Department of Agriculture’s updated school nutrition standards this year. In fact, Monday’s survey results stand in contrast to a recent USDA report that showed about 1 million fewer students chose to eat school meals every day during the 2012-2013 school year. The School Nutrition Association, a long time supporter of healthy options for kids, rolled back some of its support earlier this year due to the burden the standards place on already cash-strapped schools.

In May, House Republicans ok’d a spending bill that would allow schools to opt out of following the healthy school rules, which pump up the amount of fruit, vegetables, and whole grains served to kids at school while reducing fat, sugar, and sodium. But champions of the standards, including First Lady Michelle Obama, argue rolling back the standards would be a bad choice for kids.

In a statement Monday, the School Nutrition Association said the survey’s “perceptions about school meals do not reflect reality.”

“More kids aren’t buying lunches,” Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokesperson for the School Nutrition Association, tells TIME.

TIME global health

Photos: How Muslim Families Around the World Break the Ramadan Fast

From Istanbul to Sydney to Beijing, here's what Muslim families are eating to break the fast

TIME China

In China, McDonald’s, KFC and Pizza Hut Probe Expired-Meat Supply

Controversies over food safety are a fact of life in China

+ READ ARTICLE

Health officials have temporarily closed a Shanghai-based meat supplier after it was learned that the firm, which supplies products to major American fast-food restaurants throughout China, may have been selling expired chicken and beef.

Both McDonald’s and Yum! Brands — owner of KFC and Pizza Hut, with over 6,200 Chinese stores collectively — asked their restaurants on Sunday to abstain from selling meat provided by Shanghai Husi Food Co. after Dragon Television, a local news outfit, reported that the meat company’s employees were repackaging meat and extending its shelf life by a year. McDonald’s and Yum! have launched their own investigations.

Yum!’s sales have rebounded in recent months after a fit of bad publicity early last year, when a state television agency alleged that KFC — the largest restaurant chain in China — was selling chicken containing excessive amounts of antibiotics. Yum! insisted on the safety of its food and said it was working to improve its supply chain.

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