Ready meals norm for Kiwi tables

Readymade meals and cake mix were once deemed the food of "lazy wives" but now busy families are happily reaching for quick and easy eats.

The unfair guilt attached to ready meals has vanished as two-income families become the norm, a marketing expert says.

A growing appetite for ready-meals and quick eats has also seen the contents of our supermarket trolley transform over the past four decades.

Shoppers of the 1970s reached for sheep liver, saveloys, leeks and baking ingredients. Now frozen meals, hummus, soy milk, olive oil and avocados are the mainstay of the kitchen.

University of Canterbury associate marketing professor Ekant Veer said a new cake mix product completely flopped in the 1970s.

"It was seen if you made instant cake mix you were a lazy wife. You were a terrible person if you didn't put the effort in to make a proper cake for your family."

The company relaunched the product so that one egg was required and the cake mix proved an instant hit because suddenly effort was needed, Veer said.

"When you look at the 1960s and 1970s there was a lot of emphasis put into effort because effort was shown as a kind of love. Now we look for convenience."

Time-poor working couples are driving the change, but he said this did not mean families want to skimp on quality.

Marketers have increasingly focused on quality meals that are quick to prepare, he said.

"People who buy the ready food are more likely to be working and have more disposable income."

Sisima Inglis and her husband are part of the new generation of food shoppers.

Working full-time jobs in Auckland, they lack the time to cook every night.

The couple often reach for the heat-and-eat soups, pre-washed salad bags, cooked chicken, frozen vegetables and instant noodles in the supermarket.

"If I buy fresh [food] I can't eat it all. So if I buy fresh I throw away half of it."

But she said she always supplements the dishes with fruit and salad to keep her diet balanced.

Frozen ready meals and canned soup were considered popular enough to add to the Consumer Price Index in 2006.

The index uses popular food items to calculate inflation.

Saveloys, condensed milk and delivered milk were all cut from the list in 1999.

AUT nutrition professor Elaine Rush said busy people like the convenience. "We're unfortunately working long hours and have other things on the go. [Ready meals] mean we can still have a meal at home."

The dietary goodness of pre-packaged meals comes down to the ingredients.

"It's the same as what you cook at home," Rush said. "It's what you put into it.

"Often they do tend to have higher salt and not so many wholegrains."

A healthy ready meal should be made up of half vegetables and a quarter each of carbohydrates and meat or protein.


While Sisima Inglis takes short cuts during the working week, come Christmas Day, she's like most Kiwis: happy to roll up her sleeves for a hard day's cooking.

She said she likes to put the effort into cooking big meals for her family at Christmas. University of Canterbury associate marketing professor Ekant Veer said Christmas was the one day where you have a licence to go nuts in the kitchen.

"You can glaze a ham, roast a turkey and have a barbecue because you don't have to go to work. It's time to relax.

"You have a glass of wine while you do it and spend time with family. It becomes an occasion."

Christmas advertisers play to this idea, she says. "It's marketed as a time for family, love and sharing." 

Sunday Star Times