Variety in the diets of free-living, food-secure adults

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Nursing homes, school lunch programs, institutional cafeterias, and households often struggle with balancing the cost of adding more variety with what consumers need to be satisfied. But we were unaware of any studies examining what people consider satisfactory variety within and across meals, days, weeks, and months. Our objectives were first to determine the variety of foods consumed by free-living, food-secure individuals 25 years of age or older with Bachelor's degrees and no food allergies or sensitivities, and second, to evaluate how the amount of variety consumed in their diets affected their satisfaction with variety. Participants (n = 102, 50% male) maintained a 28-day online food diary with seven eating occasions: breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, early evening snack, dinner, and late evening snack. After completing each week, participants rated their satisfaction with the variety in their diets that week. We measured dietary variety both as a count of unique foods, and as a proportion of unique foods. We evaluated how dietary variety differed by gender and by eating occasions. The total number of foods consumed each week, the count of unique foods, and the proportion of unique foods were compared with ratings of satisfaction with variety. Participants consumed an average of 110 unique foods over 28 days with higher counts of unique foods for dinner (46 items), followed by lunch (38 items), and then breakfast (21 items). The highest proportions of unique foods were consumed at dinner (0.60) and early evening snack (0.59). Females consumed higher counts of unique foods than did males over most eating occasions. None of our dietary variety measures predicted participants’ satisfaction with variety. Our food-secure, highly educated, and free-living participants provided themselves with the amount of variety they needed to feel generally satisfied.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)286-290
Number of pages5
JournalFood Quality and Preference
StatePublished - Jan 2019


  • Food choice
  • Satisfaction
  • Variety

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