Skip to main content

Natural Awakenings Dallas -Fort Worth Metroplex Edition


Food Trends for 2024: What We’re Looking for at the Dinner Table

Feb 29, 2024 08:30AM ● By Carrie Jackson

Petar Chernaev/CanvaPro

Few factors are as important to overall wellness as our diet. Besides taste and nutritional value, food preferences are influenced by convenience, availability, cost and personal values. Trends are shifting away from fad diets to more balanced eating, as people across generations are focused on living healthier well into their golden years. Equally as urgent is a demand for more sustainable products and manufacturing practices as consumers become increasingly aware of the impact their food choices have on the planet.


Dr. Melinda Ring is the executive director of the Osher Center for Integrative Health at Northwestern University, in Chicago. As a leading center for integrative medicine, their team helps patients achieve optimal health through innovative, whole-person care. Ring says that personalized nutrition, plant-forward diets and longevity protocols are overtaking older trends like low-carbohydrate or high-fat fads.


“In recent years, there’s been a movement away from highly restrictive diets toward more balanced, sustainable eating patterns that emphasize whole foods over highly processed alternatives,” says Ring. “Interest in local food sources is growing, driven by concerns about sustainability and food quality. While the pandemic highlighted concerns about access to healthy food for all, busy lifestyles continue to make convenience a key factor influencing food choices.”


Ring cites nutritional psychiatry as a burgeoning field. “Emerging research suggests a link between diet and mental health, with diets rich in fruits, vegetables and omega-3 fatty acids potentially benefiting mood and cognitive function,” she explains. Ring adds that there is an increasing focus on incorporating protein for overall health, as well as personalized nutrition, in which advances in genomics and biotechnology are used to tailor dietary recommendations to individual genetic, lifestyle and health factors.


Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, is a New York Times bestselling author and nationally recognized health expert. Her latest book, Everyday Snack Tray, outlines fun, flavorful and nutrient-dense charcuterie boards for every occasion. She asserts that members of Generation Z—those born in the late 1990s and early 2000s—are driving many of the current shifts in food and beverage choices.


“The sober movement is rapidly gaining momentum, with an influx of mocktails, non-alcoholic beer and zero-proof wines on the market,” she explains. “People in their 30s and older are realizing that alcohol interrupts their sleep and are looking for other ways to relax at night. They’re also moving away from caffeine, which has a long half-life, so while the body may feel tired at night, the brain is still triggered. Fast-casual restaurants and cafes have increased their selection of fruit-forward, caffeine-free drinks, and a new all-natural brew called figgee, made from ground figs, is emerging online.”


Zoomers tend to be more conscious of the connection between their food decisions and impacts on the planet, which explains why they are more likely to choose and demand sustainably grown and packaged products. “This generation is drawn to brands that have carbon buy-back programs or help sequester nitrogen in their manufacturing,” says Largeman-Roth. “While we’ve seen an influx of meat alternatives in the past, there’s starting to be a pushback against the ones with long ingredient lists that are highly processed. Rubi protein made from lemna, or duckweed [a free-floating, aquatic plant], is gaining popularity as a plant-based protein alternative. It contains nine essential amino acids and uses 10 times less water to grow than soybeans and 100 times less water than beef. And, people are turning to the root system of mushrooms, instead of the caps, as a higher protein source. Their versatility makes them ideal for nuggets, jerky and other substantial snacks.”


Consumers are looking for foods that can help regulate blood sugar, especially as more of the population is concerned about pre-diabetes. “People are continuing to choose nuts, beans and other high-protein boosts to refuel after a workout or in-between meals,” Largeman-Roth points out. “Products such as Good Measure bars, made of almonds, peanuts and pumpkin seeds, are emerging as nutrient-rich and satisfying snacks. Consumers also realize how important fiber is for gut optimization, skin quality and mental health. Perhaps most top-of-mind in a post-pandemic world, it’s vital for immune health, as well. Overall, people of all ages want products that make them feel better and fit into their lifestyle. A lot of boxes have to be checked for people to try a new product, and food manufacturers are stepping up.”


Perhaps taking a cue from the younger generation, members of Generation X—Americans born between 1965 and 1980—are pioneering a new approach to healthy aging to help them thrive in their diverse lifestyles. According to the global market research company Mintel, aging concerns that were once considered taboo, such as menopause, are now being openly discussed.


“The new focus for our aging society will be an extended healthspan—the period of life spent in good health,” says Mintel Principal Analyst Jolene Ng. “This is an important shift, as population aging is a defining global trend of our time. By 2030, one in six people in the world will be aged 60 years and older, according to the World Health Organization. Brands need to consider the various nutritional, physical and mental health needs for middle-aged and older adults. Opportunities to improve healthspan include maintaining brain function with age and functional health solutions for common problems like disrupted sleep.”


Increasingly, Gen Xers aged 44 to 58 prioritize sleep as a tool for improving overall physical and emotional health. “Research has shown that total sleep time, sleep efficiency and deep sleep decrease with age,” says Ng. “Brands are focusing on innovating products with nutrients such as fiber or botanicals like lavender that can improve sleep quality. Products such as Bardo’s Calm snacks, which contain lemon balm and thyme, are emerging as a snack option for Gen Xers who are interested in trying food that supports relaxation.”


Many consumers are part of the “sandwich generation”, a term used to describe people in their 30s or 40s that are raising children while also caring for aging parents. Ng notes that brands are adjusting product lineups and marketing campaigns to address the specific requirements of these families. She expects to see more services like Magic Kitchen, which, she explains, is “a meal kit service that offers a range of healthy, dietitian-designed meals for families with different health needs, including seniors. Their objective is to bring families together during dinnertime, while respecting the specific dietary needs of individuals within the family unit. Brands also can help ease the stress and strain on these compound caregivers by offering convenience products and helpful tools for themselves and the loved ones they care for.”


Historically, food and beverages have been a source of great pleasure and social interaction, and Mintel Food & Drink Director David Faulkner envisions this as a continuing trend. “Just as we saw during COVID-19, food and drink will be the go-to source of comfort for consumers, delivering precious moments of joy,” he says. “It will be all the more relevant during the worsening climate crisis for food and drink companies to position pleasurable products as necessities, not as guilty self-indulgences.”


Carrie Jackson is a Chicago-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings. Connect at