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The British Christmas Dinner 2007 – “Pass The 3.63 Roast Potatoes, Dear”


• Major study by Sainsbury’s reveals the UK’s archetypal Christmas meal
• The roast potato is king, it’s turkey breast over leg and we’ll each eat three and a half desserts
• 77 per cent of women expect to be in charge of the cooking – but so do 45 per cent of men
• Some established traditions may be in decline amongst the young, including the sprout

As Britain embarks on a major festive food shop this weekend, a study of our eating patterns this Christmas reveals a nation largely committed to tradition, local sourcing and luxuries. However, there’s a marked difference between the older and younger generations’ preferred menus.

The archetypal Christmas meal 2007
The average Christmas dinner, attended by 5.25 guests, will start at 2.24pm and include 3.63 roast potatoes, 2.54 spoonfuls of Brussels sprouts and 2.95 chipolatas, according to the nationwide survey by Sainsbury’s. Almost everyone is expected to eat turkey, with 73 per cent of people preferring white breast meat and 26 per cent opting for leg. Thick gravy is favoured over thin by a factor of three to one (69% vs 23%). The nation is split evenly between those who will drink a toast in champagne (35%), and those who choose sparkling wine (37%).

We’ll also manage an average 3.51 desserts each – a combination of Christmas pudding (67%), mince pies (43%), chocolates (28%) and Christmas cake (25%). Another 17 per cent will somehow find room for cheese.

Sainsbury’s nutritionist Charlie Parker said: “"It's a relief that Christmas comes just once a year because if we ate like this every day we'd be in trouble! While the festive plate might be heaving, it's still possible to make it well balanced and highly nutritious - if a little heavy on the calories. Turkey meat is a great source of low-fat protein, Brussels sprouts are high in folic acid and vitamin C and potatoes and parsnips are full of fibre."

Sprouts are out?
There is evidence that for the younger generation at least the Brussels Sprout is on the way out, with clear differences in the levels of its popularity by age.  The 18-24 year olds are resigned to the fact that they will be on their plates this year, but fewer than 7% rate them a favourite Christmas ingredient.  Sprouts are most popular with the 55+ age group, ranking fourth on their list of most popular Christmas meal ingredients. 

The roast potato – the undisputed Christmas champion
The decline of the Christmas pudding amongst the young may be due to storage capacity issues after their predicted above average roast potato consumption.  More than a third (34%) of the 18-24 age bracket will eat five or more roast potatoes as part of their Christmas meal. A total of 95 per cent of all Christmas meals will feature roasties, with 52 per cent of people naming them as a favourite festive food. More than a third of the 18-24 age bracket will eat more than five roasties. Remarkably,  37 per cent of people expressed a desire for mashed as well as roast potato.

Parsnips, peas and broccoli will join sprouts on the Christmas plate. Surprisingly, however, some traditional trimmings prove less popular. Only 1% of those questioned rated red cabbage among their favourite ingredients, 2% brandy butter, 3% Stilton and 4% cranberry sauce.

A tale of two dinners
Although turkey and roast potatoes are popular with everyone, there are marked differences between the average Christmas meal for the over-55s and the under-25s.

Asked to rate their ideal festive food, the older generation opted for prawn cocktail, turkey and sprouts, washed down with red wine and followed by Christmas pudding. Among the under-25s, favourites were sage and onion stuffing, sausages and mashed potatoes, with chocolates for pudding.

The traditional Christmas pudding also polarises opinion between the two generations. It is a favourite ingredient for 21% of the 55-plus age group, yet only 6% of the 18-24s rate it at a favourite. Possibly the youngsters have no room for rich pudding after eating five or more potatoes.

 (all ranked in order of preference and selected from a list of 59 likely ingredients for a Christmas meal)
What’s on the plate?: 18-24 year olds

1. Roast potatoes
2. Turkey breast
3. Sage and onion stuffing
4. Gravy
5. Parsnips
6. Sausages
7. Chipolatas
8. Bacon
9. Chocolates
10. Mashed potato
What’s on the plate?: 55+ age group

1. Roast potatoes
2. Turkey breast
3. Christmas pudding
4. Brussels sprouts
5. Parsnips
6. Red wine
7. Beef
8. Turkey leg
9. Sage and onion stuffing
10. Prawn cocktail

Sainsbury’s nutritionist Charlie Parker commented: “The young clearly have a tendency to favour protein and starch.  There are two types of potato, four meats and no greens on the 18-24’s favourite plate this Christmas.  The famed youthful sweet tooth is also in abeyance, with chocolates the only non-savoury ingredient at number 9 on the list.”

She added: “The 55+ age group see this meal as a three-course event, with prawn cocktail to start, a balanced mix of traditional favourites in the main course and Christmas pudding to finish.  The over 55s have also opted for Brussels sprouts, adding some important greens to the meal, and they have opted to wash it down with a glass of red wine.  This will perhaps make up for the absence of gravy.”

Who’ll do the cooking?
It is, perhaps, no surprise that 77 per cent of women expect to be in charge of the cooking on Christmas Day. Confusingly, however, so do 45 per cent of men. Will some of the male would-be chefs discover that their services are not required on the day itself? Or will women enjoy the unexpected chance to put their feet up?

Marginally more men (69%) than women (62%) say they will be doing the washing up or loading the dishwasher.

Luxurious ingredients and British produce are the principal criteria for British shoppers. For men and women, though, the priorities are reversed, with men favouring luxury over British produce and women opting for British fare over luxury. The third most important factor is local sourcing and the fourth is free-range meat. Twice as many over-55s rate British ingredients as important compared with the 18-24 year-olds, whose priority is luxury. For the 55s and above, luxury is the third most important criterion.

Couch potatoes or active oldies?
In all 89% of us will join in some form of celebration on Christmas Day. Half of us will have the meal at home at the dining table (52%), with just one in twenty (6%) eating in the living room – possibly in front of the TV. A third will have it with extended family or in-laws and only 2% will have it with friends.

The younger generation will eat more and slump on the sofa this Christmas Day, with 72 per cent opting to watch films and nearly half play board games (48%) after the meal. A total of 43% expect to fall asleep on the sofa and just 30 per cent will go for a walk.

By comparison, the over-55s are far more active, with 45 per cent choosing to walk off some of the Christmas calories and only 38% likely to have a snooze.

Counting the calories

Despite what Sainsbury’s estimates will be an average 6,000 calories consumed on Christmas day, 45% of people say they don’t intend to diet at all to minimise the impact of Christmas. However, 31% of women and 24% of men say they will watch what they eat, while 12% of women are already dieting. A further 10% will start a slimming regime in January.

There is evidence that people are still full on Boxing Day, with 37% saying they’re more likely to have a modest turkey sandwich than anything else.

The “build up”

With office lunches and meals with other members of the family to consider, more than seven in ten people (71%) eat more than one Christmas dinner during the festive period. Four out of ten (37%) eat two, nearly a quarter (24%) three and 2% manage six or more.


More information: Hamish Thompson, 07702 684290 / Tracey Harrison 07708 044671

All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,583 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 27th November - 4th December 2007.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).