The traditional lunchtime favorite of a burger and fries is being replaced, according to a new report on America's eating patterns.

The NPD Group Inc.'s 17th annual report on “Eating Patterns in America,” — developed from a survey of more than 8,000 Americans — says the percentage of restaurant lunch orders that include burgers and fries has been declining the last four or five years. That's thanks to a new version of fast food at “fast casual” restaurants like Panera Bread, which specializes in cold-cut sandwiches on fresh-baked bread.

As this new version of fast food restaurants expands throughout the country and captures market share, traditional fast food places that specialize in burgers are losing market share.

“It's becoming a market share battle, and the guys that are doing a very good job right now are that lunch crowd of fast casual restaurants,” says Harry Balzer, vice president of the NPD Group's Food Consulting Service.

But, he adds, this doesn't mean America is tiring of burgers, as some folks have suggested. The report shows almost no change in ordering burgers at dinner time.

“Why would we tire of them at lunch but not at dinner time — if we were tiring of them?” Balzer asks.

On the home front, the report shows Americans' intentions of serving beef or burgers are about the same as a year ago, but consumption is declining because items like steak don't fit in with America's needs for an easy-to-prepare complete meal.

“American cooks, as they look at the need for tonight's meal, are thinking about all of the meal, not just one item,” Balzer says.

Cooking doesn't become easier if you have to make three or four items — such as potatoes, salad and bread, he explains.

“You can't just serve a steak for dinner,” he says. “At the moment you start preparing one of these meat products, therein lies one of the issues.”

In developing new products, the entire meat industry needs to start thinking about complete meals that are easy to prepare and serve, Balzer says. The beef industry needs to make its product part of a one-dish meal that provides everything Americans want — including the side dishes of vegetables and potatoes.

“We'd love to have this so that everything fits into one — one meal, one dish,” he says. “Clean one pot or one skillet and that's it.”

NPD's report also shows a 25% increase in serving frozen main dishes at home, compared to a decade ago. And it reveals that 10% fewer meals include a fresh item today.

To purchase the 300-page report — which reveals where food comes from, who prepares it, what appliances are used, the most popular foods at each meal, the types of restaurants growing in popularity and what menu items are ordered most frequently — contact Balzer at 847/692-1704 or e-mail harry_balzer@npd.com.