The eating habits of many families have changed. For many young people, home food is no longer the next best thing since fast food is the new in-thing. As a result, it is not difficult to see takeaways delivering fast food—despite its unhealthiness—to homes across Riyadh until the late hours of the night.
Siham al-Shaalan said the teenagers in her family regularly order food. “There are more teenagers than there are adults in our family and the teenagers have a tendency to order takeaway meals nearly every day,” she said.
“We order different types of food everyday and we have our own favorites. I admit our parents do tell us off and speak about how unhealthy fast food is. But we love the taste and can’t kick the habit,” she added.
Sarah Abdullah orders food from a restaurant once a week. “I’m trying to ensure my son doesn’t get too habituated to fast foods as he’s still young and growing. Fast food isn’t healthy for anyone. For the time being, I want him to eat healthy and once he grows up he can decide for himself,” said Abdullah.
“As he’s young and I have the final say, I’ll keep him away from takeaways as much as possible,” she added.
Hatoon Aba Al-Jaish works at a university and used to previously eat takeaway food once or twice a day. “When I started working, I began eating out for breakfast and lunch every day. My weight increased by 30 kg,” she said. Aba Al-Jaish is now obese and diabetic.
“As a result, I’m keeping away from fast foods and refrain from eating out, but it’s too late now,” she added.
Imad Al-Baseer said families in which mothers work usually opt for fast food restaurants due to time constraints. “Eating out at fast food places is the easiest and fastest way to feed a family. I think the food in fast food place taste nice,” he said.
“My sister works at a government-run university. Most of the time at home she is busy with research and preparing her university stuff. Whenever I visit her, her driver usually turns up with fast food for her children, who have become the laughing stock of our family because they are so young and overweight,” said Al-Baseer.
Abdulilah Al-Shammari said eating out at fast food restaurants is considered prestigious among some families.
“If you have a guest, then it is no longer enough to simply offer your guest home cooked food. Some of your guests may consider that to be belittling,” said Al-Shammari.
“Ordering food from different restaurants is an indication that the family is generous and being considerate to their guest. I think social media has also contributed to this as you often see pictures of young people taking selfies in restaurants eating delicious food. By doing so and by mentioning the restaurant, they receive gifts and free meals,” he added.
Dr. Haya Al-Mazyad, head of Clinical Social Service in King Saud University’s Medical City, said Saudi families have changed. “Saudis used to love eating kabsah—chicken and rice—but now they eat an array of Western, Indian, Chinese and Arabian dishes. These foods enjoy a proud place on the dinner table of many Saudis. The Internet has contributed in widening our gastronomical horizons,” she said.
“Satellite TV has also impacted our lives. Our children stay awake till late and watch TV. They then order food at home. A mother might be a good cook, but she won’t want to be in the kitchen late at night and so they order from outside,” said Al-Mazyad.
“Our habits have changed considerably. The moment a new restaurant opens, we’ll see families queuing up to try it. Then there’s the aggressive media campaigns that come with these new fast food places,” she added. “We simply cannot resist.”