Lunchtime crowd split between the young and the health conscious

Food court lunch hours can be split between two demographics: the younger diner scanning menus looking to stretch out their dollar as much as they can, and the older generation performing mental nutritional calculations while waiting in the soup and salad line.

At least, that's the assessment of food market research group Technomic, which last week released its "Lunch Consumer Trend Report" looking at how US consumers spend their lunch hour.

According to the report, there is a generational divide when it comes to defining the term ‘value.' For Millennials - those aged 18-34 - value is primarily considered to be how much bang they can get for their sometimes elusive buck. But for adults over 45, food quality and healthy alternatives are what determine value for money, analysts said.

"The most health-conscious consumers skew 45 and older, so their value equation is different than that of a younger person who sees value primarily as a price issue," said Technomic's Sara Monnette in a statement. "Older consumers are less likely to perceive value in dollar menu items because of the broader context of their motivations."

Millennials also eat out for lunch more than the older generation.

The report was based on the survey responses of 1,500 consumers.

Analysts found that about a third of consumers polled said they eat out for lunch at least twice a week, while more than half admitted to skipping lunch at least once a week - a good opportunity for fast food outlets to offer smaller-portioned, healthier options, the report reads.

The lunchtime crowd also turns out to be a faithful one, analysts found, as nearly half of respondents polled said they visit the same establishments over and over again.

Meanwhile, another food survey released last week by daily online deal site LivingSocial also found that when it comes to dining out, lunch is the most important meal of the day, with more people dining out at this time than for any other meal.