CHICAGO — Ask any millennial — fresh is hot. The consumption of fresh produce and protein grew by 20 percent to more than 100 billion eating occasions from 2003 to 2013, and younger generations are driving the trend, according to research from The NPD Group.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner will get even fresher over the next five years. Fresh food consumption is expected to grow the most at the morning meal, with an increase of 9 percent by 2018, followed by lunch (7 percent) and dinner (5 percent).

Millennials and Generation Z like to be involved in meal preparation, so the additional prep work and cooking that some fresh foods require isn’t a problem for these consumers, NPD said.

The youngest generations also are leading the growth of better-for-you snacking, as they tend to seek such values as freshness and nutrition over speed when grabbing a bite on the go. Additionally, younger consumers are more interested in eating organic foods, while older generations show less interest in organics due to economic pressures or an “it’s too late for me” attitude, NPD said.

“Generation Z and millennials are driving changes in this country’s eating behaviors with their approach to food choice and preparation,” said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst for NPD. “Foods on the store’s perimeter will benefit from this increasing interest in fresh, and manufacturers of center-of-store items and retailers can take advantage of the ‘fresh’ trend by considering innovative ways to link their products to fresh foods.”