Getting through the day can be hard enough even without having to plan three meals for ourselves. So why do we eat three meals a day anyways? For some, three whole meals is a hassle (who really needs breakfast?); for others who prefer to graze all day; three meals just isn’t enough time to eat. The truth is, there’s nothing but convention that tells you that breakfast, lunch, and dinner are the essential meals of the day.
To look at why most of us now eat three meals a day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—we don’t need to talk to a nutritionist, but rather a historian. Experts on the history of our dining habits tell us that the concept of three meals came from European civilisation and evolved over time. Mealtimes seem to have been especially solidified with the rise of the Industrial revolution—as people were expected to work all day, eating an energising breakfast in the morning and having a set time for a meal in the arvo solidified what we now know as the lunch break.
While we may have developed this tradition of eating three meals over the course of the day, there's not much in the way of scientific evidence that supports the health benefits of a 3-meal day meal at all. In fact, there are plenty of examples of cultures that did not eat three meals a day. Ancient Romans only ate a single meal a day, and many Native American cultures were said to have traditionally grazed throughout the day rather than eating set meals.
What we do know about meals is that they are simply time to take in the sustenance you need: calories for energy and nutrients for health. That’s why the Romans could eat one large meal and still get through the day.
In fact, some research has shown that doing away with the three-meal-a-day method may be beneficial to health and weight management. Many health enthusiasts insist that six small meals a day could be more effective in maintaining a healthy weight than eating three larger meals (though this is heavily disputed). Others have theorised that doing away with fixed meals altogether could be helpful; instead, they encourage people to eat only when they are hungry and to stop when they are full to prevent overeating.
Still, there could be some benefits to having three meals a day. For one, since most of those around you are running on a similar meal clock, eating three meals a day means you can maximise the number of meals you share with others. This is important because the social aspect of eating has been around longer than the fixed three-meal day. Eating with others is not only a great way to pass the time, but is another way to eat healthy and manage weight, research shows.
Whether you opt for more than three meals a day or decide to stick with good old breakfast, lunch, and dinner, the most important thing to consider is what your meals contain, not when you eat them. Portion control and nutritious food choices are your best bet for a healthy lifestyle—and that feels good any time of the day.