Despite Snacking, Consumers Still Eat Three Main Meals Daily

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Contrary to popular belief, snack-happy Americans still eat three main meals a day.

U.S. consumers do snack a lot — between-meal snacking accounts for about one-third of all eating occasions — but they continue to view the day as generally having three main meal occasions that align with breakfast, lunch and dinner, according to NPD’s daily tracking of eating and snacking behaviors.

Consumers’ adherence to three main meals is primarily culturally based. Daily societal norms in the United States typically are scheduled around meal times: Going to work and school after breakfast, taking a break for lunch, being home by dinner.

This conditioning begins at a young age when children are held the closest to the standard three meals per day by their parents. As individuals get older, they begin skipping meals with a dip in their 20s and then again later in life. Even though more meals are skipped as people age, the average remains just under three meals per day as consumers try to maintain the practice learned as children.

But there is a shift in what consumers eat at these meals. The number of dishes and ingredients used to prepare main meals continues to decline as more consumers rely on “healthy” portable snack foods to be a part of their breakfast, lunch and dinner.

As the sizes of our meals shrink and people continue to incorporate more traditional “snack” foods into main meal menus, the perception is they are grazing or snacking more. These mini-meals, however, are not adding new or additional occasions to the day and consumers continue to eat three main meals each day.

“There is a lot of buzz about snacking these days. One headline could talk about how snacking is up and another might say we graze throughout the day instead of eating a main meal,” said Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst and author of “Snacking in America. “While those headlines are eye grabbing and give people something to talk about, it’s important to read past them and dig into the details. The opportunities are uncovered by the details and not the headlines.”

Source:, 4-27-2016

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