Why Do We Eat 3 Meals A Day?

The idea of eating three meals a day is one of the cornerstones of traditional nutrition. This concept has guided people’s everyday eating habits for centuries, and at this point, no one gives them a whole lot of thought. We take it for granted that we are supposed to eat three meals a day, even if many of us do not strictly follow that structure.

How Did The Traditional Meal Structure Get Started?

As far as we can see, the traditional three-meal structure is not that old of a concept. The ancient Romans, for instance, would only eat one meal per day. Even if that one meal might have been quite large, they considered it gluttonous to eat more than once a day.


In the middle ages, life came to be arranged around a particular routine, and the meal schedules were set accordingly. For religious reasons, nothing was supposed to be eaten before morning mass. A lot of people don’t understand why we call it “breakfast.” We call it by this name because it represents the breaking of a religious fast. From dinner until morning mass, a person was supposed to observe a fasting period. Many religions see this as a measure of atonement and a way of giving thanks to higher powers.

Breakfast was considered to be a privilege of the elite for a long time. The ordinary person might have a small snack before beginning the day’s work, but the idea of eating a full meal in the morning was reserved for those with a little more leisure time. Breakfast was also an important time for the nobility to consult with other nobles and discuss the important events of the day. It wasn’t until the 17th century that breakfast became a staple among the common folk.

It makes sense that this practice would come to be adopted at the tail end of the middle ages. By this time, the industrial revolution had removed some of the prestige and relevance of the old aristocratic class. As such, many customs that had formerly been the province of nobles became common among working people. Also, the end of the feudal system gave people the chance to attain levels of prosperity that just weren’t possible before. Feudal landlords often kept people poor and hungry as a means of control, and the end of the feudal system thus had a substantial effect on the eating habits of the general population.


The idea of a midday meal during a break from work has evolved into the modern concept of lunch. People had to work hard, but you can’t expect someone to work at their best on an empty stomach. Thus, even the harshest of employers would allow their workers to stop at mid-day (about noon) to eat some food and replenish their energy. It was also customary at one point for workers to be given a ration of beer with their midday meal. To this day, we have continued the tradition of taking a meal break at noon.

Another good reason for the timing of lunch comes from the realities of the weather. Even in Europe (which is relatively cold in comparison to other parts of the world), noon is the hottest part of the day. Working under the beating hot sun has a way of sapping your energy and reducing your effectiveness as a worker. Thus, it was a matter of practicality to allow workers to rest during the hottest part of the day.

No one seems to know where the term “lunch” originated. Most people seem to believe that it originated with the old Anglo-Saxon word “nuncheon.” This word denoted a quick snack that a person might eat between meals as a pick-me-up. The word lunch did not enter common usage until the 19th century or so.


We mentioned that some groups of ancient people (like the Romans) only ate one meal per day. Well, this was the meal. There isn’t much to tell about this one, as it is perfectly natural to eat a meal in the evening. You finished your work for the day, you are settling in for the night, and it makes sense to enjoy an evening repast. Besides, it serves as a self-reward at the end of a busy day. However, ancient Romans would usually eat their dinner a bit earlier.

Dinner has always had an important social role in western society, as well. Dinner is the time when you gather around with the family and talk about the events of your day. Thus, it makes sense that industrialization pushed the dinner hour further into the evening. In early industrialized societies, that would have been the only time at which the entirety of a hard-working family could get together with everyone present.

Arguments Against This Traditional Structure

Many people argue against the traditional meal structure these days. In some ways, their arguments have merit, because the conventional three-meal plan is not based around the natural or biological needs of the human body. Instead, this is a structure created to balance the needs of the body with the requirements of society. Since we no longer have it so hard, it makes sense that we would re-evaluate our eating habits.

If you want to use a more natural diet structure, you can simply model your eating habits after those of the animal kingdom. Animals eat whenever they get hungry, but they are limited by the amount of food in their environment. They tend to find food in small amounts throughout the day, and that means they eat small amounts throughout the day. This structure provides a small and steady stream of nutrition rather than giving three big doses of nutrition.


We hope that this short history of the 3-meal structure has given you a better understanding of the subject. Though this is only a brief overview, hopefully, it gave you a little more knowledge about the meal structure that most people follow to this day. By understanding where it came from, and where its limits lie, you can make an informed decision as to whether or not you want to stick with tradition or try something new. Either way, we hope that you will follow us on Facebook using the link below.

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