How many meals should I eat each day?

Laura Motosko, MSEd, RD
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

On average 3 meals per day and 2 snacks is recommended for the general population. Eating frequent, small nutrient dense meals promotes stable blood sugar and satisfaction to prevent overeating which can lead to an unhealthy weight. Meal plans times and frequency can vary to promote optimal nutrition for individual lifestyles.

Kelly Shaughnessy
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The number of meals you should eat daily is dependent on the person. However, research has shown that it may be better for your metabolism to eat three small meals and two to three snacks in between. Breakfast has been proven very beneficial -- this is one meal that should not be skipped. Another reason besides speeding up metabolism for eating three small meals and snacks in between is to keep you from over-eating. If you wait until the afternoon to have your first meal of the day, you will likely over-eat at the afternoon meal due to being overly hungry. The same situation is likely to occur if you eat breakfast and do not eat again until dinner. The result of over-eating may likely be weight gain.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

The best way to keep your energy levels up and your metabolism revving is to eat 5 times a day, every 3-4 hours. Instead of starving until lunch or dinner rolls around and then binging on unhealthy options, eat 3 balanced meals and 2 small snacks in between to hold you over until the next meal. Snacks should have a little bit of fiber and a little bit of protein to keep you fuller longer. Great options include a half ounce of raw nuts and a piece of fruit, sliced veggies dipped in a mix of plaint low-fat yogurt and dill, or a tsp of natural peanut butter on some whole grain crackers. Always have healthy snack prepared so you aren’t tempted to reach for the chips or donuts.

Louise Goldberg
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

I generally recommend people do not go longer than 4-5 hours without eating something to prevent you from reaching intense hunger or having your blood sugars drop too low during the day. You don't need to restrict yourself to the 'traditional' breakfast, lunch and dinner meal plan though. Listen to your body's individual cues and respond when you feel hungry. Include full meals + some snacks OR some people find they perform at their best when they consume 5 small meals throughout the day. It's up to you as long as you don't skip!

Research related to meal frequency has been inconsistent. There's no strong evidence to support any one meal pattern. Until more studies are conducted, individuals should choose a meal pattern that helps prevent feelings of hunger. Waiting too long to eat between meals can lead to overeating at the next meal. A plan that works for you may include three meals a day or several small meals. A registered dietitian can work with you to develop a personalized eating plan.

Michaela Ballmann
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The answer to this question will vary from person to person, depending on your lifestyle, activity level, work schedule, etc. The one thing that doesn't change is the need to eat breakfast and the need to eat balanced meals throughout the day. For some, three square meals a day suits their needs, and provides them with enough energy for their daily activities with no needs for snacks. Others who exercise vigorously for an extended amount of time may need pre- and/or post- exercise fuel. Some find it hard to eat a large amount of food at one sitting and find it easier to have between 4 and 6 small meals every day.

Dr. Keith A. Kreitz, MD
Bariatric Medicine (Obesity Medicine) Specialist

How many meals you should eat each day depends on your needs. You should just eat when you're hungry. People get acclimatized to eating on a schedule basis rather than a need basis. They may eat more than they need and put on weight, which can lead to metabolic diseases such as sleep apnea, high blood pressure, diabetes and others.

Molly Morgan
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

Customize a routine that works for your life! Ideally your eating road map should include several 'mini meals' throughout the day. A great template to follow: breakfast - snack - lunch - snack - dinner.

Notice the lack of a after dinner snack? I have found this a time of day when eating can be mindless and portion sizes can expand beyond moderation! Although, if you can keep portion sizes in check at a night snack and avoid having a mountain of ice cream, it maybe great to have a snack in the evening like 3 cups of air popped popcorn or 1/2 cup Greek yogurt with sliced fruit.

Cassie Vanderwall
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

The number of meals you eat per day depends on your energy needs and schedule. It is best to eat at least 3 times per day. For most individuals this would mean 3 meals per day, however, others find that they like to eat 6 times per day or 6 small meals. 

A registered dietitian can give you individualized recommendations, and help you to create personalized meal plan based on your energy needs, activity level and lifestyle.

Doreen Rodo
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

It depends on the person. Some do well with six smaller meals per day but others have less. You should only eat if you are hungry so, unless you are a diabetic with a specific meal plan or prone to hypoglycemia, you should let hunger be your guide.

Manuel Villacorta
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

There is a lot of contradictory research right now about mealtimes. Some people say you should eat three meals a day, while others say you should eat five or six. For many people, three square meals don't work anymore. These days, many of us wake up at 5:00 am and stay up until midnight. Plus, we work harder and expend more brainpower, which uses up fuel. You need to eat every three to four hours to control ghrelin (hunger hormone), so depending on how many waking hours you have, you may have four meals or you may have six.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.