diet program

What’s Better: 3 Square Meals Or Snacking Throughout The Day?

First, some questions: What’s a meal, what’s a snack, how often are you supposed to eat them and at what time? If you eat a folded-over bologna sandwich over the kitchen sink, is that a “smart snack?” Is it good to go through every “snack-size bag” in the pantry at 45-minute intervals? And does food eaten in the car even count at all? One paragraph in, and already, this is getting complicated. Given our current lives and mental situations, it’s easy to see how it can all get slightly twisted. That’s why we contacted nutrition experts to help you get a handle on snacks, meals, and even those folded-over bologna sandwiches.

3 Square Meals

Calm down; snacks are fine.

The nutritionists we talked to gave snacks a thumbs-up. They see them as an essential part of a healthy diet. “Snacks are a small bridge to the next meal,” registered dietician nutritionist Vicki Shanta Retelny told HuffPost. “While there’s no perfect eating approach, eating balanced meals and snacks at consistent times during the day keeps your blood sugar in better control, keeps you from overeating, and keeps cravings at bay.” “I wholeheartedly believe in snacks,” another RDN, Amy Gorin, told HuffPost. “It’s challenging to go for hours and hours without eating, and you shouldn’t have to. I recommend that people eat every three to five hours.”

Eating regularly is a necessity, these nutritionists say. (And yes, the food you eat in your car does count, it turns out.) “Balanced snacking that includes protein, fiber, and other nutrients will help keep blood sugar in an optimal range,” RDN Amanda Frankeny told HuffPost. “That matters because low blood sugar invites exhaustion and can make you more likely to crave sugary or fatty foods. Munching on nourishing snacks helps keep blood sugar stable.”

Timing matters for meals and snacks.

“I follow the top tip I give my clients, which is to establish a regular eating schedule and stick with it,” registered dietician Cynthia Sass told HuffPost. “For many, that means something like breakfast at 8 a.m., lunch at noon, a snack around 3 p.m., and dinner around 6 p.m. I tell people to set their cell phone alarm with reminders if needed until they settle into a routine.”

Sass explained that this isn’t just a routine for routine’s sake. There are some health benefits to eating at the exact regular times. “One of the biggest benefits is appetite regulation,” she said. “After a week or so, your body adjusts to the pattern, which results in becoming hungry at expected meal times. This can help people better tune in to actual hunger cues and improve the ability to distinguish between true hunger and the desire to eat, which may be triggered by boredom or stress.”

There are other reasons to try sticking with set times, including helping you control blood sugar and insulin, avoiding spikes and crashes to keep your energy level all day, and even improving your digestive function. The nutritionists cautioned that nothing good would come from starving yourself, especially in the afternoon. “Eat a yogurt before dinner because it’s protein-rich and can help you ward off hunger if your dinnertime meal isn’t until later,” RDN Vanessa M. Rissetto told HuffPost. “Imagine if you eat lunch at noon and don’t eat dinner until 8 p.m. You’ll be a ravenous monster, and you might not make choices in line with your goals.” You might need a snack if youaref in an intensifying lousy mood as the day drags on. “Eating at regular intervals results in steady, even energy, which can elevate your mood,” Sass told HuffPost. In addition to making you more excellent to be around, she said those regular snacks might prevent a junk food spiral since an elevated mood alone can prevent overeating.

Here’s how nutritionists snack.

“I’ve found that just eating three meals doesn’t work for me, so I’m a grazer, which works out because I’m pretty active,” Frankeny said. “Also, I never avoid any food that I’m craving. Sometimes, I want the crunch of veggies and dip, and sometimes, barbecue potato chips make a perfect snack for me. I might try cheese with crackers, jam, or chips and salsa. Lately, I’ve been into these great jalapeño puffs. They’re like cheese balls with a monster hit of spice. I like them because the puffs are big and flavorful. After a couple of handfuls, I’m satisfied, and they don’t leave me with a heavy stomach.”

RD Barbara Ruhs told HuffPost, “One of my faves is rice crackers and hummus. And to get more good fats in my daily routine, I use avocado as a swap for other spreads. Sometimes, I’ll smear a tortilla with guacamole and top it with chopped tomatoes.” “I try to eat snacks that are what I call a perfect 10,’ so that each one provides taste, energy, and nutrition,” RDN Neva Cochran told HuffPost. “I look for snacks that match my nutrition needs. Some can be higher-calorie to give me enough energy in the day, and some are lower-calorie choices with more fiber and protein to help me feel full and satisfied.” Cochran has some go-to snacks that keep her going. “Light microwave kettle popcorn is one of my favorites. An entire popped bag has only 110 calories. Another good choice is sliced pears or apples paired with a protein like peanut butter or cheese. At night, I have a small bowl of light ice cream topped with fat-free, low-sugar chocolate syrup and a few spoonfuls of peanut butter Chex cereal.”

Here’s how nutritionists fit snacks into their workouts and workdays.

Before workouts, I eat things like peanut butter and jelly toast, a banana and peanut butter, yogurt, frozen berries, and flax seeds or cereal,” Frankeny said. “I live in Boulder, Colorado, so I exercise outdoors. During long hikes or runs on the mountain trails, I eat bars that include protein, carbohydrates, and quick-acting sugar.”

“Being an athlete has largely influenced how I think of snacks, so I see them as fuel that helps to keep my energy up until mealtime,” Ruhs said. “If I’m about to work out, I generally don’t eat big meals because I don’t like feeling stuff sloshing around in my stomach as I’m hiking, cycling, or on the tennis court. I grab a banana, my favorite fruit for sports, or sometimes a bar or individual peanut butter packet. Then I’m on the run — literally.”

The timing of snacks is essential not just for exercise but for work, too. Ruhs has found that big meals don’t help her mental performance. “It makes sense because your body directs blood towards the stomach to help with digestion and absorption, so there’s less oxygen from the blood for your brain. So if I’m getting ready for a full day of conference calls or meetings, I’ll have breakfast at least an hour beforehand,” to give her body time to digest the food.

Here’s what to do if your kids’ snacking is crazy pants.

“Parents can provide kids six meal opportunities: three meals and two to three snacks,” Frankeny said. “If kids skip a snack, that’s a learning opportunity for the parents and the kids, who can be allowed to feel a little hungrier by their next mealtime. Parents must be confident enough to say, ‘I’m sorry, but you should have filled your tummy at snack time. You can wait until dinner.’

“Grazing in kids can be a code word for ‘eat whenever they want.’Listeningg to their hunger and fullness signals can be harde when children graze throughout the dayr. Instead, parents should provide a meal schedule or routine and decide when their kids will eat. With designated snack times, however, kids are often more willing to eat what they need, try new food, and stick to better-for-them options.”

Snack alert! You might just be thirsty.

If you’re ready to dive into a bag of snacks right now, take a moment to consider whether you’re thirsty. “Hunger is often confused with thirst,” Ruhs said. “Keep yourself hydrated throughout the day and reach for a glass of water or a can of seltzer before grabbing a snack. You might be surprised to realize you’re not hungry after all.” Gorin said, “When I feel like I want to eat, but I’m not hungry — hey, it happens — I’ll brew myself a cup of coffee or tea to keep my tastebuds occupied.”

One snack isn’t the end of the world.

Above all, the nutritionists urged people to remember that eating is an everyday thing, with plenty of opportunities to do right by yourself and nourish yourself. “If you eat three meals and two snacks daily, that’s about 35weekly chancesk to eat well. If you do that 85% of the time, you can meet your goals,” Rissetto said. “Aim to snack on things that help keep you full but also have a lot of nutrient density.” Frankeny agreed: “Never feel guilt or anxiety if you choose unhealthy food. No food is inherently bad. Allow all foods into your diet, so you don’t feel so out of control when you permit yourself to eat what have been off-limit foods.”


I have always enjoyed writing and reading other people's blogs. I started writing a journal as a teenager and have since written numerous books and articles. My blog is a place where I can write freely about my personal interests and those of others.

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