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West Florida Hospital

Are Three Squares a Day the Only Healthy Way?

The content below is part of the “Health Library” and is not indicative of services available at the facility.

dinner meal eating Three meals per day is the eating pattern you have been taught since childhood. But, is 3 the ideal number of times you should eat every day? Not necessarily. In fact, for some people, eating 5-6 times a day keeps their blood sugar more even and can help with weight control.

What Is a Mini Meal?

It is important to know the difference between a mini meal and a snack that is high in fat and carbohydrates. A mini meal should be well balanced—containing fiber, protein, and small amounts of fat. This combination can help you to feel fuller longer. In contrast, people who snack on sweet, fatty foods consume more calories and have a higher likelihood of being overweight.

Make sure your mini meal includes a variety of food groups. This will also help to ensure that you are including vitamins and nutrients in your diet.

Here are some examples of mini meals that you can try!

Suggested Mini Meals Nutrients
6 ounces low fat yogurt; ¼ cup raisins; 2 tablespoons peanuts Calcium, iron, protein, vitamin E, monounsaturated fats
½ whole wheat pita, 2 tablespoons hummus, 1 slice roasted red pepper; 1 piece low fat string cheese Fiber, vitamin C, calcium, protein
1 whole wheat English muffin, 2 ounces canned tuna fish, 1 ounce Muenster cheese melted on top; ½ cup baby carrots with light dip Fiber, protein, omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, vitamin A

If you need more ideas to create your mini meals, visit the US Department of Agriculture's Choose MyPlate website, which lists healthy foods from the 5 food groups.

What Works for You?

Everyone’s needs are different based on physiology and lifestyle. Finding an eating pattern that gives you the nutrients and energy you need is key to a healthy and active life.

If you currently eat 3 meals a day but find you go into a mid-morning slump, then smaller, more frequent meals may be right for you. Or, if you find yourself constantly hungry and grazing throughout the day, 3 larger meals with fiber, carbohydrates, protein, and a small amount of fat may be the answer for you.

When deciding on a new eating pattern, make sure to stay on the new schedule for at least 2 weeks to let your body adjust. And, no matter which eating pattern you adopt, try to be consistent.

  • Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics

  • Choose My Plate—US Department of Agriculture

  • Health Canada

  • Dietitians of Canada

  • Berteus Forslund H, Torgerson JS, Sjostrom L, Lindroos AK. Snacking frequency in relation to energy intake and food choices in obese men and women compared to a reference population. Int J Obes. 2005;29(6):711-9.

  • Farshchi H, Taylor M, MacDonald I. Beneficial metabolic effects of regular meal frequency on dietary thermogenesis, insulin sensitivity, and fasting lipid profiles in healthy obese women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;81(1):16-24.

  • Waller SM, Vander Wal JS, et al. Evening ready-to-eat cereal consumption contributes to weight management. J Am Coll Nutr. 2004;23(4):316-21.

  • What it takes to lose weight. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: Updated December 2010. Accessed September 3, 2015.

  • Wing RR, Phelan S. Long-term weight loss maintenance. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005;82(1): 222S-225S.