Food / Food as Science

Why aren’t we eating five meals a day?

W Mercedes Chien- A Allison Scott- T History of Eating

Art by: Allison Scott

Why aren’t we eating five meals a day?

 Article by Mercedes Chien | Fall 2014

Have you ever wondered why we eat three meals a day? Luckily for you, we researched the history of our traditions to get a bit of background of our consumption schedule.

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Image courtesy of: sanfordsportsnutrition.blogspot

Breakfast was nonexistent until the 17th century. The Romans only ate one extravagant meal a day, lounging and splurging on grapes and wine. In the late 1700s, breakfast consisting mainly of eggs, coffee, and tea emerged as a symbol of the wealthy.

When the Industrial Revolution implemented fixed working hours, laborers were forced to eat an energy packed meal before going into work. Eventually, people of all classes began eating a meal before their workdays to fuel themselves throughout the morning, giving rise to what we now know as breakfast.


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The creation of lunch was radically different. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word “lunch” came from the old Anglo-Saxon word “nuncheon,” defined as a light mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack and, like breakfast, became the standard during the Industrial Revolution. This would have been the result of the necessity of sustenance in the middle of the day due to the emergence of electricity and artificial light which led to longer working hours and later dinner times.


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Dinner, on the contrary, has always existed, albeit eaten earlier in the day. Dinner was a chance for the wealthy to flaunt their status and impose strict mannerisms, including placing a napkin on one’s lap, chewing with one’s mouth closed, and saying please and thank you.

The servants ate a separate dinner, often in the kitchen away from the opulence of the dining room. The longer working hours that defined the early 19th century, nevertheless, changed dinner to what we know now. People of all classes returned home later in the day, which pushed dinner back later and later. Thus, dinner changed into the evening enjoyment that we know today.


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Since the habit of breakfast, lunch and dinner became integrated into our society gradually through the centuries, who says that three meals are the only way we should consume our food?

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