Majority of Americans no longer eat 3 meals a day, study finds

Three meals a day is a thing of the past as nearly three-quarters of Americans no longer eat a traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner, according to a new study.

Research into the eating habits of 2,000 Americans found that the traditional breakfast, lunch and dinner meal structure is now followed by just 27 percent of people today.

Busy, untraditional schedules and the desire for more variety throughout the day are some of the main reasons Americans are shifting away from a classic meal structure.

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Impatience when it comes to more extensive meal prep and cooking, being constantly on the go and health factors are also named among the biggest reasons for the classic meal structure to be abandoned.

The research, conducted by OnePoll in conjunction with Farm Rich, found more and more Americans are opting for "snack meal" and smaller bites as a common alternative to three meals per day, with 86 percent revealing that they have replaced a traditional meal with a snack meal. The average person surveyed was most likely to eat two meals and snack three times in a typical day.

Cravings and fun, enticing flavor offerings are the top reasons people consume snacks, with the average respondent eating five snack meals each week, and one in four describing their eating style as "little and often."

The meal most often replaced with snacks? Lunch, for 49 percent of Americans. Whether at home or work, respondents of all ages showed their “peak snacking hours” to be between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

The most common foods that make up a small-plate or snack meals are cheese, crackers, chips, veggies, meat proteins (like turkey slices), fruit, nuts, yogurt – followed by a variety of frozen foods/snacks such as mozzarella sticks, chicken nuggets, sliders, pizza bites and potato skins.

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The convenience and portability of snacks and quicker bites over bigger meals might explain why the average respondent eats four snacks "on the move" each week, coupled with the need for more fuel and energy throughout the day. So where are the other 17 weekly snacks being consumed? At home for 81 percent of Americans, followed by work for 31 percent.

The "desire for quick foods that fuel us have led to an increase in snack consumption, especially at home,” said Shannon Gilreath, Director of Marketing at Farm Rich.

“People are no longer feeling bound to the traditional three meals a day, which gives them more variety and time back to do the things they enjoy most, and for many, that doesn’t involve a ton of time in the kitchen, especially on busy days.”

Millennials are most likely to participate in the idea that “three standard meals a day is a thing of the past,” consuming snacks to take the place of a meal at least six times a week and eating at least six snacks while on the go each week (in the car, on the train, etc.).

Twenty percent of millennials are also eating snacks on their feet while running errands.

When it comes to millennials, two in five are reaching for a snack as a way to fuel them throughout their day. That is compared to just one in five older adults (55 and older); 60 percent of this older age group uses snacks as a means to curb cravings.

And Millennials are not alone in their love of the microwave to heat and eat snacks. Nearly half of all respondents (45 percent) prefer the microwave when preparing foods for snacks or snack mealsover the conventional oven, toaster oven, air fryer and home fryer.

When it comes to dinner, the data found as many as 49 percent turn to "snack dinners" due to the lack of time they have to plan, prepare and sit down to a meal, followed by the desire to cut down on food waste (35 percent).

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For many, finding quick, convenient, lasting products starts in the freezer aisle – 33 percent of respondents shop this section at least once a week. Which would explain why the frozen foods segment of grocery shopping has seen positive growth over the last 12 months.

“Snacking gives flexibility to busy families and individuals with untraditional schedules,” Gilreath added. “This shift towards enjoying an all-snack meal or snacks on the go, speaks to changing lifestyles, and the grocery freezer is a great resource for foods that offer the ease, long shelf life, variety and sustenance people sometimes need.”