When I was a child, (just 2 decades ago), I was taught the value of three square meals a day. Although I was confused by them being called, “square,” I did understand what my mother meant – healthy, balanced… and probably at least 1 vegetable every meal.
The origin of the term, “square meal,” is a bit fuzzy. Some sources say it came from the Royal Navy, who served meals on square plates. The square plate part at least is true and can be verified, but there are no records of the term “square meal,” being used by the Royal Navy or civilians at the time.
Regardless of the action origin of the term, it has been used to mean a healthy, substantial, nourishing meal for quite some time, and that is certainly how my mother meant it. “You can’t leave the table until you clear your plate,” and “You’re not leaving until you finish your vegetables,” were commonly heard around our dinner table when I was a kid. And my mom meant it.
In the past 10 years or so, many dieting plans and health gurus have decided that smaller meals, more often and better. They help boost the metabolism, give people more energy, and can even help people lose weight, according to various websites.
Eating less, more often to keep the metabolism higher sounds logical enough but unfortunately, the research to prove it just isn’t there. According to a study published in the British Journal Of Nutrition, any effects of the frequency of meals or pattern of meals on the body’s regulation of weight is negligible. The study went on to say that what really matters is the total food consumption.
Although the “eat more small meals” advice could potentially work for some people, in practice, the reality is far from the intent of the statement. Rather than 6 smaller, HEALTHY meals a day, some people eat close to 3 regular meals and then add 3 snacks. And all too often, those snacks are not healthy, fresh veggies and lean protein, but rather high sugar, high carb, low or no health benefit foods.
Another stumbling block for many is the concept of “smaller” meals. What some people do when they’re told to eat more, smaller meals a day is to just eat all the time. Unless they are keeping a food diary and writing down everything they eat in a day, many people don’t realize how often they’ve eaten or just how many calories they’ve consumed.
Returning to 3 sensible, so-called “square” meals a day, without snacks or desserts between or after is actually much healthier for most people. It’s also much easier to plan and manage as it allows people to think in terms of “breakfast, lunch, and dinner,” again rather than the eating every few hours that they have been doing. No snacks between meals allows the body to go through brief periods of intermittent fasting (IF) as well, which can actually be beneficial to overall health.