Do we really need to eat three meals a day?

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family making dumplings in kitchen
Photo: Sergei Malgavko / Contributor (Getty Images)

Eating three square meals a day is rare for me. I’ll eat whenever I’m hungry, starting maybe two or three hours after I wake up. I’ll eat something small, see how I’m feeling, then maybe eat a full meal an hour later. Or I’ll just skip morning food and go straight to lunch. But there’s almost always one big meal for the day, and it’s dinner. That’s just me.

Amanda Mull at The Atlantic ponders whether or not we really need the usual three square meals, and just as importantly, whether our shifting pandemic eating habits are really affecting any of us in a negative way. During the pandemic, Mull’s original three meals a day shifted to grazing throughout the day with an emphasis on one big meal that involves a little more effort and cooking in the kitchen. She eats this whenever she feels like it.

In her essay, Mull explores recent food business trends, like a boom in snack sales, and then shifts her inquiry toward how people are figuring out how to work food into their daily lives. Some people embrace learning how to cook new dishes, while others keep their days amorphous. People with families, like Scott Hines, an architect from Louisville, Kentucky, who writes The Action Cookbook Newsletter, says of his sons, 4 and 5, “I swear there are days where they’ve eaten snacks and no meals. The days that they’re doing online learning, it’s impossible to control that, just because they’re bored.”

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Hines says that working from home does give him more time for cooking projects. Prior to working from home, he was mostly a microwave or quick-prep meal sort of person. Now, he says, “I can make a soup; I can make something that goes in the pressure cooker or sits in the Dutch oven for hours, because I can start it at lunchtime.”

For some people who live alone, cooking turns into a chore. “The amount of effort is immense,” says Ashley Cornall, 30, of San Francisco. “It’s spending my entire life washing dishes, or in my kitchen, prepping something.” Though I personally live in a household of two, I feel you, Ashley. It’s literally an onslaught of dishes, along with an interminable amount of chopping shit up. I’m a former kitchen cook, so my burnout feels a little more ragged right now and persists to this day.

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There’s a lot in the piece to think about, and I find myself surprisingly comforted by the fact that I’m not alone in my daily life being all sorts of unpredictable when it comes to food. Give it a spin and see where you fit.