A new diet craze hits TikTok every 5 minutes. But whatever you’re eating, one of the slept-on questions is when you should eat your brekkie, lunch, and dinner.
We looked into the science on the best times to eat each meal, whether meal timing really matters, and the protocols on snacking.
Spoiler alert: there’s no perfect time to eat a meal. But there are some general guidelines.
The best times to eat breakfast
The saying is true — breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.
It sets the stage for your daily nutrition and energy levels. If you skip your morning nosh, you’ll be hungry by lunch time. This can lead to a whole day of playing catch up to your missed meal.
PSA: Eat within the first hour of waking up to give your blood sugar a boost. It also stops you accidentally pushing forward the rest of your mealtimes by choosing a mid-morning snack instead of letting breakfast do its thing.
If you’re in too much of a hurry to cook breakfast and short on inspo, we’ve got your back.
The best times to eat lunch
Your body burns the most calories in the afternoon and evening. So, as crazy as work can get, don’t skip your lunch, even if you’re saying “oh, but that deadline” (oh, but close your laptop and chow down).
Try to eat lunch about 4 to 5 hours after breakfast.
Bonus: Eating a well-rounded lunch with plenty of fiber and protein can help you not overeat at night.
The best time to eat dinner
Aim to eat dinner about 4 to 5 hours after lunch. For example, if you eat lunch at noon, follow that up with dinner around 5.
But of course, the early bird special vibe isn’t for everyone. If you can’t eat an early dinner, be sure to have a healthy snack to keep your blood sugar levels in check.
Eating before bed is a bit controversial. But it turns out that what you eat tends to be more important than when you eat.
Best time to eat dinner for sleep
Eating late might screw with your sleep cycle. A main issue is that it may increase your risk of acid reflux. When you lie down, gravity can’t help you push food and acid down the esophagus.
This can trigger a major heartburn sesh that can keep you tossing and turning.
Avoid foods that have a bad rep for triggering acid reflux like:
- spicy stuff
- acidic foods
- fried or fatty foods
P.S. You should also avoid stimulants like caffeine or processed sugar. Even a single cup of coffee could make it harder to doze off.
So what should you eat before bed? Well, the National Sleep Foundation suggests “complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal or whole-wheat toast” which are easy to digest.
We took a closer look at the fine lines around eating before bed. Going to bed hungry can also keep you from snoozing.
The best time to eat dinner for weight loss
Some research shows that late night eating can make you gain wait, it’s prob not because of the time of day. The more likely cause is that eating before bed can take you over your daily recommended calorie intake.
A 2013 study found that eating within 4 hours of sleep can lead to eating more cals the next day. It can also make you too full for breakfast the next morning, which can trigger bingeing behaviors later on in the day.
To avoid a midnight snack attack:
- Fill up on complex carbs that make you feel fuller for longer.
- Eat enough throughout the day, so you don’t have the urge to eat more at night.
- Try not to eat while watching TV or scrolling through your Insta feed. This can make it hard to keep track of how much you’re actually eating.
A mindful eating approach might help you regain control over your eating schedule.
Does meal timing affect blood pressure?
You prob know that what you eat can directly affect your blood pressure (sorry salt). But the timing of your meals might also be a factor.
An irregular meal pattern might mess with or increase your risk of conditions including:
Reminder: what you eat is more important than when you eat (we’ll keep saying it, because it’s still important). But timing can matter, especially if your meals are inconsistent.
Timing isn’t one-size-fits-all
Food timing can totes vary from person-to-person (or even day-to-day). Lots of folks don’t have a work or life schedule that allows space for consistent mealtimes. If that’s the case, try to get nutrients in when you can.
Choose complex carbs that take longer to digest like:
Pro tip: Mix complex carbs with fiber, proteins, and healthy fats. These foods can slow carb absorption and keep you fuller for longer.
What if you’re not hungry?
Listening to your hunger signals can def get tricky. If you’ve reached your recommended caloric and nutritional intake, you prob shouldn’t eat if you’re not hungry.
Mindless eating can lead to weight gain and other health risks. A good way to avoid needless noshing is to know your triggers.
Common culprits include:
- skipping meals
That said, it’s uber important you maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Don’t skip meals even if you’re not hungry or in a rush.
What if there’s no time in your schedule for food
Even if you have a cray schedule, there are lots of ways to keep your meals on fleek.
Here are some awesome ideas for a fast and healthy:
Should you avoid going to bed hungry?
In general, it’s okay to go to bed with a rumbly tummy if you’ve met your daily nutritional requirements.
But if your belly is belting out a ballad in protest, you might want to grab a light snack. Just avoid foods that can trigger acid reflux or cause indigestion.
Be kind to yourself
While keeping your diet on a tight ship can be healthy, it’s important to keep it balanced — and also to enjoy the experience of eating.
Controlling your diet obsessively may lead to disordered eating.
So cut yourself some slack. Nobody gets it right 100 percent of the time. And everybody deserves a treat.
You can absolutely nosh between meals. Snacks can give you a boost of energy and keep your hunger levels in check. This might prevent you from splurging too hard at meal time.
PSA: Unhealthy snacks can tip you over your daily recommended calorie intake even if you’ve meticulously planned your meals.
Go for healthy choices like veggies, fruits, or lean proteins when eating between breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
How many calories do I need a day?
According to the 2020–2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, calorie needs change according to age, sex, and how active you are.
Bear in mind, this also depends on:
- pregnancy status
- overall health
- activity level
Do check out the guidelines to find the calorie intake that best suits who you are and your level of activity.
Here are some tips to help you have a dope eating schedule:
- Plan ahead. This makes it easier to stick to a healthy, balanced diet rather than hitting up your fave fast food spot.
- Don’t deprive yourself. If you want a late-night brownie, eat that late night brownie, pal. Just be sure to keep everything in moderation and save splurging for special occasions.
- Don’t skip meals. Random fasting can reduce your energy levels and throw your eating cycle out of whack. But some fasting diets can provide health benefits. Just be sure to ease yourself in and follow medical advice if you have any underlying conditions.
While there’s no perfect time to eat each meal, you should try to maintain a healthy pattern on the daily. Everyone has a different body and a different schedule.
Try to stick to these general rules:
- Eat breakfast within an hour of waking up.
- Eat lunch 4 to 5 hours after breakfast.
- Eat dinner 4 to 5 hours after lunch.
- Eat healthy snacks between meals.
It might take some trial and error to figure out each meal’s sweet spot.
The most important advice: try not to worry too much. You’ll find the right groove in no time. Stay full and stay happy!