Nutrition Articles

Breaking Down Pros and Cons of Mini Meals

The Benefits of Eating Several Small Meals Each Day

When I was a kid, I played four-square on the playground and learned to eat three square meals a day. Now my meals are supposed to be shaped like a pyramid and I've heard I’m supposed to be eating them six times a day. Is anyone besides me confused?

Meal frequency has been the subject of debate among nutrition experts for decades. The one thing about which almost everyone agrees on is that breakfast is essential. Eating a meal of complex carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats within an hour or so of rising can rev up your metabolism and give you fuel for an active day. But how big should it be? And how long after breakfast should you eat your next meal? And what about the one after that?

You may have heard some nutrition and weight loss experts say that people should eat "mini meals" every two to three hours, or four to six times per day. Proponents of this idea claim that eating small meals throughout the day can lower cholesterol, promote weight loss, improve energy levels, boost metabolism, and preserve lean muscle mass. "It sounds good in theory, but there isn't much proof to back most of these claims," says Becky Hand, a Registered and Licensed Dietitian. There is research to support at least one of these claims: In a 2001 study published in The British Medical Journal, researchers found that people who ate six small meals a day had a 5 percent lower average cholesterol level than people who ate one or two larger meals.
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About The Author

Liza Barnes Liza Barnes
Liza has two bachelor's degrees: one in health promotion and education and a second in nursing. A registered nurse and mother, regular exercise and cooking are top priorities for her. See all of Liza's articles.

Member Comments

  • Thank you for this interesting and informative article. I plan on trying the mini meals - I really think it will help me succeed!!! - 1/23/2016 9:42:31 PM
  • This is bad advice for most people trying to lose weight. WAY TO MANY CARBS, for one. Margarine, hello?

    I have watched a good friend follow this advice and she has ballooned in size, and is still pre-diabetic if not a full Type 2 diabetic now.

    To lose weight and gain health, eat 2-3 meals a day and make then nutrient-dense whole foods. - 1/16/2016 11:29:47 AM
    Restrictive and fad diets aren't the solution to sustainable weight loss. If you eat healthy well balanced foods in moderation you'll drop pounds without even trying...or starving to death!...and your overall health and well-being will benefit, too. I recently found an amazing collection of over 100 healthy, inexpensive and simple to prepare recipes in every category imaginable called Sinfully Healthy Food that's definitely worth adding to your collection. This is more than your average “cookbook”! There's helpful advice, info and tips on nutrition to make sure you’re eating the best foods possible and tools to make shopping and preparing your meals as easy as pie (no pun intended). If you're looking for delicious, easy to prepare recipes that will do your body good and help you shed those unwanted pounds without even trying, this is definitely worth a look. You can find the page here:
    Or get more info here:
    - 9/26/2015 10:54:59 AM
  • I eat mini meals all day long. - 9/22/2015 12:03:42 PM
  • please don't forget ,weather you are eating 6 meals or 3 meals... PROTEIN is important you have to get in more protein....not just at dinner. This will help energy level and muscles it not just about getting food in .. it is about the nutrition of that food! - 4/26/2015 12:33:33 PM
  • My issue is on days when I am of from work. But today I have am tracking everything that I do, eat, drink etc....
    I will also a stay aware and ask myself, "Am I hungry or just bored?" - 3/29/2015 1:00:21 PM
    I eat 6-7 times a day, and I'm losing beautifully. No deprivation or starvation, just moderation and balance.

    A great many Americans eat only 1-2 times a day, but their meals are enormous. I hear them constantly complaining about how they don't eat very much. But it's not that they aren't eating a lot, it's that they are feeling deprived in between their eating. - 9/29/2014 4:14:40 PM
  • Last year on my doctor's advice I tried 6 mini meals (200-300 calories) every 2-3 hours. It went okay, but the biggest drawback was in staying on the schedule. It seemed like when I was late by even 15 minutes, it threw the rest of my schedule into utter chaos.

    I now eat 3 regular meals every day plus a light snack (approx 100 cal) in the early afternoon and evening. Seems to work - never starving & not continuously watching a clock. This plan is helps me be more in tune with my body's hunger signals. - 3/28/2014 2:53:47 PM
  • I have been eating 3 meals and 2 snacks each day --- it seems to be working - 11/4/2013 7:48:50 AM
    I am picky about the food That I am eating, usually I am eating every 3 hours to keep the metabolism up like a machine, I love eat row veggies as snack (carrots, tomatoes, celery) and also I don't include to much starchy carbs in my meals and you know the most reward thing for me is that the.clothes that I wearing fit beautifully on me, I almost in my right weight but it takes time and discipline. - 10/23/2013 12:38:04 PM
  • Weight gain has resulted for a majority of people, already struggling with portion control and food addiction, who try to follow this advice.

    No two people are the same. But O*P*E*N your eyes and look around you. In the States at least, this is bogus diet advice, the latest diet fad.

    Like most people, I tried this advice and gained weight.

    It wasn't until I found, and followed, the No S Diet (thanks to SP for the intro!), that I got my eating under control. Thank you thank you thank you THANK YOU, No S Diet, for a return to eating sanity, commonsense, relearning intuitive eating and relearning moderation, great-grandma's way of eating!, with an end to "diet head", food obsession, food rules, counting, weighing, measuring, tracking, and obsession. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU No S Diet for an end to diet depravity, insanity, and putting food back into it's rightful, SMALL, place in my life. Life is for living; not for following dieting rules and and obsessions with the latest eating fad. - 9/15/2013 9:21:50 PM
    I have three small meals and two snacks spread out about three hours apart. I used to do three meals about five hours apart but found I was getting too hungry, light headed even. Five "meals" definitely works better for me, my next meal is never too far away, my energy levels are more stable, I don't get too hungry, and it encourages me to make the effort to eat regularly, because I know if I have one meal late, all the others will be late too. - 9/14/2013 10:47:14 PM
  • 6 mini meals per day = constant focus on eating and food + never feeling satisfied by a real meal. Mini-meals may work for some, but 3 squares work better for many. Do what works for you, despite the fads. - 9/12/2013 1:00:30 PM
  • I have to eat small meals right now because I can't do know exercise because of my hip. - 7/9/2013 5:24:27 PM
    @ EMCKERN- If you are eating only 955 calories per day, this could be your problem. I've always heard that it is unhealthy to eat less than 1200 calories per day. - 5/28/2013 2:55:08 PM

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