Snacking and talking about how much U.S. consumers snack is all the rage, but contrary to popular belief Americans still do eat three main meals a day, reports The NPD Group, a leading global information company. It’s a fact that U.S. consumers snack a lot—between meal snacking accounts for about a third of all eating occasions—but they continue to view the day as generally having three main meal occasions that align with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, according to NPD’s daily tracking of eating and snacking behaviors.

U.S. consumers’ adherence to three main meals is primarily culturally based. Daily societal norms in the U.S. are typically scheduled around meal times: going to work and school after breakfast, taking a break for lunch, and being home by dinner. This conditioning begins at a young age when kids are held the closest to the standard three meals per day by their parents. As individuals get older, they begin skipping meals with a dip in their hectic 20s and then again later in life. Even though more meals are skipped as people age, the average remains just under three meals per day as consumers try to maintain the practice learned as kids.

Although consumers still hold to three main meals a day, there is a shift in what consumers eat at these meals. The number of dishes and ingredients used to prepare main meals continues to decline as more consumers rely on “healthy” portable snack foods to be a part of their breakfast, lunch, and dinners. As the sizes of our meals shrink and people continue to incorporate more traditional “snack” foods into main meal menus, the perception is they are grazing or snacking more. These mini-meals, however, are not adding new or additional occasions to the day and consumers continue to eat three main meals each day.

“There is a lot of buzz about snacking these days. One headline could talk about how snacking is up and another might say we graze throughout the day instead of eating a main meal,” says Darren Seifer, food and beverage industry analyst and author of Snacking in America. “While those headlines are eye grabbing and give people something to talk about, it’s important to read past them and dig into the details. The opportunities are uncovered by the details and not the headlines.”

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