Eating frequent small meals throughout the day comes with some welcome benefits.
Having five or six daily “mini-meals” instead of the old-school three squares can be fun, filling your days with more flavor. But it can also be good for you if you keep a couple key rules in mind: a small-plate meal should ideally contain 300-400 calories max and be consumed every three or so hours, says Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, coauthor of The Calendar Diet: A Month by Month Guide to Losing Weight While Living Your Life.
Some positives of mini-meals:
They give you better access to protein. “Since our bodies can’t store protein the way they store carbs or fat, we need a regular supply throughout the day,” says Ansel. “Eating smaller meals can help us work in protein more frequently.” Good protein choices include lean meats, a hard-boiled egg, low-fat yogurt or cheese, and legumes such as beans.
They give you another chance to squeeze in nutrition. Didn’t get enough fruit or veggie servings today, and it’s already 3 p.m.? No problem; whir up a green smoothie or a frozen-fruit-and-yogurt mixture in the blender. Going to the gym and feeling a little empty? A few slices of lean turkey on a piece of whole grain bread, paired with a cup of yogurt or an apple and some peanut butter, is a satisfying mini-meal and a way to shoehorn in a serving of something you missed at an earlier meal. For maximum satisfaction, aim for your small meal to include at least one fruit or vegetable, lean- or low-fat protein, and fiber. If you’re including fat, make it the healthful, monounsaturated kind, which is found in foods like nuts or avocado.
They curb the need to supersize. Your growly, empty stomach can be the biggest reason you give in to foods that you know aren’t beneficial. Use a healthful small meal (remember: protein, carbs, and a bit of healthy fat—like pita chips and hummus dip with a handful of grapes) to satisfy your hunger, and you won’t be tempted to visit the office vending machine when you realize dinner isn’t for hours.
They perk up your taste buds. Want to try something new without having to indulge in an entire meal of an unfamiliar food? Adding small meals to your day gives you the opportunity to work in lots of different foods, says Ansel. Haven’t tried Brussels sprouts since you hated them as a kid? See what you think of them now as a snack-size mini-meal. “We tend to eat the same foods over and over, so small plates can really help you expand your repertoire,” says Ansel.