For the past three years, Shannon Smith, of Grovetown, has been eating several breakfasts every day.
As a runner, the 25-year-old spreads out her calorie intake throughout the morning, rather than sitting down to one big meal. Each morning, she starts with an energy bar and maybe coffee around 6:30. Then, she will eat again at 8 or 9 a.m., she said.
“I decided to do it because I feel like it gives me energy to work out in the morning and replenishes my body after each workout. It helps maintain my metabolism, too,” Smith said.
As more Americans are on the go, the traditional breakfast is eroding. It’s easier and less time-consuming to throw breakfast snacks in your purse or briefcase rather than cook a full breakfast and sit down to a prepared meal.
According to market researcher The NPD Group, the number of times Americans snack is expected to rise faster in the morning than during the afternoon or evening.
What qualifies as a snack or a meal is a matter of perspective, of course. But food companies are rolling out smaller bites that feed the growing appetite for morning treats.
General Mills, Quaker Oats and others are adding to their lineup of breakfast bars and yogurts. Sara Lee’s Jimmy Dean this summer introduced mini-breakfast sandwiches. And fast-food chains such as McDonald’s in recent years have expanded their breakfast menus to include smoothies and a fruit-and-walnut pack.
“It’s breakfast in stages,” says Liz Sloan, the president of Sloan Trends, a food-industry consulting group. “They’ll eat something at home, then stop at Starbucks or a convenience store for coffee and maybe a little snack.”
Turning the snacking habit into an all-day affair would be a major growth driver for the already massive snack-food industry. Sales of all snack foods reached $16.64 billion in the past year, up 3.3 percent from a year ago, according to Nielsen.
Food companies have tried before to get people to eat outside of typical meal times. For instance, Taco Bell launched the “Fourthmeal” ad campaign in 2006 to tap into customers’ late-night cravings with menu items such as the 980-calorie Volcano Nachos.
Marketing morning snacks is trickier, though. That’s because people generally feel they should eat healthy in the mornings to start the day off right, and snacking is generally associated with junk food.
To make the idea of tearing into a snack before noon easier to swallow, food companies are touting nutritional benefits of their packaged goodies, products that are less than 300 calories and have more fiber, whole grains or antioxidants. The idea is that such snacks will help people stay energized or feel full longer.
Eating a second or third breakfast is good for you, said Robin Borders, a dietitian at Medical College of Georgia Hospital and Clinics.
“It’s recommended that you have six small meals a day,” Borders said.
“Instead of having a breakfast full of calories, full of fat, full of sugar, first thing in the morning, we ... recommend doing a fruit source and a whole grain at breakfast and then having a snack a couple of hours later.”
This eating pattern is especially recommended for diabetes patients and those trying to lose weight, she said.
“If they choose things that are lower in calories and carbs in the morning, they have more options throughout the day,” Borders said.
People should eat about every two to three hours, she said.
Smith said she eats small meals all day. After her second breakfast, she eats a piece of fruit, usually an orange, around noon.
Then, she eats almonds between noon and 2 p.m., and for lunch, usually around 2 to 4 p.m., she has a soup, salad or an avocado. For dinner, she typically has grilled chicken or shrimp and a salad.
“If you spread out your meals throughout the day, it actually helps with satiety,” Borders said.
“You’re not as hungry because your body knows you’re going to eat again in a couple of hours. It’s an opportunity to burn what calories you are eating and use some of your fat stores, instead of having to work off what you just ate, helping with digestion.”
The small meals should have 200 to 400 calories per meal. If you’re eating multiple times a day, it’s important to reduce the number of calories per meal, instead of eating large portions.
The ideal portion size is the amount of food that can fit in a teacup saucer, Borders said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.