Blog Nutrition Small Frequent Meals: Benefits, Drawbacks, And Sample Meal Plan

Small Frequent Meals: Benefits, Drawbacks, And Sample Meal Plan

Deciding how many meals to eat per day is a personal choice that depends on many factors, including your lifestyle, schedule, and dietary preferences. Some people prefer to only eat three large meals per day, while others find it more beneficial to eat more than three smaller meals throughout the day.

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There are benefits and drawbacks to both approaches, and ultimately it’s up to you to decide what works best for you. If you’re interested in trying out the small frequent meals approach, this article will take you through the benefits, drawbacks, and give a sample meal plan.

Benefits Of Small Frequent Meals

1. More Efficient Metabolism

Some experts say that eating smaller meals more often throughout the day can help boost your metabolism and keep your energy levels high (12). They argue that when your body is constantly digesting food, it’s working harder than when you eat three large meals per day.

2. Weight Loss

Since a higher metabolism means you’re burning more calories, if this is true then eating small frequent meals can help with weight loss (7).

3. Reduced Hunger

Eating smaller meals more often can help reduce feelings of hunger and cravings, which can lead to healthier eating habits overall.

4. Stable Blood Sugar Levels

Fluctuating blood sugar levels can lead to all sorts of problems, including mood swings, energy crashes, and cravings. Eating small frequent meals can help keep your blood sugar levels stable and avoid these issues (5).

5. Increased Productivity

Feeling energized and not weighed down by food is essential for productivity. When you’re not thinking about your next meal, you can focus more on work or whatever else you have going on.

6. Sufficient Nutrient Intake

Getting in all the RDA of essential nutrients is easier when you’re eating several small meals throughout the day (17). If you have a reduced appetite, early satiety, or increased nutrient needs due to illness, eating small frequent meals can help you get in all the energy and nutrients you need more comfortably.

7. Reduced Gastrointestinal-Related Symptoms

People with gastrointestinal issues, such as IBS or GERD, often find that eating smaller meals more often helps to reduce their symptoms (10).

This is because large meals can aggravate their digestive symptoms and lead to discomfort (8). Bloating, stomach pain, and heartburn are all common issues that can sometimes be eased by eating smaller meals.

Read More: Healthy Sweet Snacks For Weight Loss And Beating Sugar Craving

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Craving Lemons: Is Your Body Trying To Tell You Something?

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Drawbacks Of Small Frequent Meals

1. Requires Planning And Preparation

Since you’ll need to have food available more often throughout the day, small frequent meals require a bit more planning than three large meals. This can be difficult and inconvenient if you have a busy lifestyle.

2. Can Be Expensive

If you’re not careful, eating small, frequent meals can be expensive. opting for healthy, nutrient-rich foods can get pricey if you’re not mindful of your budget.

3. Increased Chance Of Overeating

Since you’re eating several more meals, it’s easy to overdo it if you’re not careful. Some research associates increased meal frequency with an increased desire to eat (6). Be mindful of your portion sizes and make sure to eat slowly to give your stomach time to digest.

4. Possible Weight Gain

If you’re not careful about what you’re eating, eating small frequent meals can lead to weight gain instead of weight loss. Sometimes people who need to gain weight are recommended to eat small frequent meals to increase their overall calorie intake. Whether your goal is to lose, gain, or maintain, make sure to choose healthy, nutrient-rich foods and avoid overindulging in unhealthy snacks and treats (18).

5. Less Satiety

Satiety is the measure of how full you feel after eating a meal. Some people find that they don’t feel as satisfied after eating small meals throughout the day, especially if they’re used to eating three large meals (6).

small frequent meals

6. More Time Spent Cooking And Eating

If you’re preparing and eating a number of small meals per day, it will take more time in the kitchen than if you were preparing and eating three large meals.

7. Socializing Around Food

When you’re eating these small meals it can be harder to socialize around food. This might not be a problem for you, but some people enjoy eating out or spending time with friends and family over meals. You can still make eating with others work, it might just take a little more planning and forethought.

8. Difficulties When Traveling

If you’re traveling and your schedule is disrupted, it can be difficult to stick to your small frequent meals plan. Be sure to have a backup plan in case of travel-related emergencies.

9. Sleep Disturbances

Some people find that they have trouble sleeping when they’re eating small, frequent meals (2). This might be since your body is working harder to digest food throughout the day.

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Soy Milk Side Effects In Males: Separating Facts From Myth

If you’re having trouble sleeping, try spacing out your meals more evenly instead of eating several small meals in a row, and maybe don’t eat your last meal too close to bedtime.

10. Disordered Eating

For some people, eating small frequent meals can trigger disordered eating behaviors (4). If you have a history of disordered eating, be sure to speak with a doctor or dietitian before starting a small frequent meals plan or any change in eating habits.

11. Poor Food Choices

It’s harder to make healthy food choices when you’re eating meals throughout the day. If you’re not careful, you might end up snacking on unhealthy foods instead of consuming a balanced diet.

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small frequent meals

Should You Eat Small Frequent Meals?

The benefits of eating small, frequent meals are many. Smaller meals can help to control blood sugar levels, which can provide more energy and help to prevent cravings later in the day. Eating frequently may also help increase metabolism.

There are some drawbacks to eating small frequent meals, however. If you’re not careful, you may end up getting more calories overall than you would if you ate only three larger meals. It can also be difficult to find time to prepare and eat small meals throughout the day, especially if you’re busy.

Eating small, frequent meals is more appropriate for some people than others.

Consider this eating plan if you:

Are An Athlete

Athletes need plenty of energy throughout the day to perform at their best. Eating this way can help them stay fueled up without feeling weighed down or overly full.

They should eat high-quality foods that digest quickly and easily.

Note that before workouts carbs are the best energy source. After workouts, protein is essential for muscle growth and repair (16).

Are Trying To Gain Weight

If you’re trying to gain weight, eating small frequent meals can help by increasing your overall energy and nutrient intake.

Sometimes a poor appetite or digestive issues makes eating larger meals uncomfortable, so eating small frequent meals can be very helpful. Dietitians often recommend this approach to those with an illness that affects appetite and who have lost weight unintentionally.

Read More: Benefits Of Turnip Greens: Reasons You Should Be Eating These Healthy Vegetables

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Have Diabetes

If you have diabetes, it’s important to control your blood sugar levels. Eating small frequent meals can help by preventing spikes and dips in your blood sugar (5).

You’ll want to include foods that are high in fiber and protein which can help to slow down the digestion of carbohydrates (1).

You’ll want to talk to your doctor or dietitian about how many meals are right for you and what types of foods will help keep your blood sugar stable.

small frequent meals

Are Pregnant

If you’re pregnant, you need to make sure you’re getting enough nutrients for both you and your baby. Eating small frequent meals can help to ensure that you’re getting the nutrients you need.

You’ll want a variety of healthy foods in your diet, including lean protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and dairy (14).

You should also avoid foods that could be harmful to you or your baby, such as raw fish, unpasteurized dairy, and deli meats (9).

Eating small frequent meals in the third trimester may help relieve heartburn caused by indigestion (11).

As the baby takes up more room in your abdomen, you may find it difficult to eat large meals.

Have A Busy Schedule

If you have a busy schedule, it can be hard to find the time to sit down and eat a large meal. Eating small, frequent meals can help you fuel up throughout the day without taking up too much time.

You’ll want to choose foods that are easy to prepare and easy to eat on the go.

Fruits, veggies, nuts, and seeds are all good options. You can also make quick and easy meals like smoothies, sandwiches, and wraps.

Have Gastrointestinal Issues

If you have gastrointestinal issues like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or irritable bowel syndrome, you may find that these smaller meals are easier to digest than the large meals (13).

You’ll want to choose foods that are gentle on your stomach and easy to digest.

Some people find that cooked vegetables, fruits, and white meat are easier to digest than raw fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fatty meats.

Talk to your doctor or dietitian about what types of foods are best for you.

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small frequent meals

Who Shouldn’t Eat Small Frequent Meals?

While there are benefits to eating small, frequent meals, there are some people who probably shouldn’t follow this type of eating plan.

You should not follow this eating plan if you:

Have A History Of Eating Disorders

People with a history of eating disorders should avoid small, frequent meals unless recommended by their care team. Any change in eating pattern can trigger unhealthy eating habits (4).

Are Trying To Lose Weight

Most studies have not found any association between meal frequency and weight loss. What seems to be more important is the overall quality and quantity of food you eat throughout the day, as well as other factors such as exercise, stress, and sleep quality. 

That being said, small frequent meals are often recommended to people who have poor appetites and are trying to gain weight, because it can help them eat more overall. 

In the end, the choice is yours. If you are trying to lose weight, it probably doesn’t matter whether you eat 3 meals or 6. What matters more is what and how much you are eating.

small frequent meals

Sample 7-Day Meal Plan For 6 Small Meals A Day

One way to make sure you’re getting the right number of nutrients is to follow a sample meal plan that includes six small meals spaced evenly throughout the day. This plan includes a variety of healthy foods that will help you stay energized and satisfied.

Monday 

  • Meal one – 1/2 cup oatmeal with 1 tablespoon raisins and 1/2 banana
  • Meal two – 2 tablespoons hummus with celery sticks
  • Meal three – 6 ounces grilled chicken breast with green beans and 1/2 cup brown rice
  • Meal four – 2 hard-boiled eggs and a piece of fruit
  • Meal five – 2 tablespoons peanut butter on whole-wheat toast
  • Meal six – 6 ounces light yogurt with 1/2 cup berries

Tuesday

  • Meal one – 1 slice whole-wheat toast with 1 tablespoon almond butter
  • Meal two – 1/2 cup cottage cheese with 1/2 cup blueberries 
  • Meal three – 6 ounces grilled salmon with roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potato
  • Meal four – 1 apple with 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • Meal five – Turkey wrap with lettuce, tomato, and avocado
  • Meal six – Smoothie made with 1 banana, 1 cup spinach, and 1 cup almond milk

Wednesday

  • Meal one – 2 scrambled eggs with a slice of whole-wheat toast
  • Meal two – one apple
  • Meal three – 1/2 cup lentils with roasted veggies and wild rice
  • Meal four – a handful of nuts and dried fruit
  • Meal five – 5 ounces lean pork tenderloin with roasted sweet potatoes
  • Meal six – plain low-fat greek yogurt 
See also
Eating Before Workout: The Best and Worst Foods For Pre-Workout Nutrition

Thursday

  • Meal one – 1/2 cup oatmeal with 1 tablespoon raisins and 1/2 banana
  • Meal two – 2 tablespoons hummus with celery sticks
  • Meal three – 6 ounces grilled chicken breast with green beans and 1/2 cup brown rice
  • Meal four – 2 hard-boiled eggs and a piece of fruit
  • Meal five – veggie stir-fry made with 2 cups broccoli, 1/2 red onion, and 1/4 cup each of edamame beans, sugar snap peas, and carrots
  • Meal six – 1 cup almond milk with 1 scoop protein powder

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Friday

  • Meal one – 1 slice whole-wheat toast with 1 tablespoon almond butter
  • Meal two – 1/2 cup cottage cheese with 1/2 cup blueberries 
  • Meal three – black bean burger on a whole wheat bun with roasted kale and sweet potato fries
  • Meal four – 6 ounces light yogurt with 1/2 cup berries
  • Meal five – salmon and roasted asparagus
  • Meal six – 2 tablespoons peanut butter on whole-wheat toast

Saturday

  • Meal one – breakfast burrito made with 1 egg, 1-ounce low-fat cheese, and 5 ounces grilled chicken
  • Meal two – 1 pear
  • Meal three – 1 cup quinoa with black beans, grilled chicken, and roasted veggies
  • Meal four – a handful of nuts and dried fruit
  • Meal five – 5-ounce steak with roasted Brussels sprouts and mashed sweet potatoes
  • Meal six – 1 cup low-fat Greek yogurt and 1/2 cup berries

Sunday

  • Meal one – 1/2 cup oatmeal with 1 tablespoon raisins and 1/2 banana
  • Meal two – 2 tablespoons hummus with cucumber slices
  • Meal three – 6 ounces grilled salmon with roasted Brussels sprouts and sweet potato
  • Meal four – 2 hard-boiled eggs and a piece of fruit
  • Meal five – 1 cup whole wheat pasta with grilled chicken and steamed broccoli
  • Meal six – 1 cup almond milk with 1 scoop protein powder

The Bottom Line

Eating small frequent meals has some potential benefits including being easier to digest for some people, possible improved metabolism, and stable blood sugar levels. That said, there are also some drawbacks to consider such as increased calorie intake and the need for more planning.

Ultimately, whether or not small frequent meals are right for you depends on your lifestyle and preferences. If you think you would benefit from eating small frequent meals, try the sample meal plan provided above and see how you feel.

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DISCLAIMER:

This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!

SOURCES:

  1. Carbohydrate Digestibility and Metabolic Effects | The Journal of Nutrition | Oxford Academic (2007, academic.oup.com)
  2. Diet and Sleep Physiology: Public Health and Clinical Implications | Neurology (2017, frontiersin.org)
  3. Dietary fibre and satiety – Slavin – 2007 – Nutrition Bulletin – Wiley Online Library (2007, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
  4. Do disordered eating behaviors have long-term health-related consequences? (2017, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  5. Effects of 6 vs 3 eucaloric meal patterns on glycaemic control and satiety in people with impaired glucose tolerance or overt type 2 diabetes: A randomized trial (2018, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  6. Effects of increased meal frequency on fat oxidation and perceived hunger (2012, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
  7. Effects of meal frequency on weight loss and body composition: a meta-analysis (2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  8. Food, Eating, and the Gastrointestinal Tract (2020, mdpi.com)
  9. Food safety during pregnancy (2010, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  10. Gastrointestinal regulation of food intake (2007, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  11. Heartburn in pregnancy (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  12. How Small, Frequent Meals Can Help Athletes Keep Energy High (2018, health.clevelandclinic.org)
  13. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) – Diagnosis and treatment – Mayo Clinic (2020, mayoclinic.org)
  14. Nutrition During Pregnancy, Lactation and Early Childhood and its Implications for Maternal and Long-Term Child Health: The Early Nutrition Project Recommendations (2019, karger.com)
  15. Protein, weight management, and satiety (2008, academic.oup.com)
  16. Role of nutrition in performance enhancement and postexercise recovery (2015, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
  17. Small, Frequent Meals (2015, nutrition.org)
  18. Weight-Loss and Maintenance Strategies – Weight Management (2004, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
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