Mealtimes and dining patterns increasingly deviate from the longstanding tradition of "three square meals." Likewise, it's been decades since the importance of breakfast over lunch or dinner has been this hotly debated and contested—especially with the trends toward snacking between meals and eating several smaller meals daily further muddying mealtime management.

"There's a surging fluidity to modern mealtimes," says David Sprinkle, research director for Packaged Facts. "The reality is US adults are increasingly eating differently, if not necessary eating less."

Survey data published in the report reveal that as of 2018, in terms of the three main meals, a far higher share of adults consider breakfast to be the most important meal of the day compared with lunch or dinner. Even so, the percentage considering breakfast to be most important has edged downward since 2008, with lunch and dinner each gaining more priority.

Packaged Facts research also found that the percentage of adults who eat several smaller meals throughout the day edged up slightly from 2008 to 2018. Notably, some essential and increasingly influential consumer demographic segments showed a greater likelihood than average toward eating several smaller meals throughout the day, including Hispanics, African-Americans, and women.

The data further reveals a modest but marked trend toward eating meals later. Between 2008 and 2018, there's been a slight drop in the percentage of adults who eat breakfast before 9 a.m., lunch before 1 p.m., and dinner before 8 p.m. Gen Z adults (18- to 24-year-olds) are among the most noteworthy diners who tend to eat in later day-parts. Asian-Americans and millennial adults between ages 25- to 34-years-old are disproportionately more likely to eat later in the evenings.

This Eating Trends report provides a compact overview of continuity and changes in US adult mealtime and snacking patterns between 2008 and 2018, with a focus on corresponding demographics. This data-heavy, top-line report draws on behavioral and psychographic consumer survey questions with given statements about eating behaviors. 

Trended data and current key demographics are provided for the following topics: mealtime patterns and "eating later" trends; the relative priority on breakfast vs. lunch or dinner; patterns for sit-down, family-style meals for households of two or more persons; the prevalence of eating several, smaller meals throughout the day; snacking behavior; perception of snack foods as unhealthy; sweet vs. salty snacking patterns; and healthier snacking vs. enjoying treats as indulgences.

View additional information about Eating Trends: Mealtimes and Snacking.