Many people start the morning with a boring bowl of cereal before eating the same sandwich they have every day for lunch.
But when it comes to dinner, they book the best restaurant or break out their most ambitious recipe.
A study has found what we eat is all about what time of day it is, with breakfast chosen out of hunger, lunch out of habit and dinner mainly about pleasure.
Researchers at Kansas State University asked more than 300 people to give the reasons they ate six main meals and snacks, or the foods they ate over a week.
A study has found what we eat is all about what time of day it is, with breakfast chosen out of hunger
The results show breakfast choices, which tended to be cereal, eggs, dairy or coffee, were all about hunger, the need for food and the desire to make healthy choices.
When it comes to lunch, people are more likely to choose convenient, pre-made foods, based on habit and their price.
Dinner, on the other hand, is mainly about pleasure, socialising and variety of food, with people making much wider choices from grains and pasta to seafood and poultry.
The researchers, led by Dr Uyen Phan, say the results could be used to help people diet, stating: ‘Motivations for food choice changed throughout the day, with daytime eating more motivated by functional-oriented factors such as need and hunger, health, weight control, habit and price, while night-time eating was to satisfy ‘psychological or emotion needs’ such as to socialise with people or to please the self and others.’
The study, published in the journal Food Quality and Preference, found 42 per cent of people have a fixed diets, eating virtually the same foods every day.
Another 42 per cent try to alternate the foods they eat, but do not consume a wide variety of ingredients.
Convenience is key when it comes to breakfast and lunch, with people more likely to choose foods if they are easy to carry and eat. This may explain the rise of the lunchtime sandwich which can be easily held with one hand and consumed at a desk.
The results show breakfast choices, which tended to be cereal, eggs, dairy or coffee, were all about hunger
The results show the main reason behind people’s dinner choices is pleasure, with a small amount of people saying they would ‘comfort eat’ during this meal.
Researchers used online questionnaires to ask 198 adults about their latest meal or snack and the motivation behind it.
Another 100 people were asked to create a ‘food choice map’ using 700 pictures of food and drink, then provide the reasons for consuming each.
The authors state: ‘Choices for breakfast were mainly driven by need and hunger, health and natural concerns, while lunch was more related to price and habits.’ They add that ‘dinner was linked to variety-seeking, traditional eating and sociability’.
Across all meals, whether people liked them was the most important factor, followed by how convenient they were. Price and habits were important for meals but not for snacks, which people were more likely to eat at night when socialising.
The study backs up similar results from a French study, suggesting the reasons for choosing meals are international.