I’m a planner. I plan my meals as best I can. We have granola or eggs on toast for breakfast, sandwiches and fruit for lunch, a small snack (usually nuts and dried fruit or crackers and cheese), and then dinner from the list of meals I came up with earlier in the week. It puts my mind at ease to know that I’m not going to be scrambling for something to eat, and it helps my kids to know what is coming and when. And, most of the time aside from our after-school snack we don’t do a lot of snacking during the day. Our schedule is nothing ground-breaking, of course. Most people like to eat three square meals a day.
However, a recent survey conducted by IRI Worldwide, a top market research firm, suggests that for many people eating smaller, snack-like meals throughout the day is becoming more common. These “opportunistic eaters,” who comprise about 1 in 5 adults in America, may not really think about whether what they are eating is a meal or a snack, and, the survey suggests, they may not be as aware of the nutritional value of their food choices as people who plan their meals. In fact, rather than basing their food choices on how healthy they are, opportunistic eaters are more likely to look for whatever is quick and cheap which isn’t always the healthiest option.
Not only that, it appears as though opportunistic eating, or the grab-and-go lifestyle, goes hand-in-hand with less exercise. The survey found that about 75% of “planners,” or people who eat 3 meals a day rather than snacking throughout, are also active for at least 20 minutes on a daily basis compared with two-thirds of opportunistic eaters.
It may sound like grabbing something quick to eat when the opportunity arises is at odds with leading a healthy, active lifestyle. And, to one degree or another that may be true. If you are so busy that you can’t sit down for a meal and you often grab the quickest thing to eat at the front of the grocery store, you may want to rethink the sustainability of your schedule and whether or not being so busy is really the best thing for you.
But a lot of us only occasionally find ourselves in that kind of situation so busy we forget to eat and end up calling the cookies we’ve just decorated for the class Halloween party “lunch.” When we do go through those days (or weeks), it’s best to be aware of what kinds of quick grab-and-go foods are best for our health: things like hummus and carrots, whole fruit, or yogurt. (I am personally a big fan of mixing up my own trail mix with various nuts and dried fruit and keeping that on hand in case of emergency.) That way, even when we are stressed or over-scheduled, at least we can be sure we are filling up on better fuel and not adding any more stress to our lives.