The Best Foods to Eat at Every Time of Day
Depending on the meal or snack, you can make good—or terrible—choices that will help you feel full, sleep better, or have more energy. Check out these tips from top nutrition experts.
5:00–6:00 a.m.: Snack
If your morning workout is at a low to moderate pace and less than an hour, you may just want to skip food and have a hearty breakfast after. However, if you plan to exercise intensely or for more than an hour, consider a pre-workout snack. These 5 Ingredient Matcha Energy Bites from Stephanie McKercher, Colorado-based registered dietitian and recipe developer at The Grateful Grazer, should do the trick. Matcha has caffeine that studies suggest can have a positive influence on workout performance.
7:00–9:00 a.m.: Breakfast
Lauren Harris-Pincus, RD, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, points to research indicating that eating a minimum of 20 grams of protein per meal will help prevent loss of muscle as we get older. It’s easier to accomplish at lunch and dinner, but most people don’t get enough protein at breakfast. Harris-Pincus recommends including foods such as cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, or eggs, as well as plant-based proteins like beans or tofu. Research shows that protein will help keep you feeling full. Here are 27 more healthy breakfast ideas you should try ASAP.
10:00–11:00 a.m.: Snack
Sara Haas, RD, author of Taco! Taco! Taco! and the Fertility Foods Cookbook, says, “Get your day off to a great start with fruits and vegetables. It sets you up for getting a variety of nutrients.” A snack is a great opportunity to work toward the 5–9 servings of fruits and vegetables you need each day for better health. Carrots with some low-fat dip or an apple with peanut butter are great options.
12:00–2:00 p.m.: Lunch
Lunch is the time to refuel for the afternoon, so eating a balanced meal with protein, whole grains, and a large serving of vegetables is the way to go, recommends Sandra Arévalo, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. An easy go-to meal for getting all of that at once is a salad. Because fruits and veggies contain unique mixes of healthy compounds, according to the Produce for Better Health Initiative, plan to mix up your salad ingredients from day to day for better protection against heart disease and cancer. If you’re looking for other options, check out these 20 healthy lunch ideas that aren’t salad.
3:00–4:00 p.m.: Snack
McKercher says, “For a mid-afternoon pick-me-up, snack on these No Bake Sesame Date Bars. Made with nuts, seeds, and protein-rich chickpea powder, they help me feel energized until dinner.” They’re also a cinch to prepare; no oven required. Dates are a source of a soluble fiber called pectin, which may help lower cholesterol levels, according to a 2011 study.
6:00–7:00 p.m.: Dinner
“We don’t need the same amount of energy in the evening as when we are going to work, school, or working out,” explains Arévalo. For that reason, she recommends plenty of vegetables and a lean serving of protein, like beans, grilled chicken, or fish to keep calories low for your evening meal. If you missed lunch or an afternoon snack, don’t let hunger lead you to overeat at dinner. A cup of soup for an appetizer will help you eat less of the main dish, a Pennsylvania State University study found.
7:00–8:00 p.m.: Dessert
For people who just have to end their meal on a sweet note, fruit can answer the call. Plus, it tops the healthy list, thanks to all the vitamins, minerals, and fiber it provides. Top with a spritz of light whipped cream for a more decadent experience. If you’ve already had several servings of fruit during the day, opt for a small amount of dark chocolate—unless you’re sensitive to caffeine, which is naturally found in cocoa beans—or low-fat vanilla yogurt for a boost of calcium. For other great options, check out the 12 healthy desserts that could help you lose weight.
9:00–11: 00 p.m.: Snack
Many adults drink alcohol in the evening to help them relax and go to sleep—which is a terrible idea, according to Lindsey Pine, RD, owner of TastyBalance Nutrition. Pine says it can interfere with the quality of your sleep and leave you feeling exhausted the next day. Instead, encourage and improve sleep by enjoying snacks with natural sources of the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, a 2017 study suggests. Start with grapes, walnuts, or pistachios. You can also try one of these 17 snacks nutritionists always keep on hand.
If your schedule swaps late night, early morning, and regular shifts, then your meals will be all over the place. Just remember that the same rules still apply: Have a heavier meal before your shift begins for energy, and eat progressively lighter as your worktime progresses to help prepare your body and mind for sleep. A mix of whole grains, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats such as nuts and avocado are great choices at any time. Don’t miss these 15 quick healthy meals doctors and nutritionists make every day.