Monday, May 24, 2010

Meal vs snack

What’s the difference between a meal and a snack? Don’t look at me; I don’t know the answer. You probably have your own definition, like, a meal is eaten at a table, while a snack is eaten next to the computer. Or, for a meal you use a knife and fork, and a snack is eaten from the hands.

Snack, meal, feast?

One of our favourite researchers, Brian Wansink of Cornell University, interviewed 122 students and staff at his university, because they were handy, to try and determine the difference between a snack and a meal. Of course, you know instinctively that a definition is going to be difficult to fathom.

I’ve worked with world class rugby players and seen what they eat as a snack – some would call it a meal for a family of five. I once measured the kilojoules consumed by elite footballers and some of them were bowling over 20,000-25,000 kJs (about 5000-6000 Cals) in a day. So, volume of food can’t be a broad guide.

Vegetables maketh the meal

The researchers found that the inclusion of meat or vegetables was more likely to be thought of as a meal, especially if the meal was seen as “expensive”. Thinking that food was “healthy” linked it to being a meal, while less healthy food more often fell into the snack category. Even a person’s mood changed the perception of the food. A happy mood was associated with a meal, while boredom was associated with a snack.

If you ate with the family at a table, that was a meal; eat alone and it is likely to be seen as a snack. They even tested for aspects I hadn’t considered. If you were given a cloth napkin then the food was seen as a meal, but if you were given a paper serviette then it became a snack.

What does it all mean?

Whether you are eating a meal or snack will depend on your personal definition that suits your lifestyle. You can probably think of other examples in addition to those given above. When I look at my situation, a snack usually involves bread or fruit, while a meal involves cooking.

The researchers felt that how you classified an eating occasion could even influence how much you ate. If, in your mind, the food you ate was defined as a meal then you would eat more than if you saw it as a snack. So, if you have people around for dinner and you are hoping for some leftovers, give the guests paper serviettes. If you want them to leave early, try paper plates as well.

Reference: Appetite. 2010; 54: 214- 216


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StephaniePumphrey said...

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