When a team of researchers decided to study how college students perceive the terms “meal,” “real meal,” and “snack,” they came up with some interesting conclusions.
We imagine the questioning devolved into something like: “You know, sometimes, like what’s a meal really, man? Like, is it just one food in one sitting? Or does it have to be from all four food groups at the same time? Is a handful of nuts a meal? Or is that a snack? What about one walnut? Would that be a snack?”
Cue nutritionists face-palming.
For real, bro: According to the study, which was published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior, the researchers gathered over 600 college students from two universities in two western states and surveyed them on the dietary terms, trying to figure out how to better frame future education efforts. They found that students saw a distinction between a "real meal" and "meal," with a real meal thought of as something that’s healthy or nutritious and more in-line with what the government would recommend you. Meals, though, were defined just whatever you can grab to eat and stave off hunger and basically survive. Snacks, which are college staples (especially after hours), were described as stuff eaten between meals in small portions to hold off hunger.
“Students’ perceptions relating to the words 'real meal,' 'meal,' and 'snack' might allow nutrition educators another way to frame and promote healthful eating,” said Jinan Banna, Ph.D., R.D.N., lead author of the study. “By using the phrase 'real meal,' educators may be able to promote eating in line with dietary guidelines.”
In the meantime, maybe stop trying to subsist on Red Bulls and Pop-Tarts.