Aim for 3 Meals a Day

May 12, 2020, 11:06 am | Sarah Francis, Ruth Litchfield

older couple sharing meal at home by Monkey Business/, Iowa – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the idea of planning, preparing, eating and cleaning up after three meals every day may seem overwhelming. But eating three meals a day is key in helping reduce nutritional risk, particularly in aging adults, say nutrition and wellness state specialists with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

“Eating three meals daily also helps make sure you are consuming a variety of foods that keep your brain and heart healthy,” said Sarah Francis.

“Meals don’t have to be fancy. The most important thing is to have three meals a day that you enjoy,” Ruth Litchfield added.  

Francis and Litchfield offer these three tips for three meals a day:

  • Keep it simple.
  • Choose two to three MyPlate food groups per meal.
  • Enjoy your meals.

“It really is OK to keep meals simple,” Francis said. “When planning a meal, aim to include two or three of the five MyPlate food groups: fruits, grains, vegetables, protein and dairy. Be sure to choose foods from all five food groups throughout the day. And enjoy what you eat!”

Litchfield said Iowans don’t have to limit themselves to fresh produce.

“Canned and frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious as fresh. They have a much longer shelf life, are just as tasty, can be prepared quickly and are soft to chew! If you are concerned about sodium or sugar you can choose low sodium vegetable varieties and low sugar fruit varieties or simply drain and rinse them before using,” Litchfield said.

“Protein is essential to maintaining muscle strength so that you can stay strong enough to do everything you need and want to do,” Francis said. “Meat is a great source of protein, but sometimes it takes a long time to make, it’s hard to chew and can be pricey. Some fast, easy to chew and more budget friendly protein options include cottage cheese, cheese sticks, peanut butter or nuts, cheese and crackers, or yogurt.”

Some quick and nutritious meal options include cereal topped with fruit and milk; slice of toast, egg, and juice; low sodium soup, crackers and cheese; sandwich with lettuce, deli meat and bread; pasta with marinara sauce and milk; or chicken breast, frozen vegetables (cooked) and rice.

“Don’t forget to drink a glass of milk or water with your meals,” Francis added.

For more tips on meal planning and for easy-to-prepare, low cost healthy recipes, visit the Spend Smart Eat Smart website,

Cooking for one or two

View our short "Cooking for one or two" lesson for additional tips.

Resources for food accessibility

If you or someone you know is having trouble affording food or accessing food, there are resources available. Through May, all those receiving food assistance will receive the maximum amount allowed. For example, a household of one will receive $194/month while a two-person household will receive $355. To apply, call the Iowa Food Assistance Hotline, 855-944-FOOD (3663). You can also call 2-1-1 to speak with someone about basic human needs resources (e.g., food pantries) and support for older adults and people with disabilities (e.g., home health services).

For more in-depth information on healthy aging, explore the Stay Independent: A Healthy Aging Series from ISU Extension and Outreach.


Photo credit: Monkey Business/

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