Growing up, you probably heard it said a lot that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and most people still believe strongly in that statement.
It was not always that way however, there are numerous records which show differing attitudes to breakfast in earlier times.
Food historian Caroline Yeldham said “the Romans believed it was healthier to eat only one meal a day”. Abigail Carrol writing on the invention of the American meal showed that people ate bits of food throughout the day and sometimes even fasted for days at a time.
Historians who document food culture of Europeans also show that breakfast was a luxury for the rich, a necessity for laborers and skipped for the rest.
Those who ate breakfast did not take any particular care with it and would eat leftovers from the previous day or even heavy meals like beef steaks or boiled chicken that were not especially healthy considering they were heavy for that time of the day.
It was as workers moved to cities and became employees who worked set schedules that breakfast became a more standard fixture in homes.
So how did breakfast move from its much ignored position to be crowned as the most important meal of the day? It can be attributed to a 1944 marketing campaign launched by Grape Nuts manufacturer General Foods to sell more cereal.
For the advert campaign which was named “Eat a Good Breakfast—Do a Better Job”, marketers had grocery stores handing out pamphlets that promoted the importance of breakfast while radio advertisements announced supposed findings by Nutrition experts which attributed breakfast as the most important meal of the day.
These adverts were trying and succeeding in introducing cereals to the market. Cereals were a product invented by John Harvey Kellogg, a deeply religious doctor who believed that they would both improve Americans’ health and keep them from masturbating and desiring sex.
As cereals were more widely accepted, breakfast was established as a meal with distinct food choices and to sell these food choices created by brands, marketers leaned heavily on advertising that sought to convince people that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
More recent studies do not wholly support this claim. Those studying the importance of breakfast are more cautious now and some have shown that; previous studies that supported the importance of breakfast for weight management have been contradicted by more rigorous examination.
Another heavily contested point is that studies which examined the importance of schoolchildren eating breakfast have failed to show that breakfast (by itself) helps them focus on their work.