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How to Eat on an Italian Schedule

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How to Eat on an Italian Schedule

“Here’s how to eat on an Italian schedule: we eat colazione (breakfast) as we get up, pranzo (lunch) in between 12.30 and 2 pm, merenda (afternoon snack) in between 4 and 5 pm, and cena (dinner) in between 7 and 8.30 pm…”

“Professor”, regularly one of my students would interrupt me. “Here in the United States we were taught that one should eat when they are hungry”. All the other students started laughing I and would laugh back at them, telling them how sorry I felt for them for missing out on one of the most cherished moments of an Italian kid’s childhood: merenda.

GUIDE: Eating on an Italian Schedule

This was a very common conversation I’d have when I was teaching Italian Literature, Language and Culture at the University of Central Florida, in Orlando.

While literature and language classes were a bit more technical, teaching Italian culture was a lot of fun, as it allowed my tackle aspects of the folklore and popular traditions that my students found surprising and entertaining.

Italians are really strict about their eating schedule. If I asked my mom if I could have a cookie or a juice let’s say at 3 pm… her answer was always a “no” because “it wasn’t time to eat yet”, and I’d have to wait for merenda.

If I wanted to eat a cracker at 6 pm, for example, I’d be told it’s “not the right time to eat” and that it would “ruin my appetite” for dinner.

GUIDE: Eating on an Italian Schedule

To an American, the fact that an entire country eats at the same time and that the whole day revolves (and is sometimes even engineered) around food, always sounds a bit amusing.

But while living outside of Italy I came to appreciate the benefits of a little less rigorous of an eating schedule… I have kept the Italian eating template as a part of my habits, and I do believe that having fixed time for your meals is a really good thing.

The benefits of Eating on an Italian Schedule:

  • Creating a routine about your eating schedule has lots of health benefits.

Irregular meals can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes. Two papers published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society found that adults who consume meals at the same time every day are less obese and have better cholesterol and insulin levels, even though overall they consumed more calories.

Studies have shown that when you eat is just as important as what you eat and that there is a link between your metabolism and circadian rhythms (SOURCE).

  • It turns the act of eating into a ritual that the entire family can share.

By setting specific times for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks and sitting down to eat them at the same time each day, your body knows exactly when it’s time to eat, which will help prevent overeating and improve digestive health.

Want an example? Nothing messes up my day as much as having a smoothie for lunch. I know that technically all food is just food… but I can assure you that I when I don’t eat a proper savory meal for lunch, I end up being hungry in the middle of the afternoon. And whether I nibble on some nuts or try to resist and wait, I end up overeating at dinner because I am starving! I hate that feeling.

GUIDE: Eating on an Italian Schedule

Another thing I really dislike is skipping breakfast (sorry for all the friends who love their intermittent fasting, but that’s just not something I find appealing).

Now, while most families in Italy always have lunch and dinner at the same exact time, I am definitely not as rigid, but I do follow the Italian eating schedule I grew up with in a looser, more flexible way.

What Does the Italian Eating Schedule Look Like:

I usually have some fruit and coconut yogurt with collagen for breakfast right after I get up, and, since Alec and I both work from home, we make sure we are both done with the tasks we cut out for ourselves in the morning before we have lunch (this happens in between 1.30 to 2 pm, depending on our commitments).

We sit down and have a complete savory meal with lots of vegetables, some protein and carbs (see examples of what we eat in my “What I Eat in a Day When I Am in Italy” (posts n.1 & n.2).

Lunch is never really eaten later than that. And if you have ever been to Italy, you probably noticed that restaurants close between 2.30 and 7.30, because nobody (except for tourists) would sit down to eat a meal at that time of the day.

GUIDE: Eating on an Italian Schedule

After lunch, Alec and I go back to work and, if we feel like having a little snack, around 5 pm we either have some freshly squeezed juice (I love a combination of orange, lemon and ginger), or a little unsweetened, dairy free yogurt, or even a corn cake with mashed avocado and a little salt and basil.

Merenda, the popular Italian afternoon snack, is mainly a tradition that’s reserved for kids, something that you usually enjoy until the end of high school. And it’s a really lovely appointment to look forward to! Merenda usually happens between 4 and 4.30 pm and it’s a considered like a break you take from your homework, when you get to watch cartoons and dunk cookies in milk. I loved it!

GUIDE: Eating on an Italian Schedule

Dinner usually happens between 7 and 7.30 (earlier in the winter, later in the summer). This might sound like a really early dinner for an Italian, and I agree, this timeframe was definitely influenced by my American husband who’s always pushing to have dinner earlier.

Especially in the summer months, Italians eat dinner very late. Never before 8 pm and the more you head South, the later dinner starts. You’ll definitely find families that sit at the table around 9.30 pm!

Now, whether you decide to eat on an Italian schedule or opt for a schedule that looks totally different, I think having A SCHEDULE is definitely a good thing. You don’t need to be super strict with your timing and can definitely have some flexibility, but having a set timeframe for your meals that looks about the same every day is a tradition I would never give up.

Eating on an Italian Schedule

I hope you found my guide on how to eat on an Italian schedule helpful and that it’ll inspire you to set up a consistent eating schedule as well! Share this information with others who may need to hear it, on Instagram and Facebook, save it on your favorite Pinterest board and subscribe to my weekly newsletter so that you never miss a post!!

And if you have other tips on how YOU started eating more vegetables, please share that in a comment below!

Lots of love and ciao!


One more TIP for you:

If you need more personalized help with this transition, and you are looking for a targeted program to make eating healthy fun and sustainable, know that I work with selected clients and offer them customized one-on-one coaching programs, where I help you:

  • Find effective ways to stick to a gluten free / dairy free or AIP diet without ever feeling restricted
  • Learn how to cook without recipes and make simple meals taste good
  • Incorporate more vegetables into your diet and learn how make them taste great
  • Gain confidence and be more creative in the kitchen
  • Learn a variety of exciting healthy recipes that the entire family will love
  • Experience a healthy version of Italian food and culture
  • Learn how to accommodate the whole family regardless of your food limitations

If you are interested in working together, book a discovery call with me here so that I can understand your needs and we’ll go from there .

Eating on an Italian Schedule

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Ambra Torelli
Born and raised in Italy, Ambra visited over 20 countries and now she divides her time in between Italy and the US, where her husband is from and where she moved in 2011 work as university professor of Italian Literature. She writes about food, travel and things that inspire her! more about ambra

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  • Kristin September 14, 2020 7:27 am

    Ambra, if Italians eat a late (9:30pm) dinner, what time do they and their kids go to bed? We tend to eat dinner around 7pm or 7:30pm due to work schedules but then I feel like we are rushing to settle down and get to bed early enough.

    • ambra September 15, 2020 6:03 am

      Ciao Kristin, usually people only eat that late in the summer, when kids don’t go to school. In general people go to bed around 11 or 11.30, earlier in the winter, later in the summer.

  • Grace Giuliano Mottram September 14, 2020 2:34 pm

    I had to laugh when reading about the ‘Italian’ schedule. I grew up (in Australia with Italian parents) with just that. Lunch was strictly at 12.30 when we were home, dinner st 6.30pm. Even now my Mum at 82 sticks with that schedule. She has a cup
    of tea at 10 with a biscotto though so she has picked up an Australian habit. On Sundays we went to my Nonna’s for lunch and we had to be there by 12.00 as she would serve the feast she had prepared at precisely 12.30pm. 🙂

    • ambra September 15, 2020 6:05 am

      Lol! Thanks for sharing Jane! It seems like your grandma was very strict! 😅 We love biscotti and tea too, but usually eat that in the morning or for “merenda”.

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