Skip to content
Surprising Science

Coffee, Early Working Hours Helped Bring Breakfast into the Mainstream

Breakfast wasn't always a mainstream mealtime. In the Middle Ages, it was thought as unhealthy to eat another meal before the previous one was fully digested. So what brought about breakfast? Coffee and stable working hours.

Image: Shutterstock

Health promoters want you to start off your day right with breakfast. Some have even gone so far as to say it’s the most important meal of the day. Food manufacturers have even said that a healthy breakfast can help you lose weight. A lot of people want you to eat breakfast, but Marissa Fessenden from the Smithsonian says that the morning meal is a relatively new concept.

The Romans apparently thought the idea of more than one meal a day was gluttonous, according to Caroline Yeldham, a food historian. Indeed, like the physicians in the Middle Ages, they were concerned about digestion and eating before a prior meal had been evacuated from the body. Even Monarchs didn’t take on a first meal. Rather they would have a meal around 10:30 or 11 in the morning and then another meal that followed five hours later.

The only recordings of morning meals were seen when referring to those who were old or ill before the 1550s. These people would be prescribed a breakfast of a particular item in order to help them through the day. In some cases, young, healthy monks were also permitted to indulge in a light breakfast as a way to deter them from gorging themselves later on in the day and falling asleep. So, when did Westerners start eating breakfast and why?

Fessenden explains that regular working hours and coffee were major contributors to the rise of breakfast. It started with men who helped bring in the harvest for a manor. It was expected, since the rose so early and worked so late, that they were to be served a morning meal. A statue of regular hours from 5am to 7pm in 1515 then allowed breakfast to start being considered a mainstream mealtime. But even then some physicians still warned that it was unhealthy to eat before the previous meal had digested. By the middle of the 1500s, sources were switching their tune claiming that breakfast was now an essential meal to start the day. The introduction of coffee helped gain its approval among physicians as it helped in the “evacuation of superfluities.”

Read more at Smithsonian


Up Next