Fast-Food Chains Want You to Eat More than the Usual Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

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You’d think that McDonald’s, Taco Bell and other chains would be satisfied to draw in crowds who come during the normal meal hours and who order food and beverages that are normally enjoyed during those hours. Instead, in the never ending quest to boost sales at all hours of each and every day, fast-food chains find it far too limiting to accept classic nutritional concepts — like that there should only be three meals per day and that it’s not a good idea to start the day off with a sugary soft drink.

Here are a few questions fast-food giants are posing to consumers:

2 a.m. Breakfast, Anyone?
For a few weeks now, reports Columbus Business First, McDonald’s has been testing out “Breakfast After Midnight” at more than 100 locations in central Ohio. As soon as the clock strikes 12, customers can order Egg McMuffins, breakfast burritos, hotcakes and other favorites normally only served during the morning hours.

The program is part of McDonald’s “Nocturnivore” campaign, aimed at attracting late-night (or very early morning) diners who are hungry, or perhaps just bored and looking for something to do, to its restaurants, which are increasingly open 24 hours a day. For obvious reasons, the wee hours of the morning are the slowest for business at fast-food restaurants. Just 1% of quick-service-restaurant foot traffic arrives between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. But McDonald’s wants to change that and is waving the prospect of an extremely early breakfast as a way to drum up business during the normally dead time period.

(MORE: 10 Unusual Places That Are Open All Night Long)

Soda: Breakfast of Champions?
USA Today recently highlighted the minipush to encourage fast-food diners to have a sugary soft drink with breakfast rather than the usual orange juice or coffee. In one promotion, Steak ‘n Shake was offering a free breakfast taco with the purchase of a $1.79 28-oz. Coca-Cola between the hours of 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. A 28-oz. soda, by the way, would be a full can’s worth (12 oz.) in excess of the soda ban proposed in New York City.

Since May, meanwhile, many Taco Bells have been promoting what they call Mtn Dew A.M., a concoction mixing Mountain Dew and orange juice, served until 11 a.m.

(MORE: Why We Stopped Buying Fast-Food Combo Meals)

And why are chains encouraging the shift to soda as the accompaniment of the morning meal? “They’re doing it because it’s more profitable than coffee,” consultant Linda Lipsky told USA Today.

Why Be Limited to Three Meals a Day?
By trying to attract “nocturnivores” with new late-night hours and the expansion of the breakfast menu, McDonald’s is clearly encouraging consumers to consider squeezing in an extra meal in the course of a day. While McDonald’s never mentions the idea of a “fourth meal,” for years Taco Bell has had no trouble overtly making the case for pushing beyond the commonly accepted nutritional concept of three squares a day.

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The chain’s “Fourthmeal” campaign may have been mocked as gluttonous when it was originally presented to the public, but it never really went away. Among Taco Bell’s latest suggestions for a fourth meal in the day are Volcano Tacos, Cheese Roll-Ups and Nachos BellGrande.

Think of them, perhaps, as appetizers to enjoy on the way to a 2 a.m. breakfast at McDonald’s.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.