Epidemiological evidence on the association between eating frequency and overall diet quality does not represent a consistent picture. This cross-sectional study examined the associations of meal frequency and snack frequency with diet quality, using different definitions of meals and snacks. Based on 4-d weighed dietary record data obtained from 639 Japanese adults aged 20–81 years, all eating occasions were divided into meals or snacks based on either the participant-identified or time-of-day definitions. Diet quality was assessed by the Healthy Eating Index-2015 (HEI-2015) and Nutrient-Rich Food Index 9.3 (NRF9.3). One additional meal per d increased the HEI-2015 total score by 3·6 and 1·3 points based on the participant-identified and time-of-day definitions, respectively. A higher meal frequency was also associated with higher values of some of the HEI-2015 component scores (total vegetables, greens and beans, and total protein foods), irrespective of how meals were defined. Additionally, one additional participant-identified snack per d increased the HEI-2015 total score by 0·7 points. The frequency of participant-identified snacks also showed positive associations with some of the HEI-2015 component scores (total fruits, whole fruits, total vegetables, greens and beans, dairy products, and Na). However, the frequency of time-of-day defined snacks was not associated with the total scores of HEI-2015, although there were some associations for its components. Similar findings were obtained when the NRF9.3 was used. In conclusion, higher meal frequency was consistently associated with higher diet quality, while associations between snack frequency and diet quality varied depending on the definition of snacks.