Foraging involves the expenditure of both time and effort in the acquisition of food; animals typically modify their meal patterns so as to reduce these expenditures or costs. The contribution of time, as compared with effort, to the overall cost perceived by an animal is not known. We investigated the effect of foraging time as a cost independent of effort by measuring the meal patterns of rats living in a laboratory foraging simulation in which they earned all their daily intake. They pressed a bar once to initiate an interval (procurement interval) leading to the presentation of a large cup of food from which they could eat a meal of any size. As the length of the interval increased from 1 s to 46 hr, meal frequency decreased regularly. Meal size increased in a compensatory fashion, and total daily intake was conserved through an interval of 23 hr. The changes in meal frequency occurred because of changes in the rat's latency to bar press after each meal. The functions relating meal frequency and size to the procurement interval were of the same shape as those seen when cost is the completion of a bar-press requirement, which entails the expenditure of both effort and time. When the bar-press requirement was increased to 10, meal frequency was reduced, but time and effort did not appear to simply add together in the rat's perception of cost. These data reveal that time is preceived to be a cost by rats foraging in this laboratory environment. These results suggest that the time parameters of foraging are different from those of consumption.