A meal is an eating occasion that takes place at a certain time and includes prepared food.[1][2] The names used for specific meals in English vary, depending on the speaker's culture, the time of day, or the size of the meal.

Meals occur primarily at homes, restaurants, and cafeterias, but may occur anywhere. Regular meals occur on a daily basis, typically several times a day. Special meals are usually held in conjunction with such occasions as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and holidays. A meal is different from a snack in that meals are generally larger, more varied, and more filling than snacks.[3]

The type of meal served or eaten at any given time varies by custom and location. In most modern cultures, three main meals are eaten: in the morning, early afternoon, and evening. Further, the names of meals are often interchangeable by custom as well. Some serve dinner as the main meal at midday, with supper as the late afternoon/early evening meal; while others may call their midday meal lunch and their early evening meal supper. Except for "breakfast", these names can vary from region to region or even from family to family.


Breakfast is the first meal of a day, most often eaten in the early morning before undertaking the day's work. Some believe it to be the most important meal of the day.[4] The word breakfast literally refers to breaking the fasting period of the prior night.[5]

Breakfast foods vary widely from place to place, but often include carbohydrates such as grains or cereals, fruit, vegetables, protein foods like eggs, meat or fish, and beverages such as tea, coffee, milk, or fruit juice, juices often taken first of all. Coffee, milk, tea, juice, breakfast cereals, pancakes, waffles, sausages, French toast, bacon, sweetened breads, fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, baked beans, muffins, crumpets and toast with butter, margarine, jam or marmalade are common examples of Western breakfast foods, though a large range of preparations and ingredients are associated with breakfast globally.[6]

Variations of breakfast

Full breakfast

A full breakfast is a breakfast meal, usually including bacon, sausages, eggs, and a variety of other cooked foods, with hot beverages such as coffee or tea. It is especially popular in the UK and Ireland, to the extent that many cafés and pubs offer the meal at any time of day as an "all-day breakfast". It is also popular in other English-speaking countries.

In England it is usually referred to as a 'full English breakfast' (often shortened to 'full English') or 'fry-up'.[7] Other regional names and variants include the 'full Scottish', 'full Welsh', 'full Irish' and the 'Ulster fry'.[8][9][10]

The full breakfast is among the most internationally recognised British dishes, along with such staples as bangers & mash, shepherd's pie, fish and chips and the Christmas dinner.[11] The full breakfast became popular in the British Isles during the Victorian era, and appeared as one among many suggested breakfasts in the home economist Isabella Beeton's The Book of Household Management (1861). A full breakfast is often contrasted (e.g. on hotel menus) with the lighter alternative of a Continental breakfast, traditionally consisting of tea, milk or coffee and fruit juices with bread, croissants, or pastries.

Instant breakfast

"Instant breakfast" typically refers to breakfast food products that are manufactured in a powdered form, which are generally prepared with the addition of milk and then consumed as a beverage.[12][13] Some instant breakfasts are produced and marketed in liquid form, being pre-mixed. The target market for instant breakfast products includes consumers who tend to be busy, such as working adults.[13]

Champagne breakfast

A champagne breakfast is a breakfast served with champagne or sparkling wine. It is a new concept in some countries[14] and is not typical of the role of a breakfast.

It may be part of any day or outing considered particularly luxurious or indulgent. The accompanying breakfast is sometimes of a similarly high standard [15] and include rich foods such as salmon, caviar,[16] chocolate or pastries, which would not ordinarily be eaten at breakfast[17] or more courses.[18] Instead of as a formal meal the breakfast can be given to the recipient in a basket or hamper.


Lunch, the abbreviation for luncheon, is a light meal typically eaten at midday.[19] The origin of the words lunch and luncheon relate to a small snack originally eaten at any time of the day or night. During the 20th century the meaning gradually narrowed to a small or mid-sized meal eaten at midday. Lunch is commonly the second meal of the day after breakfast. The meal varies in size depending on the culture, and significant variations exist in different areas of the world. In some parts of the UK it can be called dinner or lunch, with the last meal called tea.

Variations of lunch

A packed lunch (also called pack lunch, sack lunch or bag lunch in North America, or packed lunch in the United Kingdom, as well as the regional variations: bagging in Lancashire, Merseyside and Yorkshire,[20]) is a lunch prepared at home and carried to be eaten somewhere else, such as school, a workplace, or at an outing. The food is usually wrapped in plastic, aluminum foil, or paper and can be carried ("packed") in a lunch box, paper bag (a "sack"), or plastic bag. While packed lunches are usually taken from home by the people who are going to eat them, in Mumbai, India, tiffin boxes are most often picked up from the home and brought to workplaces later in the day by so-called dabbawallas. It is also possible to buy packed lunches from stores in several countries. Lunch boxes made out of metal, plastic or vinyl are now popular with today's youth. Lunch boxes provide a way to take heavier lunches in a sturdier box or bag. It is also environmentally friendly.


Dinner usually refers to a significant and important meal of the day, which can be the noon or the evening meal. However, the term dinner can have many different meanings depending on the culture; it may mean a meal of any size eaten at any time of the day.[21][22] Historically, it referred to the first large meal of the day, eaten around noon, and is still sometimes used for a noon-time meal, particularly if it is a large or main meal. For example, Sunday dinner is the name used for a large meal served after the family returned home from the morning's church services, and often based on meat that roasted while the family was out.

The evening meal, can be called tea when dinner, generally the largest of the day, is eaten in the middle of the day.

Variations of dinner

Full course dinner

A full-course dinner is a dinner consisting of multiple dishes, or courses. In its simplest, English-based form, it can consist of three to five courses, such as appetizers, fish course, entrée, main course and dessert. The traditional courses and their order vary by culture. In the Italian meal structure, there are traditionally four formal courses: antipasto (appetizers), primo (the "first" course, e.g., a pasta dish), secondo (the "second" course, e.g., fish or meat), usually accompanied by a contorno (a side dish), and dolce ("sweets", or dessert).[23]

Many traditions conclude a formal meal with coffee, often accompanied with spirits, either separate or mixed in the coffee.

Meals at other times of the day

Meal preparation

Meal preparation, sometimes called "meal prep," is the process of planning and preparing meals. It generally involves food preparation, including cooking.

Food preparation

Preparing food for eating generally requires selection, measurement and combination of ingredients in an ordered procedure so as to achieve desired results. Food preparation includes but is not limited to cooking.


Cooking or cookery is the art, technology and craft of preparing food for consumption with the use of heat. Cooking techniques and ingredients vary widely across the world, from grilling food over an open fire to using electric stoves, to baking in various types of ovens, reflecting unique environmental, economic, and cultural traditions and trends. The ways or types of cooking also depend on the skill and type of training an individual cook has. Cooking is done both by people in their own dwellings and by professional cooks and chefs in restaurants and other food establishments. Cooking can also occur through chemical reactions without the presence of heat, most notably with ceviche, a traditional South American dish where fish is cooked with the acids in lemon or lime juice.

Eating the meal

Throughout history, meals were normally communal affairs. People got together, shared the food, and perhaps talked over the day.

In the 21st century, an increasing number of adults in developed countries eat most or all of their meals alone.[24] It is unclear whether people eating alone eat more, less, or the same amount of food compared to people eating in groups, partly because of differences in whether they are eating alone at home or eating alone in restaurants.[24]

Restaurants have responded to the increasing number of people eating alone by accepting reservations for solo diners and installing bar seating and large tables that solo diners can share with others.[24]

See also


  1. meal noun (FOOD) - definition in the British English Dictionary & Thesaurus - Cambridge Dictionaries Online
  2. meal - Definition from Longman English Dictionary Online
  3. Wansink, B.; Payne, C. R.; Shimizu, M. (2010). ""Is this a meal or snack?" Situational cues that drive perceptions". Appetite. 54 (1): 214–216. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2009.09.016. PMID 19808071.
  4. "breakfast – definition of breakfast by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia". Retrieved 28 March 2012.
  5. Anderson, Heather Arndt (2013). Breakfast: A History. AltaMira Press. ISBN 0759121656
  6. "History of breakfast". Archived from the original on 23 January 2011. Retrieved 21 April 2011.
  7. "The full English". Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  8. "Traditional Scottish Food". Visit Scotland. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  9. Rowland, Paul (25 October 2005). "So what is a 'full Welsh breakfast'?". Wales Online. Archived from the original on 2 May 2014. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  10. Bell, James (29 January 2014). "How to... Cook the perfect Ulster Fry". Belfast Telegraph. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  11. Spencer, Colin (2003). British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History. Columbia University Press. ISBN 978-0-231-13110-0.
  12. Brand Positioning: Strategies for Competitive Advantage - Subroto Sengupta. pp. 5-6.
  13. Consumer Behavior in Action: Real-Life Applications for Marketing Managers - Geoffrey P. Lantos. p. 45.
  14. "The Telegraph - Calcutta : Metro". Calcutta, India: 2005-01-03. Retrieved 2011-03-04.
  15. "icseftonandwestlancs - Grand National thrills for Crosby couple". 2009-08-11. Retrieved 2011-03-04.
  16. Press Association (2003-10-24). "Concorde makes final landing | Business". London: Retrieved 2011-03-04.
  17. Moscow News - Travel - Swissц╢tel Krasnye Holmy Archived 20 April 2008 at the Wayback Machine
  18. "Magazine / Travel : Weekend getaway". Chennai, India: The Hindu. 2007-08-19. Retrieved 2011-03-04.
  19. Alan Davidson (August 21, 2014). The Oxford Companion to Food. OUP Oxford. p. 478. ISBN 978-0-19-104072-6.
  20. "BBC: Lancashire > Voices > Wordly Wise?". BBC. 31 May 2005. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  21. Olver, Lynne. "Meal times". Lynne Olver. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  22. McMillan 2001.
  23. Fodor's (2012). Fodor's Italy 2013. Fodor's Travel Publications. p. 15. ISBN 9780307929365.
  24. Fleming, Amy (2019-05-06). "Table for one: how eating alone is radically changing our diets". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-05-06.

Further reading

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