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Meals have been traditionally prepared by women in a home kitchen (Painting from the circle of Jean-Baptiste de Saive, 1563)

A meal is an eating occasion that takes place at a certain time and includes consumption of 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.

Although they can be eaten anywhere, meals typically take place in homes, restaurants, and cafeterias. 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 food that is served or consumed at any given time depends on regional customs. Three main meals are often eaten in the morning, early afternoon, and evening in most modern civilizations. 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 or dinner. 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[edit]

Full breakfast[edit]

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, or cold beverages such as juice or milk. 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[edit]

"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[edit]

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.

Variations of breakfasts across countries and cuisines

Refer to this Wikipedia Breakfast page for a list of countries and continents and their variations of breakfast. The cuisine articles linked in the breakfast page regarding each countries and continents cuisine may display variations of breakfast more thoroughly.


Lunch is a meal typically eaten at midday; it varies in size by culture and region.[19] The word lunch is an abbreviation for luncheon, whose origin relates to a small snack originally eaten at any time of the day or night. During the 20th century the meaning in English gradually narrowed to a small or mid-sized meal eaten at midday. Lunch is commonly the second meal of the day after breakfast. 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[edit]

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.

Meal deal[edit]

Another variation of lunch is the meal deal,[21] this is a meal often bought from a store and contains the following: a sandwich or pastry, a bag of chips, salad or fruit and a bottled drink. Meal deals are a staple of many Western high-street supermarkets and convenience stores; they are generally offered at a deal price and are highly convenient for the busy working person. Some stores are now adding premium meal deal items and salads to their meal deal inventory. Critics, however, criticise the meal deal for increasing the levels of single-use plastic waste in circulation and persuading people to buy more food than they originally intended or wanted - contributing to the growing obesity crisis.[22]


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.[23][24] 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, and this term is still often used to signify that Sunday dinner is special even if no longer preceded by attendance at church.

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

Variations of dinner[edit]

Full course dinner[edit]

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).[25]

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

Meals at other times of the day[edit]

Meal preparation[edit]

Meal preparation, sometimes called "meal prep," is the process of planning and preparing meals. It generally involves food preparation, including cooking, sometimes together with preparing table decorations, drinks etc

Food preparation[edit]

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.


Breakfast before the 1800s was usually just toast or some variation of gruel or porridge and the main meal was dinner. Peasants (which were the majority in every country) had dinner around noon, after six or seven hours of work.

Then, in the late 1700s and the 1800s, people began to work farther from home, and the midday meal had to become something light, just whatever they could carry to work (lunch). They began to eat dinner (the main meal) in the evening.[26]

Eating the meal[edit]

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.[27] Although more people are eating alone, research suggests that many people do not consider a "meal" a solo act, but rather commensal dining.[28] 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.[27]

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.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "meal noun (FOOD) - definition in the British English Dictionary & Thesaurus - Cambridge Dictionaries Online". Archived from the original on 2014-04-28. Retrieved 2016-08-07.
  2. ^ "meal - Definition from Longman English Dictionary Online". Archived from the original on 2021-06-08. Retrieved 2016-08-07.
  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. S2CID 21246397.
  4. ^ "breakfast – definition of breakfast by the Free Online Dictionary, Thesaurus and Encyclopedia". Thefreedictionary.com. Archived from the original on 21 May 2020. 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". Jamieoliver.com. Archived from the original on 28 July 2014. Retrieved 26 February 2014.
  8. ^ "Traditional Scottish Food". Visit Scotland. Archived from the original on 13 February 2014. 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. Archived from the original on 3 February 2014. 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. ^ a b Consumer Behavior in Action: Real-Life Applications for Marketing Managers - Geoffrey P. Lantos Archived 2023-08-15 at the Wayback Machine. p. 45.
  14. ^ "The Telegraph - Calcutta : Metro". Calcutta, India: Telegraphindia.com. 2005-01-03. Archived from the original on September 19, 2012. Retrieved 2011-03-04.
  15. ^ "icseftonandwestlancs - Grand National thrills for Crosby couple". Icseftonandwestlancs.icnetwork.co.uk. 2009-08-11. Retrieved 2011-03-04.[permanent dead link]
  16. ^ Press Association (2003-10-24). "Concorde makes final landing | Business". London: guardian.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2013-08-27. 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". The Hindu. Chennai, India. 2007-08-19. Archived from the original on 2008-10-16. 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. Archived from the original on 8 May 2013. Retrieved 1 April 2014.
  21. ^ "What your meal deal lunch choice says about you". JOE.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2020-06-12. Retrieved 2020-06-12.
  22. ^ "Obesity and overweight". www.who.int. Archived from the original on 2020-12-08. Retrieved 2020-06-12.
  23. ^ Olver, Lynne. "Meal times". The Food Timeline. Archived from the original on 25 December 2018. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  24. ^ McMillan 2001.
  25. ^ Fodor's (2012). Fodor's Italy 2013. Fodor's Travel Publications. p. 15. ISBN 9780307929365. Archived from the original on 2023-08-15. Retrieved 2019-05-06.
  26. ^ McMillan, S (2001). "What Time is Dinner?". History Magazine. Archived from the original on 8 December 2017. Retrieved 31 December 2017.
  27. ^ a b c Fleming, Amy (2019-05-06). "Table for one: how eating alone is radically changing our diets". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Archived from the original on 2019-05-06. Retrieved 2019-05-06.
  28. ^ Pliner, P.; Bell, R. (2009), "A table for one: the pain and pleasure of eating alone", Meals in Science and Practice, Elsevier, pp. 169–189, doi:10.1533/9781845695712.4.169, ISBN 9781845694036, archived from the original on 2023-08-15, retrieved 2021-10-18

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]