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For powder made by grinding grain, see flour.
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 specific, prepared food, or the food eaten on that occasion.[1][2] The names used for specific meals in English vary greatly, 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]

Common meals[edit]


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 eaten within an hour or two after a person wakes in the morning.[4]
  • Lunch is eaten around mid-day, usually between 11 am and 2 pm. In some areas, the name for this meal depends on its content.[5]
  • Supper or dinner or tea is eaten in the evening. In some areas, the name for this meal depends on its content, but many English-speakers use "supper" for this meal regardless of size.[6]

Other types of meals[edit]

A dabbawala in Mumbai with meals packed in tiffin carriers
  • A barbecue is a meal at which food (often meat or fish) is cooked out of doors on an open fire or portable grill.[7]
  • A banquet is a large, formal, elaborate meal, with many guests and dishes.[8]
  • A blue-plate special is a term used in the United States by restaurants that refers to a specially low-priced meal, usually changing daily.
  • Brunch is a late-morning meal, usually larger than a breakfast and usually replacing both breakfast and lunch; it is most common on Sundays. Brunch originated in England in the late 1800s, and in the 1930s became popular in the United States.[9]
  • A buffet typically involves diners serving themselves from foods placed in a public area. Buffets are effective for serving large numbers of people at once, and are often seen in institutional settings, such as business conventions or large parties. Some restaurants also offer buffets, such as a lunch buffet, or are specifically buffet restaurants.
  • Elevenses, also called "morning tea", is a light snack[10] and drink taken in the late morning after breakfast and before lunch.
  • A last meal is a meal served to a prisoner before his execution.[11]
  • A multicourse meal is a meal of multiple dishes served in sequence.
  • A full course dinner in its simplest form, can consist of three or four courses, such as soup, salad, meat and dessert. In formal dining, a full course dinner can consist of many courses, and in some instances the courses are carefully planned to complement each other gastronomically.
  • A main course is the featured or primary dish in a meal consisting of several courses. It usually follows the entrée ("entry") course. In the United States it may in fact be called "entree".
  • Meals on Wheels are meals delivered as a service to the homes of people who are unable to prepare their own.[12]
  • A Meal train Meal trains are commonly organized after significant life events, including birth, adoption, surgery, illness, death, divorce, new job, or moving to a new community. Caring friends, family, co-workers, congregation members, neighbors, and communities show their excitement or compassion though the organized delivery meals.
  • A picnic is an outdoor meal where one brings one's food, such as a sandwich or a prepared meal (sometimes in a picnic basket). It often takes place in a natural or recreational area, such as a park, forest, beach, or lawn. On long drives a picnic may take place at a roadside stop such as a rest area. Picnics are often consumed on a picnic table.
  • A potluck is a gathering of people where each person or group of people may contribute a dish of food prepared by the person or the group of people, to be shared among the group.
  • Second breakfast is a traditional mid-morning meal served in parts of central Europe, i.e.: Austria, Bavaria (Germany) and Poland.
  • Tea can refer to any of several different meals or mealtimes, depending on a country's customs and its history of drinking tea. However, in those countries where the term's use is common, the influences are generally those of the former British Empire (now the Commonwealth of Nations). Tea as a meal can be small or large.
  • Afternoon tea is a mid-afternoon meal, typically taken at 4 pm, consisting of light fare such as small sandwiches, individual cakes and scones with tea.[13]
Ceramic meal in a Ming Dynasty burial figurine table
  • High tea is a British meal usually eaten in the early evening.[13]
  • Yum cha is a Cantonese morning or afternoon meal where dim sum dishes[16] and tea are served. In the U.S. and U.K., the word dim sum is often used in place of yum cha.

See also[edit]

Types of meals[edit]

Meal structure in cuisines[edit]

Related terms and concepts[edit]


  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. ^ "AskOxford: breakfast". Retrieved 2008-07-20. 
  5. ^ "AskOxford: lunch". Retrieved 2008-07-20. 
  6. ^ "Definition of supper". Retrieved 2012-07-10. 
  7. ^ O'Donoghue, Ben (2008), Outdoor: grill your way 'round the world, Prahran, Victoria, Australia: Hardie Grant Books, ISBN 9781740665599 
  8. ^ "Banquet." (definition). Merriam-webster.com. Accessed August 2011.
  9. ^ Rombauer, Irma S.; Becker, Marion Rombauer; Becker, Ethan (2001). Joy of Cooking: All About Breakfast and Brunch. Simon and Schuster. p. 8. ISBN 0743206428. 
  10. ^ A & C Black Publishers Ltd (2009). Dictionary of Leisure, Travel and Tourism. A & C Black Publishers Ltd. p. 103. ISBN 1408102129. 
  11. ^ (AP) (August 29, 2012). "Study: Death Row inmates pick comfort foods for last meals". CBS News. Retrieved 22 December 2013. 
  12. ^ Meals on Wheels Inc. (S. Aust.) (1963), Meals on Wheels : what it is - how it began - what it is now - what it can become!, Meals on Wheels 
  13. ^ a b "AskOxford: tea". Retrieved 2008-07-20. 
  14. ^ "Definition of tiffin in English". Oxford Dictionaries. Retrieved 22 December 2013. 
  15. ^ Narsimhan, Mahtab (2011). Tiffin (abstract). Midpoint Trade Books Incorporated. ISBN 1770860398. 
  16. ^ Sterling, Richard; Chong, Elizabeth; Qin, Lushan Charles (2001). Hong Kong. Lonely Planet. p. 145. ISBN 1864502886. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Original courtesy of Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meal — Please support Wikipedia.
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