For the coarsely ground flour, see flour.

A meal is an instance of eating, specifically one that takes place at a specific time and includes specific, prepared food.

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 larger and more filling, while snacks are more likely to be small, high-calorie affairs; however, any food eaten in small amounts at an unscheduled time can be classified as a snack.

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 recreative area, such as a park, forest, beach, or grassy lawn. On long drives a picnic may take place at a road-side stop such as a rest area.

A banquet is a large, often formal, and elaborate meal with many guests and dishes.

A multicourse meal

Most Western-world multicourse meals follow a standard sequence, with each course interacting harmoniously with those that introduce and follow it. There are variations depending on location and custom. The following is a common sequence for multi-course meals:

  1. The meal begins with an entrée, a small serving that usually does not include red meat. It is sometimes referred to as a soup course as soups, bisques and consommés are popular entreés. In Italian custom, antipasto is served, usually finger-food which does not contain pasta or any starch. In the United States the term appetizer is usually used in place of entrée as entrée is used to refer to the main course
  2. This may be followed by a variety of dishes, including a possible fish course or other relevés (lighter courses), each with some kind of vegetable. The number and size of these intermittent courses is entirely dependent on local custom.
  3. Following these is the "main course" or central part of the meal. This is the most important course and is usually a larger portion than all others. The main course is called an entrée in the United States
  4. Next comes the salad course, although "salad" may often refer to a cooked vegetable, rather than the greens most people associate with the word. According to the Joy of Cooking, greens serve "garnish duty only" in a salad course. Note that in the United States and Great Britain, the salad course (usually a green salad) is usually served at some point before the main course.
  5. The meal will often culminate with a dessert, either hot or cold, sometimes followed with a final serving of hot or cold fruit and accompanied by a suitable dessert wine.
  6. The meal may carry on with a cheese selection, accompanied by an appropriate selection of wine. In many countries cheeses will be served before the meal as an appetizer, and in the United States often between the main course and dessert. Nuts are also a popular after-meal selection (thus the common saying "from soup to nuts," meaning from beginning to end).

Sorbet or other palate cleansers might be served between courses.

Before the meal, a host might serve a selection of appetizers or hors d'œuvre with appropriate wine or cocktails, and after the meal, a host might serve snacks, sweets such as chocolate, coffee, and after-dinner drinks (cognac, brandy, liqueur, or similar). These are not considered courses in and of themselves.

A meal may also begin with an amuse-bouche. An amuse-bouche, also called an amuse-gueule, is a tiny bite-sized morsel served before the hors d'œuvre or first course of a meal. These, often accompanied by a proper complementing wine, are served as an excitement of taste buds to both prepare the guest for the meal and to offer a glimpse into the chef's approach to cooking.

Customs, tradition, and etiquette

Customs and traditions regarding eating and meals vary from country to country, as well as within countries, based on such factors as regional differences, social class, education, and religion. In a complex, multi-cultural society there is increased risk of different customs and traditions clashing. What is correct behaviour, and what is not, and in what circumstances is the provenance of etiquette.

Examples of different customs and traditions:

  • Food in some cultures is eaten from individual plates or bowls, while in other cultures people eat from a common one. Even where people tend to eat from individual plates, there may be exceptions, as in the case of some small pieces of food that can be held in the hand easily, such as cookies or some snack foods, where it is common to eat from a common plate, biscuit tin, or similar container.
  • Different cultures might have different rules for eating the same item. In the USA people eat sausages in a bun, or with a knife and fork, while in some countries in Europe sausages are held between the fingers while being eaten.
  • In some cultures, it is considered proper to wait until everyone is seated before starting to eat, while in other cultures it is not an issue.
  • In some cultures it is considered proper to wait for the host to give the command before guests sit at the table for a meal, while in other cultures there are different rules.
  • In some religions, people pray or read aloud from a religious text before and possibly also after eating. In diverse, religiously mixed company where some people might want to pray, and others might not, it may be proper etiquette to allow for a short time of silence allowing those who want to do so the chance to pray.


Common meals

These are the most common set mealtimes in the Western-world.

  • Breakfast is usually eaten within an hour or two after a person wakes up in the morning.
  • Lunch is eaten around noon in Northern countries and around 2 pm further south.
  • Tea is a British meal (historically, or in special cases, called High Tea, eaten in the evening.
  • Supper in the US is a meal eaten in the evening, and a light evening meal in the UK..
  • Dinner is the main meal of the day, regardless of whether it's at lunchtime or in the evening.

Other meals

  • Elevenses is a drink and light snack taken late morning after breakfast and before lunch.
  • Brunch is a late-morning meal, usually larger than a breakfast and usually replacing both breakfast and lunch; it is most common on Sundays.
  • Afternoon Tea is a midafternoon meal, typically taken at 4pm, consisting of light fare such as small sandwiches, individual cakes and scones with tea.

See also

Sources and notes

External links

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