AskDefine | Define meal

Dictionary Definition



1 the food served and eaten at one time [syn: repast]
2 any of the occasions for eating food that occur by custom or habit at more or less fixed times
3 coarsely ground foodstuff; especially seeds of various cereal grasses or pulse

User Contributed Dictionary




Etymology 1

Old English mǣl, from Germanic *mēlo-, from Indo-European *mē- ‘to measure’. Cognate with Dutch maal, German Mal ‘time’, Mahl ‘meal’, Swedish mål; and (from Indo-European) with Greek μέτρον, Latin mensus, Russian мера, Lithuanian mẽtas.


  1. Food that is prepared and eaten, usually at a specific time (e.g. breakfast = morning meal, lunch = noon meal, etc).
Derived terms
food that is prepared and eaten

Etymology 2

Old English melu.


  1. The coarse-ground edible part of various grains often used to feed animals.
Derived terms
coarse-ground edible part of various grains
  • Dutch: meel
  • Georgian: ფქვილი (p‘k‘vili)
  • German: Mehl
  • Greek: πίτουρο (pituro)
  • Italian: mangìme
  • Korean: 기울 (giul), 밀기울 (mil-giul)
  • Latvian: ēdiens
  • Old English: melu
  • Old Norse: mjöl
  • Russian: мука
  • Spanish: harina
  • Swedish: mjöl
  • Thai: (bpâeng)
  • Turkish: un (lit., "flour")
  • Yiddish: מעל (mel) or





Extensive Definition

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 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.

Daily meals

Standard meals eaten on a daily basis have different names depending on the time of day or the importance of the meal:
  • Breakfast is usually eaten within an hour or two after a person wakes up in the morning.
  • 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.
  • Lunch is a midday meal. May also be classified as dinner outside the US. It is eaten around noon in Northern countries and around 2 pm further south.
  • Afternoon Tea is a midafternoon meal - typically taken at 4pm - consisting of light fare such as small sandwches, individual cakes and scones with tea.
  • High Tea, also simply called "Tea" is a late afternoon / early evening meal that replaces the evening meal referred to as dinner
  • Dinner can be at any time of the afternoon or evening and usually denotes the main meal of the day; sometimes it is at lunchtime and sometimes at suppertime.
  • Supper is usually an evening meal.
Nutritionists (eg BCM) propose to leave 4-6 hours recess in between meals and not to take any snacks. They advocate the taking of 3 meals/day (of some 600 kcal per meal) . Having three well-balanced meals (thus 1/2th half of the plate with vegetables , 1/4th protein food as meat, ... and 1/4th carbohydrates as pasta, rice, ...) will then account to some 1800-2000 kcal; which is the average requirement for a regular person.
Regarding which particular foods are acceptable for specific meals; the specific food has no meaning to whether or not the meal is breakfast, lunch or dinner. Depending on the culture, various foods are acceptable for any meal. For example, in the United States several restaurants serve what people consider traditional breakfast foods all day. A meal can be considered breakfast if it satisfies the following criteria: 1. It is the first meal of the day. 2. It is eaten before noon on the calendar day. At work, a coffee break is often taken by workers as part of the work day. How many of these coffee breaks one takes in the day varies, but two short breaks in an eight-hour day seems to be the norm in North America. A coffee break may last as little as ten minutes or as long as half an hour, but fifteen minutes seems to be the norm for office workers. In North America and other parts of the western world, coffee is generally regarded as the universal workplace beverage; it seems that nearly every workplace has some sort of access to a hot cup of coffee.


External links

meal in Catalan: Àpat
meal in German: Mahlzeit
meal in Spanish: Comida
meal in French: Repas
meal in Galician: Comida
meal in Hebrew: ארוחה
meal in Italian: Pasto
meal in Malagasy: Sakafo
meal in Japanese: 食事
meal in Norwegian Nynorsk: Måltid
meal in Polish: Posiłek
meal in Portuguese: Refeição
meal in Finnish: Ateria
meal in Swedish: Måltider

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

C ration, K ration, air pollution, allotment, allowance, attritus, barley, bird seed, board, bran, breakfast, carry too far, cat food, chicken feed, chop, chow, collation, commons, consume, corn, cosmic dust, crumb, crumble, devour, dinner, dog food, dust, dust ball, eat, eatage, efflorescence, emergency rations, ensilage, entertainment, fallout, fare, farina, feast, feed, feed on, field rations, filings, flour, fodder, food, forage, go overboard, go to extremes, go too far, grain, grits, groats, grub, hay, ingest, kittens, lint, lunch, luncheon, mash, meals, meat, mess, nourishment, oats, overdo, overplay, partake of, pasturage, pasture, pet food, powder, provender, pussies, raspings, rations, refection, refreshment, regalement, repas, repast, sawdust, scratch, scratch feed, short commons, silage, slops, smut, snack, soot, spread, straw, supper, swill, table, take, tea, treat, tucker, victuals, wheat
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