A bite to eat

toastby Kate Woodford

With Christmas Day just a week away, many of us are now planning and shopping for the many meals that we will share with family and friends during the holiday season. With food in mind, we’re going to take a look at the words that we use to describe different types of meals and the occasions on which those meals are eaten.

Your main meal is the biggest meal of the day, whenever that is eaten. Meals generally are described as big, (I had a really big breakfast.) or light (I usually have a fairly light lunch – a sandwich or something.). A small amount of food that you eat between meals is often called a snack. ‘Snack’ is also used as a verb: Try to stop your children snacking between meals. / Snack on dried fruit instead of crisps and chocolate. The verb graze is also used to mean ‘to eat small amounts frequently’: Isabel doesn’t really eat proper meals – she just grazes all day. A bite or a bite to eat is a light meal, especially one that you eat quickly: We could grab a bite in town before we go to the cinema. / Do we have time to get a bite to eat?

In the summer months, a picnic is a meal that you take to eat outside, usually in the countryside or a place such as a park: We had a picnic down by the river. A barbecue, (also BBQ), is also a meal that you eat outside, often in a garden, where the food is cooked on a metal frame over a fire. (The frame itself is also called a barbecue.)

A (UK) packed lunch / (US) box lunch is a light meal that you put in a container, and take with you to school or work to eat later. Office workers who do not stop work in order to have lunch often say that they have a sandwich at their desk. A (UK) school dinner is a meal that a school gives to children at lunchtime: Do your kids have school dinners or packed lunches?

Party meals have their own language. Canapés are small biscuits or pieces of bread with savoury food on top, such as cheese, fish or meat. They are often served with drinks, before or instead of a meal. Crisps and nuts and other snacks that people offer with drinks are sometimes informally called nibbles. A buffet is a meal where different dishes are put on a table and people choose what to put on their plates, usually before moving away from the table. A sit-down meal, meanwhile, is one that is served to people who are already sitting at a table: Are you having a sit-down meal or a buffet at the wedding? A dinner party is an evening meal in someone’s home, to which a small number of people are invited I’m having/giving a dinner party next week. Instead of using this phrase, however, people often simply say that they have people round/over for dinner: We’re having Sophie and Rick over for dinner on Saturday.

Of course, the consequence of too many nibbles, snacks and party food during the holiday season is that come New Year, people sometimes find that they are a little bigger!  For words relating to body shape, see the May blog post on body shapes.


7 thoughts on “A bite to eat

  1. Emel

    My students were confused to find we refer to the Christmas midday meal as Christmas dinner and not Christmas lunch.

  2. tcmaster

    I’m not pedantic, but CALD points that using AT with OCCASION is inappropriate. By the way, the article is very helpful. Thank you.

    1. Well spotted! The simple explanation is that you can use ‘at’ with ‘occasion’ when it is more in the ‘event’ sense rather than the ‘time’ sense, particularly when it could be replaced by ‘gathering’. But it’s safer, if you’re not sure, to use ‘on’, so I’ve changed it in the blog post. Many thanks for your feedback, and we’re glad you enjoyed the blog.

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