Idioms and phrases related to eating

by Kate Woodford


It is sometimes said that the next best thing to eating food is talking about food. If this is true, we need the vocabulary with which to do it! In this post, we focus on idioms, phrasal verbs and other phrases that we use to talk about eating.

As you might imagine, many of the more colourful phrases in English relate to eating a lot. Someone who has eaten too much may say informally that they have made a pig of themselves: I made a real pig of myself at lunch.

A person who has had people staying in their home may say humorously that the visitors have eaten them out out of house and home, meaning that they have eaten all their food: My grandchildren came to stay for the week and ate me out of house and home!

Someone who regularly eats a lot may be said to eat like a horse: He’s incredibly thin and yet he eats like a horse. Meanwhile, a person who eats very little is sometimes said to eat like a bird.

A number of phrasal verbs describe the way we eat or how much we eat. Pack away and put away are both used informally to mean ‘to eat a large amount of food’:

She’s very slim but she can really pack it away (=she eats a lot)

The kids put away three packets of cookies in one evening.

If you wolf food down, you eat a lot of it very quickly: The boys wolfed the pizzas down and then started on the cake.

The phrasal verb pick at, meanwhile, means the opposite. Someone who picks at their food eats very little of what is on their plate, showing no interest in it: She had no appetite and picked at her salad.

To force food down is to make yourself eat it when you do not want to: I hate cheese but to be polite, I managed to force it down.

There are a number of useful phrases that include the word appetite. Someone who has a good/healthy appetite eats plenty: Both children have healthy appetites.

If you work up an appetite, you do something, for example exercise, that makes you feel hungry: I thought we could go for a walk and work up an appetite for dinner.

If a snack that you eat before a meal spoils your appetite, it makes you no longer feel hungry: No more sweets, Phoebe, or it will spoil your appetite.

A phrase which some people may find slightly unpleasant is to make someone’s mouth water. If the smell or sight of food makes your mouth water, it makes you want to eat: Ooh, the smell of bread baking is making my mouth water!

Finally, someone who is very hungry may say informally that they could eat a horse: Are we going to stop for food? I could eat a horse! What is the equivalent phrase in your language?

30 thoughts on “Idioms and phrases related to eating

  1. Pingback: Idioms and phrases related to eating – Cambridge Dictionary About words blog (Oct 19, 2016) | Editorial Words

  2. Maicon Barros de Morais

    Hi, I’m Maicon Morais from Brazil. firstly I would like to congratulates you for the article. Here, we also have some idioms . Our language is Portuguese. usually If a person is very hungry, it can be said like this “I could eat an ox” ( instead of a horse) work up an appetite turns into ” open the appetite”.

  3. Pingback: Idioms and phrases related to eating | Editorials Today

  4. Thank you for such a informative article. It’s always a great pleasure to read a blog from Cambridge Dictionary.
    We have similar idioms in Russian language: eat like a bird and eat like a horse. We also have a phrase ‘eat like a pig’. It means eat greedily a lot and noisily chomp. It’s the very rude phrase. I know there is the same idiom in English.
    P.S. sorry for grammar mistakes.

  5. Enrica

    In italian we say also “I’d eat the table’s legs” …
    Ok, each language has its way of saying about this topic…. but the point is that “to be hungry makes you eat all that you can” :-)….

  6. Pingback: Idioms and phrases related to eating — About Words – Cambridge Dictionaries Online blog – Aspiring Mind

  7. In Venezuela we also say “I could eat an elephant” if one is very hungry. Also, we use “eat like a pig” for a person who is very hungry but makes a real mess when eating, it’s something disgusting in fact. Finally, “eat like a bird” is used here in the same context; however, if you say “I’m as hungry as a hardware store mouse” it means that you are really really hungry, you are starving!

  8. A famous Arabian idiom is when food is delicious we say ( it’s so delicious that u eat your fingers after it)!!….we have also the same idioms you said..i m hungry that i can eat a sheep !!

  9. John Lafis

    Thank you for this interesting article.In greek we say “he eats like a pig” and it means that he eats quickly and without being gentle.

  10. Sivakumar S

    Hi. I have often heard people saying ” Oh, I’m hungry to eat an elephant.” It just means they are very hungry.

  11. Sol Dellabarca

    Hi there! These idioms and phrases were really useful! Thanks a lot
    I’m from Argentina the equivalent for this phrase: I could eat a horse! would be “I could eat a cow!”

  12. Ramón

    Good job, Kate! I have also heard “gobble down your food” if you eat it hungrily or even “peck at one’s food” with the same meaning as “picking at one’s food” as you very well mentioned. I have also heard “I pigged out on chocolate”.


    Ramón, Spain

  13. Md. Yousuf Ahmad

    In India, if a person eats a lot of food stuffs at a time we use to say that “he is eating like a buffalo “. or “Maybe he was a buffalo in the past”

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