There are a lot of questions to consider when it comes to mealtime expressions.
These mealtime expressions can be somewhat confusing, as they relate to the type of food, the size of the meal, and the time of the day.
The phrases used also depend on an individual’s culture, geography, social class, and socioeconomic status. Therefore, the application and usage of the terms vary from country to country.
What time is supper? What time is dinner? What time is lunch? And what’s the difference between them all? They also belong to a more extensive set of expressions, which include ‘tea,’ ‘breakfast,’ ‘brunch,’ and ‘midnight snack.’
In this blog post, we will answer all of those questions and more! We’ll discuss the history of mealtimes, how they vary worldwide, and how to figure out which is the right word to use.
So sit down, grab a snack, and get ready to learn about mealtimes!
Typical Meal Times
Basic everyday meals and the approximate time of day people have them:
- Breakfast: morning-time meal, usually eaten first thing in the morning before work.
- Brunch: late morning or noon; this might replace breakfast and lunch.
- Lunch/ Dinner: middle-of-the-day meal, some people will choose to eat lunch in the middle of the day and dinner later that evening.
- Dinner/ Supper/Tea Time: evening-time meal, people who eat dinner during the day will likely eat supper or tea at this time. Dinner is sometimes called supper.
- Midnight Snack: a late-night snack that some people enjoy before bed.
Of course, this is no one-size-fits-all; in some countries, supper is eaten as a meal before dinner, for example.
Times are changing as people work, mind children, and lead an overall busy lifestyle, so schedules differ, and people might opt for a quick snack instead of a meal.
Breakfast is the first meal of the day, typically eaten in the morning. It can include cereal, eggs, toast, or oatmeal.
Brunch is a meal that is typically eaten in the late morning or early afternoon, between breakfast and lunch (10 am to 1 pm).
This meal is usually a combination of both breakfast and lunch items and is often served buffet-style, so you can choose what you wish.
Supper is the evening meal, which is typically eaten after dinner. It can also be eaten before bed (5 pm-12 am).
It is usually a smaller meal than dinner and can include leftovers from the previous night’s dinner or a light dish such as soup or salad.
In parts of the U.S., supper and dinner are the same. You can read the history of these words here.
Is there a difference between dinner and supper?
Some people believe there is no distinction between supper and dinner, and they both share the same meaning as the ‘main meal of the day.’
Sometimes supper is used for more informal eating arrangements, while dinner means a more formal meeting.
However, in some countries, especially Britain, supper means a light evening meal.
Dinner is the main meal of the day, which is traditionally eaten in the middle of the day or evening. Sometimes it is eaten later at night (5 pm-10 pm).
This meal can consist of several courses and includes both hot and cold dishes. Dinner is usually eaten with family or friends and can be followed by dessert.
This meal can include a variety of dishes such as soup, salad, pasta, chicken, or steak.
If you decide to go to a restaurant, you could choose starters (also called an appetizer), main course (the main dish), and dessert (may even be called the pudding). You may also have the choice of a beverage such as tea or coffee after dessert.
Lunch is the midday meal, typically eaten around noon or a little later (11 am – 2 pm).
It is usually a lighter meal than dinner and can include sandwiches, salads, or soup.
Tea is not just a drink; it can actually be a light evening meal!
Tea is a light meal or snack typically eaten in the late afternoon or early evening. Tea time is typically around 4 pm.
This meal can include sandwiches, soup, cakes, or biscuits.
Some people even have ‘morning tea’ instead of ‘afternoon tea.’
They don’t use this term to mean a light evening meal in North America. “Tea” is just the drink.
Sunday Meals and Special Occasions
Mealtimes might change on Sundays or special days of celebration, such as Christmas or Thanksgiving.
For example, ‘Sunday dinner’ might be eaten earlier in the afternoon from 2 pm to 3 pm because people have more time to cook that day.
The Main Difference Between These Meals
The main difference between these meals is the time of day they are consumed. Supper or dinner is typically eaten in the evening, lunch is typically eaten at noon, and breakfast is usually had in the morning. However, these times can vary depending on the culture or country.
For example, in Spain, dinner is often eaten from around 9 pm to midnight, while in Germany the main meal is eaten around 1 pm. And in the United Kingdom, dinner is typically eaten around 6:30 pm to 8:00 pm, but traditionally, it is between 12 am and 1:30 pm.
It’s also worth noting that the size of the meal can vary depending on the time of day. Breakfast is usually the lightest meal, followed by lunch and then dinner. However, this can also depend on the culture or country.
Now that you know the difference between these meals and the time for supper, lunch, and dinner.
In general, the mealtime expressions are: breakfast is the morning-time meal; lunch is the middle-of-the-day meal, and dinner is the evening-time meal. However, this varies from country to country.
The best way to figure out which mealtime expression to use is to ask a local. They will be able to tell you the most common terms in their culture. And who knows, you may even get to try some traditional food!
What time do you have your meals? Let us know in the comments below! And if you found this article helpful, be sure to share it with your friends!
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Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.