Cross-cultural meal times & frequency
November 22, 2013 1:24 PM   Subscribe

How standard is the 3-meals-a-day eating behaviour? What about times of day for eating, x-culturally? It would be interesting to hear any insights from folks outside of North America. Thank you!
posted by SpecialSpaghettiBowl to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
The (near?) universal human behaviors (language, sex, food, death, sleep, passing wastes) are all over the map when it comes to implementation details. There is literally no standard until you draw an outline around some people and determine who inside that outline you're trying to look at.

Hope you get some good, more specific answers from others, but that's what I have to contribute.
posted by jsturgill at 1:30 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think the dinner at 5:30pm thing is a purely north american invention. The French will have breakfast, then lunch at 2-3 pm, and dinner not before 830-900pm.
posted by cacofonie at 1:40 PM on November 22, 2013

You might find What Time is Dinner? interesting. It looks at the timing of meals throughout the ages (not quite what you were looking for but it shows that there's wide variety in human behavior here).

I will note, however, here in the UK it's typical for people to have breakfast, a 12-1pm lunch (even if it's snacking at a desk), and a dinner at 5-7pm in a somewhat similar style to Americans (and in contrast to many Europeans).
posted by wackybrit at 1:40 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Breakfast at 7-7:30 AM
Lunch at 12
Dinner at 7-8 PM

There may be more or less substantial snacks at 10 AM and 3-3:30 PM, specially for children and old people
posted by mumimor at 1:41 PM on November 22, 2013

NYC here. Most people I know, including my self, tend to eat 5-6 times a day, and dinner is after 8pm.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:41 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I lived in Mexico- there were generally 4 meals a day: breakfast, then a mid-morning snack around 10 or 11, then the biggest meal of the day between 2 and 4 pm. Then before bed, people will have a small snack.

In China, where I also lived, the rule is generally 3 meals a day but the times are earlier (then I've experienced in my hometown of Phila) : breakfast whenever one wakes up (generally before 7:30), and lunch is between 11 and 12. Dinner is usually 5:30-6 pm. In large urban areas, this may vary though due to travel time after getting out of work. There's also something called a "night snack" in China, which people sometimes eat if they are up late.
posted by bearette at 1:48 PM on November 22, 2013

Three meals a day is thought to have been a late-medieval development; before that, people were generally on two meals a day. Get up, do some early morning stuff (not the real back-breaking labour, things like collecting eggs and the like), then have the first meal of the day towards midday. That would be something substantial, and then you go and do all the really heavy labour in the afternoon, and another meal in the evening. There were often snacks on top of this, especially for people performing heavy labour, but only two formal meals.
posted by Coobeastie at 2:00 PM on November 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

My anecdata from friends living in the SF bay area would say that generally Chinese families eat dinner earlier than Indian families. (6 or 7 pm vs. 8 or 9 pm) I've wondered if this has to do with urban parts of India being closer to the equator, when compared to the most populous cities in China. Being close to the equator means the length of your days are less effected by winter/summer. So some families in India can eat at 8 o'clock year-round, and still expect sunlight to have just faded. It would be interesting to see if there's a correlation between dinnertime and sunset.
posted by tinymegalo at 2:03 PM on November 22, 2013

Visiting Portugal and Spain - dinner from 9-11pm. Lunch & Breakfast at typical N.American times.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 2:13 PM on November 22, 2013

For Spain,

Desayuno (Breakfast): whenever you have to get up. Let's say between 7 to 9 in the morning. Coffee or cocoa milk with cereal, cookies, toast, maybe fruit.
Almuerzo: Mid-morning, between 11 and noon. Optional. Coffee, a croissant or other pastry, toast, and so on. Mostly for people who have had breakfast very early in the morning and have to fill their stomaches with something until lunch time.
VermĂș: The very optional pub crawl just before lunch. Mostly for Sundays, if at all.
Comida (Lunch): Two courses and dessert. First course is usually vegs/ soup/ pasta/ rice, second course is meat or fish. Between 13:00 and 15:30
Merienda: A bocadillo, pastry or similar snack. Optional, mostly eaten by children. Between 17:00 and 19:00.
Cena (Dinner): One or two courses, lighter than lunch. Between 21:00 and 22:30 or so.
Recena: That light snack you eat outside when you've been pub crawling and it's unholy in the morning. Evidently optional.

Yes, we're hobbitses.
posted by sukeban at 2:25 PM on November 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

So some families in India can eat at 8 o'clock year-round, and still expect sunlight to have just faded. It would be interesting to see if there's a correlation between dinnertime and sunset.

If anything, that should move it in the opposite direction--sunset near the equator comes at about 5 or 6 PM (with sunrise at 5 or 6 AM year round.) There does seem to be some precedent for eating a main meal in early evening (after sunset) in Samoa.
posted by kagredon at 2:48 PM on November 22, 2013

Lived in Bangladesh for a couple years. Lunch at 3 pm, dinner usually after 8, often closer to 9 or 9:30.
posted by GorgeousPorridge at 3:11 PM on November 22, 2013

My experience in Korea was (assuming a regular job/school schedule)

1) breakfast at home or grabbing a bite on your commute to work/school
2) break for lunch at noon or thereabouts (a lot of government offices close for lunch, I found to my dismay)
3) dinner depends. dinner at home with the family tends to be 7ish or dinner out can be a prelude to 8 hours of drinking that includes near-constant eating.

The old school perception is that a meal is not a meal without rice, so getting a bowl of ramen is definitely a snack, eating a bucket of fried chicken is a snack, and eating a giant pot of fiery stew is a drinking accompaniment.
posted by spamandkimchi at 3:23 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

When visiting relatives in rural Ireland, we had breakfast around 8 or so, the big meal with meat, potatoes, and vegetable which would be dinner in the US at noon, and tea which was like lunch in the US, salads, sandwich meat, biscuits, and of course tea to drink around 5. The best thing was the homemade brown bread with all meals.
posted by mermayd at 4:11 PM on November 22, 2013

From talking to New Canadians originally from India or Pakistan, the big evening meal was often after the sun had set to avoid over-heating the already hot home (kind of like the pioneer "summer kitchen" idea).
posted by saucysault at 8:11 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I did fieldwork in Indonesia, the guys I was working with were pretty weirded out by my desire to eat three times a day. They were stoked about getting BOTH lunch AND dinner, in fact. They said at the village back home, people ate once a day.

And there's a story one of my colleagues tells about a fieldtrip to the outback, where she was going with a bunch of Aboriginal women on a multi-day hike. She bought lots of food and drinks to take with them. On the first night, they sat down and ate every single thing they had. She asked what they were going to eat the rest of the time, and they explained that now they had eaten so well, they wouldn't need to eat for a few more days, and it would make their packs lighter. It makes sense, but my colleague says she nearly cried.
posted by lollusc at 9:10 PM on November 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

(On the other hand, the Indonesian guys didn't consider something to be a meal unless rice was involved, so possibly their self-reporting about meals once a day just meant that's how often they ate rice?)
posted by lollusc at 9:12 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Mexican here. Officially, we have three meals:

- Breakfast: early in the morning, usually between 6-9 am. Many people skip it or have something light, but it can be a big meal. Traditional dishes are chilaquiles or eggs with some kind of salsa or cold cuts.

- Comida: the main meal of the day, between 2 and 4 pm. Sometimes earlier for people who do intense physical work. A traditional meal includes soup, rice, bread or tortillas, a main dish and sometimes dessert.

- Supper: usually after 8 pm, but some people can have it much later, even after 11pm. It's supposed to be a light meal, but many people like to go out and eat tacos, hamburgers, esquites, and other street fare, specially on weekends. A traditional light dinner (merienda) can be hot chocolate or light coffee with milk and sweet bread (pan dulce).

The mid-morning snack bearette mentions is not an official meal, but many people (myself included) get peckish at that time of the day. In schools elementary and middle schools, recess time is usually around 11 am, and kids have a snack at that time (a sandwich or torta, fruit or vegetables with chili powder or junk food). In offices, it's common to see people going out for a snack at about 11.
posted by clearlydemon at 10:21 PM on November 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

The people I knew from northern Europe when I was growing up in Australia always fed the children first, at 4:30 to 5:30, then the parents would eat after the kids had gone to bed (9pm or so). This was the case for the families I knew from Germany, Netherlands, Scandinavian countries and Finland, and who had a parent at home after school. I always thought it was odd as the Australian families, even those with a parent home after school, didn't eat until 7 or 8 and would always eat together.
posted by goo at 12:40 AM on November 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ireland: three meals a day much like the US, except the last meal will generally be 6 or 7 PM, so earlier than it is in the continent. Like our British friends, we are fans of elevenses and there's usually a 3 PM cuppa and biccie in there as well. This is generally not called tea.

Confusingly, "tea" is a term in common use for "dinner" or "supper" as in "We're having steak for tea" but let's not even go there...
posted by DarlingBri at 10:39 AM on November 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

We went to Italy for our honeymoon in 2003. One night we were going into restaurants around 9pm. I got the same sort of vibe that I used to get going to restaurants here in the US with my grandparents at 4:30pm. The restaurants were just opening, and no one else was there yet.
posted by Anne Neville at 9:44 PM on November 23, 2013

North American who has lived in Argentina and Spain. Can mostly speak to Argentina. Light breakfast of toast or other baked goods before work. For me 8:30ish.

Lunch at 2PM.

Merianda, kinda like tea time around 6PM. Coffee and pastry.

9pm, yanqui hour. Dinner for me, but for others 10PM-12AM dinner.

I remember once going to bed at midnight in my apartment and the family downstairs was just having dinner with their young kids.

I'm now in Colorado and not going to eat until 9:30 tonight. People think it's odd. I like it.
posted by Che boludo! at 7:39 PM on November 25, 2013

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