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cultural difference 16: meal time

April 30, 2010

In the past, there was a saying in Germany that advised you to eat “like a Kaiser” in the morning (meaning eat lots of food), “like a king” at lunch (still a good amount of food, but less than in the morning), and “like a peasant” in the evening (just a little food).

Traditionally, a typical German breakfast includes bread or rolls, jam/jelly, honey, ham or salami, cheese, and a soft-boiled egg. Pancakes aren’t breakfast food for most German people, by the way. Most Germans are coffee drinkers, although tea is also popular in some regions. Today, many people don’t have the time for that kind of breakfast. They might still have fresh rolls and eggs on weekends, but eat a smaller breakfast, maybe cereals, during the week. Or they don’t eat breakfast at all.

The main meal was traditionally served at noon — a hot meal with meat or fish, lots of side dishes, and vegetables or salad. On weekends, it’s still done this way.


In the evening, most people had a cold supper. It’s called “Abendbrot,” which means “evening bread,” and consists of – you guessed it – mostly bread, cheese, and cold meats.


Today, with more people at work all day, many people have only a lighter meal at noon and might eat a hot meal with their family in the evening.

I assume there’s a similar trend in most countries.

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8 comments

  1. For the nearly 30 years I’ve lived in the US, dinner has been the main meal. As you pointed out, though, this may have been a sign of the times back then as more women started working outside the home.

    German breakfast sounds yummy! Way better than our continental breakfast, generally consisting of pastries, fruit, juice, and coffee/tea.


  2. I had real difficulties with getting used to a different “meal order” during my time in England. Continental breakfast? Not worth getting up for. A cold lunch? Hey, my mother always cooked lunch. And then finally the crazy, heavy dinner at a time of the day when you’re supposed to eat light.
    Funny enough – today we often have a cold lunch and eat “the real meal of the day” in the evenings.
    Things have certainly changed in Germany over these past years. I guess it has a lot to do with most mothers having to work today – something which was not common around 30 or even 20 years ago. Today there aren’t much mothers at home around lunch time who will prepare a hot meal.


  3. My family has breakfast — often cereal and a fruit juice, though my husband and son will occasional make a single scrambled egg served between two pieces of toast, or something else small and quick (I make a dairy & fruit shake in the blender).

    Lunch is usually a small bread sandwich of sliced deli meats (or my preference, peanut butter and jelly), small bag of commercial potato chips, and a drink: (My husband and I drink water, my son will pack fruit juice)

    Dinner is family time, so that’s our “big” meal (as in time consumed together. Certainly our menu is not large: a cooked meat dish (served with rice, potatoes, or pasta) and a single vegetable preparation as a side dish. We start with a “first course” of greens salad.

    Weekends, we’ll add “family breakfast” occasionally, as another option of spending time together: a preparation of eggs, then bacon or sausage, toast or rolls with fruit spread. I get creative on weekends too. Sometimes it’s French Toast (was that really developed by the French?), or pancakes/flapjacks.

    In my family, mealtimes have always been something where we strived to consume balanced diets, and together.

    My family does very little snacking. As a result we’ve discovered the habit to not eat alone can be built into the psyche just like not drinking alone (both can lead to overindulgence).

    Though my son, as a teen is the exception to it all. He’s been known to go through periods of consuming as many as five “meals” in a day. consuming equivalent types/amount of foods (usually leftovers from previous meals) for a second breakfast mid-morning, and also an early dinner a couple hours before family dinner.


    • Oops, I forgot the “required” apple for lunches. My son has noted before when I’ve forgotten to pack it into his lunch. LOL.


    • Part of my extended family is Indian, and for them it’s perfectly normal to prepare multiple meat dishes and multiple vegetable dishes for dinner. I get overwhelmed just *thinking* about all the work that goes into that, since so many ingredients are required for just one Indian dish.


  4. My family has the tradition of having “Frühmi” on Sundays — that’s a “frühes Mittagessen” = “early lunch” or rather a late breakfast or brunch. We have French baguette, honey, jam, cheese, a soft-boiled egg, and of course Nutella 🙂

    Do you have Nutella in the US?


    • Nutella is on the store shelves here. I personally don’t know anyone who eats it. But it is here.


      • Looks like my parents and brother are the only Nutella addicts in the US, then.



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