Which Meal is Dinner?

18-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Sunday, April 13, 1913:  Went to Sunday School this morning. Took dinner with Carrie.

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Source: Ladies Home Journal (July, 1911)

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Which meal did Grandma eat with her friend, Carrie Stout?

I’m almost sure that it was the noon meal—but today it seems like most people are refer to the evening meal as dinner.

When I was a child growing up we always called the mid-day meal dinner. But, I’m never sure if other people understand what I mean when I say dinner–so my family eats breakfast, lunch and supper.

What do you call the meals?

46 Responses

  1. In our family, if the midday meal was the largest of the day we called it dinner. We usually had dinner on Sundays or on big holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, maybe Easter). If the midday meal was a smaller meal then it was lunch. If the largest meal of the day was in the evening, we called it supper. But these days when I ask my husband, “What do you want for dinner?” I’m referring to the evening meal. I’ve noticed the change in usage of the words over time, too.

  2. Dinner has definitely been a shifty word over the years :-). Dinner does refer to the main meal of the day, so sometimes it is a regional variation. What is really interesting is that the word dinner comes from the Old French word disner which means breakfast. However, breakfast was not always as early as it is for us today. Many cultures had only two meals a day. They broke their fast (breakfast) around noon with a heavy meal and then had a lighter meal in the evening. What do I think of when I hear dinner? I think of the evening meal.

    • It’s interesting that people didn’t always eat breakfast first thing in the morning. It sounds like what we call brunch would have once been considered breakfast.

  3. We always called the middle of the day meal “dinner” but many others around us called the evening meal “dinner”. Could it be our farming heritage?

  4. I don’t know about dinner vs. supper. But I do know that in my family, one didn’t serve “stuffing” with a turkey dinner (or supper). One had “dressing.” Because to talk, at the table, about “stuffing” was just uncouth.

  5. For my grandparents the midday meal was dinner and the evening meal was tea. But for my parents the main meal in the evening was dinner as it is for us. I think ,in our family, it is more the size of the meal that determines whether we call it dinner, rather than the time of day.

  6. I say breakfast, lunch, and supper, too. Farmers, like my grandparents, had a huge breakfast at daybreak, then a light lunch, and a small supper.

    • I grew up on a farm. During most of the year we had fried potatoes and fried eggs for breakfast. (The other two meals also seemed pretty big–but everyone did a lot of physical labor so they needed a lot of food.)

  7. Everyone is pretty much in agreement that dinner is the equivalent of a large lunch and supper is the evening meal, although supper and dinner have become interchangeable. I always try to keep the time (in history) in mind when I’m reading and come across those words. It’s easier to figure out that way.

    • It also seems to me like the terminology has changed over the years. I think that if my grandmother was having a noon meal with friends that she might have said that she was going to a luncheon; but I don’t think that she used the word lunch.

  8. We have breakfast, lunch and dinner. Your blog is fascinating.

  9. I agree, dinner was lunch and supper the evening meal. One of my sisters-in-law refers to the evening meal as supper.

    • Sometimes it seems like the area where someone grew up affects the terms they use. Is your sister-in-law from a different state or region?

      • She’s a Mississippian but she is from a farming family. My elderly cousins who were raised on farms uses the term supper. I was a little surprise to hear it from a baby boomer.

  10. Here in suburban South Australia, when I was growing up in the 1950’s and 60’s, the midday meal was always dinner and the evening meal tea. An evening meal was only ever called “dinner” if you were dining out at a Restaurant or Hotel. i.e. a rather “gradiose” affair.

    Now that my adult children have decided to call their evening meal dinner… I’ve changed the name of my midday meal from dinner to lunch to avoid confusion… but the evening meal is always TEA!!! in my house… :-D {chuckle}

    • Interesting. . tea sounds quaint and like a lot of fun. Maybe I’ll start calling our evening meal tea.

    • well there you go Catherine! I was reading all the comments and replies wondering why our family was different. lol
      Growing up in Victoria in the 1960s it was breakfast, dinner and Tea …… supper was a cuppa and small snack before bed.
      Recently when I mentioned what we had for tea someone said to me “You mean Dinner, Tea comes in a cup!” :D

      • this breakfast, dinner (ie midday meal) and tea ( being the main evening meal) comes from some parts of England, I think.
        I always call the evening meal “dinner” but if someone in the UK invites you for “tea” this could also be meant as the evening meal. I am Italian and when I first was living in the UK, a friend said “come to my house for tea” – so I made a cake and was expecting a pot of tea, some biscuits and maybe scones. But his mother was making lasagne for us, we ate this at about 6pm. Since then I always make sure which meal I get invited to!!

      • ha ha ha… and of course you mean Victoria, Australia… Kerryn :-) Reminded me that as a teenager I was invited to “High Tea” in a “posh” suburb in Adelaide, South Australia and was SHOCKED at the scrap of food I was given. Well, therein lies another whole story/ discussion, eh?

  11. When I was growing up in Michigan, dinner was the early afternoon Sunday meal–“Sunday dinner.” Or a restaurant meal in the evening for something special. During the week it was breakfast, lunch, and supper.

  12. It’s interesting to read the comments and learn how meal names vary from era and area. We have breakfast, lunch and dinner, but in the home where I grew up it was breakfast, lunch and supper, unless the large meal was mid-day, then it was dinner.

  13. we called it breakfast, lunch and dinner. My maternal grandparents called it dinner and supper. I think I’ll start calling dinner, tea :)

  14. most of the time growing up it was supper, but I remember dad telling me in the south we would be eating dinner…so I always assumed it depended on where you life….like when our son started school in Florida, we were called in to speak with the teacher because he did not know the word sofa…we have always used couch, she was also concerned because he did not know much about sand at the beach…I told the teacher to ask a student who never lived up north about snow…she did not say much. She even said I must have a clean house because he did not know what a cobweb was, I told her it is because we have spider webs!!! LOL She seemed to forget that we were military and from the north. You would think she would understand the difference since most of the students were military brats.. Anyway mom would say in Germany anything after 6 pm was considered dinner. Today I just yell…time to eat!!

    • There are so many words that vary by region. . . . soda and pop, creek and crick. . . water fountain and bubbler, . . .see-saw and tetter-totter. . .

      • suit case and grip! My mother in law always said grip, I have never heard that term before and did not want to appear stupid the first time I met her so I asked Tom what she was talking about!! She kept asking where her grip was when she visited us – she must have thought I just fell off the turnip truck. LOL I like bubbler for water fountain. I enjoy learning all the different catch phrases.

  15. It’s a little weird, we’ll say “what should we have for supper?” if we’re eating at home. But when we’re going out, we’re going out for dinner. So maybe you’re grandma did too (go out for dinner).

  16. You have a wonderful premise for your blog!
    I enjoyed scrolling down.
    LHJ has always known about decor haven’t they. They 1911 table setting could very well be any today’s shabby chic design. :)
    It was always breakfast, lunch, and supper for us but my Grandparents said breakfast, dinner, supper.

  17. I was amazed, when living in Washington State, that friends would invite me over and say they’d “fix supper” … Here in South Oz we only “fixed” things that were broken and we “cooked” meals… :-) and “supper” was only a snack before bedtime e.g. cocoa and a biscuit (cookie)… or “supper” could be a snack late in the evening at a public event e.g. a dance but it was never a meal and still isn’t… :-) fascinating…

  18. As a child, we had breakfast, dinner and supper. But once I became an adult, I realized that it seemed more proper to say breakfast, lunch and dinner. Supper still sounds like home, though…

  19. Breakfast, lunch and dinner. But I always thought it was a western thing that we called dinner supper.

  20. I learned in “Little House on the Prairie” that it’s breakfast, dinner, and supper, but most people just say “lunch” now. My family mostly says breakfast, lunch, and dinner, but we say “supper”, too.

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