Was Dinner at Noon or in the Evening a Hundred Years Ago?

Eating at a Table
Source: A Text-book of Cooking

Our family calls the noon meal “lunch” and the evening meal “supper” – but I often feel out-of-step with my friends and neighbors who all eat “dinner” in the evening. So I was fascinated to read what it said in a 1921 home economics textbook about which meal was which:

In some families the meal served at noon is called luncheon and is followed by dinner in the evening; in others, dinner is the meal served at noon, followed by supper in the evening. Luncheon and supper are simpler meals than dinner.

Elementary Home Economics (1921)  by Mary Lockwood Matthews

21 thoughts on “Was Dinner at Noon or in the Evening a Hundred Years Ago?

  1. The size and formality of the meal determined whether it was ‘dinner.’ The Sunday noon meal always was Sunday dinner; birthday meals at night were dinners. Otherwise, the mid-day meal was lunch, with supper in the evening. My Swedish grandparents had a fourth ‘meal’ called a ‘little lunch.’ I don’t know the Swedish term for it, but it was very light: perhaps some cold cuts and cheese, with a bit of bread, or some sort of pastry and coffee. It usually was about 4 in the afternoon. Now that I think of it, that would have been the time that the coal miners got off the day shift, or farmers came in from the fields.

  2. A lot of the old timers around here still refer to Dinner and Supper. I think it’s influenced by the dairy farming history. If you milk cows morning and night you have more time for a big meal in the middle of the day. Lunch in that vernacular refers to more of a snack. My elderly Norwegian neighbor when I was a kid used to ask if I wanted some lunch, she would then give me cookies, 7up and, if my memory serves me right, a slice of buttered bread with a single piece of lunch meat on it.

  3. I’m more like Shoreacres for when I was young. But, as both parents stepped out to work, and the kids off to daycare or school, lunch became something in a bucket. Then dinner or supper became the main meal and consumed as a family at day’s end. Not the healthiest choice. We began to become too heavy.

  4. It was dinner at noon and supper in the evening where I grew up. It was largely influenced by the work of farmers, who came in at noon and ate a heavier meal before working the rest of the day. After mother went to work outside the home, it shifted for us, though all the ‘country’ relatives still referred to dinner and supper.

  5. When I was a kid, we ate breakfast, lunch, and supper.

    In university, a friend of mine whose parents lived in the town often had me over for their big Sunday dinner, which was at noon. They were both from North Dakota, and had a farming background. Around here, on big events like brandings, lots of ranches also serve a really big meal at noon, but it’s usually still referred to as lunch.

    I should note, lots of families around here have a big Easter Dinner, which is at noon.

    When I got married, my wife referred to the evening meal as “dinner”, and I started to as well, and therefore no longer use the term supper at all.

    I think big noon meals are common in various parts of the globe, with light evening meals then following. Somewhere I recently read that one of the Romance languages countries (I can’t recall which one) tends to have two light evening meals. I’ve heard it claimed that the big evening meal in the US and elsewhere is a product of industrialization and modern work practices, as people weren’t around at noon for a big meal so the big meal became the evening meal, although I’m not sure if that’s true.

    Bringing up to the present day, and noting what DOUBLEGENEALOGYTHEADOPTIONWITNESS does immediately above, now that most people do so little exercise during the day in general, I’m wondering if this is changing. Quite a few people I know east less than three meals a day (myself included). In contrast, I’m amazed by the really large lunches that some folks eat, even if they still eat a big dinner.

  6. Historically, in England at last, the main meal was dinner, and therefore it depended on your family’s routines which time of day it was. So the current vogue (again in England) for calling the Christmas meal ‘Christmas lunch’ is just plain incorrect, as lunch is generally a light meal and Christmas Dinner just … isn’t.

  7. In central PA we often called the noon meal dinner, which I do think is a throwback to farming days. The evening meal was always supper. Texans in this area do not use the word supper.

  8. Interesting. It’s funny now that I think about it. I grew up in rural New England and the meals were referred to as breakfast, dinner, and supper if mentioned all together. I still have that in my brain. Having said that, when my mom referred to individual meals, she referred to the actual type of meal. When I came home from school, she would ask what I had for lunch, or what she packed in dad’s lunch pail. She would tell me what dinner was going to be on those week nights! But sometimes she referred to the evening meal mid-week as supper, usually if it was more casual like a pot of chili. I don’t think she consciously made the distinction. On Sunday, the main meal was usually around 1 p.m. and was called Sunday Dinner. If we had anything in the evening, it was supper.

  9. When I was growing up on a dairy farm, we had a large dinner at noon. We had supper in the evening. My husband’s family had lunch at noon and dinner in the evening.

  10. Growing up the mid-day meal was dinner and the evening meal was supper. When at home the mid-day meal was light with supper being the main meal of the day. When visiting my grandparents, both sets, dinner and supper were both full meals – no sandwiches and no leftovers!

    Today I eat lunch and supper, but my children eat lunch and dinner! I’ve enjoyed the comments here and the different concepts we have of our meals!

  11. When I was a child, the noon meal was called dinner and the evening meal was supper. That was in the rural areas of the Ottawa Valley in Canada. When I went to university in southern Ontario, I quickly adopted the words lunch for the noon meal and dinner for the evening.

  12. In our household, dinner is the main meal, whether eaten at noon or in the evening. After retirement, we began to eat our heavier meal in the middle of the day, which we couldn’t do before. It suits us well.

  13. Many many years ago I invited the husband’s cousins for dinner. They arrived at what I thought was lunch time. They are farmers, I’m from town. I was much more careful from then on in specifying what time of day the meal was going to be!

  14. We used dinner and supper for the evening meal the distinction being you “dressed” for dinner. So if we were going to a restaurant we went out to dinner. If we ate in our P.J.s in front of the TV it was supper….

  15. My husband’s family (mostly Texas people) called it dinner and supper. Mine (Okies and Kansans) called it lunch and dinner. We eventually called it lunch and dinner/supper, lol. We were a melting pot of several cultural heritages!

  16. We always have lunch and then dinner unless of course, it’s a Sunday and then lunch becomes Sunday Dinner…my mother always had afternoon tea at 3 pm and supper was a late snack around 9 pm…how they fitted in all that eating I don’t know… lunch and dinner is enough for me…Happy Easter 🙂

  17. So interesting. Growing up, we were a lunch then supper family. I wonder if “eating out” has moved people away from supper to dinner. Doesn’t sound right to say, “we’re going out for supper.”

  18. We have breakfast, lunch and dinner. In college on Sundays the only meal was at noon and called dinner. They had cheese and crackers available in the evening which was not enough food to call supper. Now my question is what is tea?

  19. My partner and I were discussing this very topic just the other day. I was sort of poking fun because he always says “supper” for what I consider “dinner,” the evening meal. We looked it up and discovered that the term “supper” seems to be regional, mainly used in the Midwest and South. I kind of assumed it was a rural thing, since he grew up in a rural area, or a European thing, since his parents emigrated to America from Latvia. Interesting topic!

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