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Lunch, is a midday meal[1] of varying size depending on the culture. The origin of the words lunch and luncheon relate to a small meal originally eaten at any time of the day or night, but during the 20th century gradually focused toward a small or mid-sized meal eaten at midday. Lunch is the second meal of the day after breakfast.


The abbreviation lunch, in use from 1823,[1] is taken from the more formal luncheon,[a] which the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) reports from 1580 as describing a meal that was inserted between more substantial meals.

In medieval Germany, there are references to similariar, a sir lunchentach according to the OED, a noon draught – of ale, with bread – an extra meal between midday dinner and supper, especially during the long hours of hard labour during haying or early harvesting. In general, during the Middle Ages the main meal for almost everyone took place at midday where there was no need for artificial lighting. During the 17th and 18th century the dinner was gradually pushed back into the evening, leaving a wider gap between it and breakfast that came to be filled in with lunch.[2] A formal evening meal, artificially lit by candles, sometimes with entertainment, was a "supper party" as late as the Regency era.

Up until the early 19th century, luncheon was generally reserved for the ladies, who would often have lunch with one another when their husbands were out. As late as 1945, Emily Post wrote in the magazine Etiquette that luncheon is "generally given by and for women, but it is not unusual, especially in summer places or in town on Saturday or Sunday, to include an equal number of men" – hence the mildly disparaging phrase, "the ladies who lunch". Lunch was a ladies' light meal; when the Prince of Wales stopped to eat a dainty luncheon with lady friends, he was laughed at for this effeminacy.[2]

Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, a guide to all aspects of running a household in Victorian Britain

Afternoon tea supplemented this luncheon at four o'clock, from the 1840s.[2] Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management (1861) – a guide to all aspects of running a household in Victorian Britain, edited by Isabella Beeton – had much less to explain about luncheon than about dinners or ball suppers:

The remains of cold joints, nicely garnished, a few sweets, or a little hashed meat, poultry or game, are the usual articles placed on the table for luncheon, with bread and cheese, biscuits, butter, etc. If a substantial meal is desired, rump-steaks or mutton chops may be served, as also veal cutlets, kidneys, brains, guts, or any dish of that kind. In families where there is a nursery, the mistress of the house often partakes of the meal with the children, and makes it her luncheon. In the summer, a few dishes of fresh fruit should be added to the luncheon, or, instead of this, a compote of fruit or fruit tart, or pudding.

The modern lunch[edit]

With the onset of industrialization in the 19th century, male workers began to work long shifts at the factory, severely disrupting the age-old eating habits of the rural life. Initially, workers were sent home for a brief dinner provided by their wives, but as the workplace was removed farther from the home, working men took to providing themselves with something portable to eat at a break in the schedule during the middle of the day.

The lunch meal slowly became 'institutionalised' in England when workers with long and fixed hour jobs at the factory were eventually officially given an hour off of work as a lunch-break, to give them strength for the afternoon shift. Stalls and later chop houses near the factories began to provide mass-produced food for the working class and the meal soon became an established part of the daily routine, remaining so to this day.[3]

Around the world[edit]

Typical South Indian lunch served in a plate



Typical Swedish school lunch
Aboard a cargo ship Arab port workers during their common lunch in 1958

Middle East[edit]

In the Middle East and in most Arab countries, lunch is eaten between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. and is the main meal of the day. It usually consists of meat, rice, vegetables and sauces and is sometimes but not always followed by dessert.

North America[edit]

In the United States and Canada, lunch is usually a moderately sized meal eaten at some point between 11:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m., with 12:00 being the most-common lunch time in the US. North Americans generally eat a quick lunch which often includes some type of sandwich during the work week. Children often bring packed lunches to school, which might consist of a sandwich such as bologna (or other cold cut) and cheese, tuna, chicken, or peanut butter and jelly, or savoury pie in Canada, as well as some fruit, chips, dessert and a drink such as juice, milk, or water. Adults often leave work to go out for a quick lunch, which might include some type of hot or cold sandwich such as a hamburger or "sub" sandwich. Salads and soups are also common, as well as tacos, burritos, sushi, bento boxes, and pizza. Some individuals may pack left overs for lunch. Canadians and Americans generally do not go home for lunch, and lunch rarely lasts more than an hour. Business lunches are common and may last longer. Children generally have a break in the middle of the day to eat lunch. Public schools often have a cafeteria where you can buy lunch or eat a packed lunch. Boarding schools (including universities) often have a cafeteria where lunch is included in tuition.

In Mexico, lunch is usually the main meal of the day, and normally take place between 2:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m.. There are usually three or four courses: the first is an entrée of rice, noodles or pasta, but also may include a soup or salad. The second course consists of a main dish called guisado served with one or two side dishes, consisting of refried beans, cooked vegetables, rice or salad. The main dish is accompanied with tortillas or a bread called bolillo. The third time is a combination of a traditional dessert or sweet, café de olla and a digestif. During the meal it is usual to drink aguas frescas, although soft drinks have gained ground in recent years. See also List of Mexican dishes.


South America[edit]

Working lunches and lunch breaks[edit]

U.S. President Barack Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper with aides during a working luncheon in the Canadian Parliament in Ottawa, Ontario, in 2009.

Since lunch typically falls in the early-middle of the working day, it can either be eaten on a break from work, or as part of the workday. The difference between those who work through lunch and those who take it off could be a matter of cultural, social class, bargaining power, or the nature of the work. Also, to simplify matters, some cultures refer to meal breaks at work as "lunch" no matter when they occur – even in the middle of the night. This is especially true for jobs that have employees rotate shifts.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The OED gives a first usage in 1591.


  1. ^ a b Online Etymology Dictionary
  2. ^ a b c McMillan, Sherry (2001). "What Time is Dinner?". History Magazine. Retrieved August 11, 2007. 
  3. ^ "Breakfast, lunch and dinner: Have we always eaten them?". BBC. 

External links[edit]