Food and drink vocabulary is a main staple of language learning. The names of foods in English might seem quite daunting as there are so many. A good way to start is to learn a few foods from the basic food groups. That way you can always create a meal!
Foods are important to learn for when you go shopping or eat out at a restaurant. They are also useful for conversation when discussing what you are going to have for dinner. As we all need to eat food, learning the names for the foods is a great idea as this is something common to every language.
In this article we explore useful English food and drink vocabulary and traditional meals, mealtimes and foods in the UK.
Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
The meals of the day can be split into early, afternoon and evening meals. In English we call these breakfast, lunch and dinner. Small meals in between main meals are called ‘snacks’. A late evening meal is called ‘supper’. A mid-morning snack is called ‘elevenses’.
A late afternoon meal is called ‘tea’ and traditionally this is when sandwiches or cake and a pot of tea is served (called ‘afternoon tea’ or sometimes more formally ‘high tea’). A ‘cream tea’ is an afternoon snack with a pot of tea, scones, jam and clotted cream – this tradition originated in Devon and Cornwall.
So remember that the word ‘tea’ in the UK can mean a cup or a pot of tea to drink but it can also mean an afternoon meal.
These words only offer a general guide, however, because the afternoon and evening meal can be called different names in different areas of the country. The regular evening meal can also be called ‘tea’ in the north of England, while some people call their dinner ‘supper’.
A main meal can be split into starter, main and dessert. The different parts of a meal are called ‘courses’. Dessert is sometimes called ‘sweets’ or ‘pudding’ or ‘afters’ if you are in the north of England.
The usual times for eating in the UK are 12pm – 2pm for lunch, around 4pm for afternoon tea, and 6pm – 9pm for dinner.
Food and Drink Vocabulary
Foods can be split into food groups: carbohydrate, protein and fats.
Fruit, vegetables and grains are examples of carbohydrates; meat and fish are examples of proteins; and butter and nuts are examples of fat (butter is animal fat and nuts are vegetable fat). We need all the three food groups in our diet to stay healthy.
Apples, pears, bananas, plums, grapes
Oranges, nectarines, clementines, satsumas
Pineapple, mango, grapefruit, pomegranate, papaya, coconut
Peaches, apricots, melons (honeydew, watermelon, cantaloupe, galia)
Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries
Vegetables are also known as veggies or simply veg (pronounced ‘vedge’).
Carrots, peas, potatoes, sweet potatoes, squash
Cauliflower, broccoli, spinach, peppers
Onion, garlic, mushrooms
Salad, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, beetroot, celery (some say these salad foods are technically fruit)
Aubergine / eggplant (American)
Bread, pasta, rice, cereals
Cheese, milk, butter, margarine, eggs, cream, yoghurt / yogurt
Lamb, chicken, turkey, pork (meat from a pig), beef (meat from a cow)
Bacon, ham, gammon, sausages, salami (all types of processed pork, although sausages can sometimes contain other meat and you can also get vegetarian sausages)
Venison (meat from a deer), pheasant, goose, rabbit, duck (all types of game)
Tripe (stomach), kidney, liver, tongue (all types of offal)
Cod, plaice, haddock, salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, halibut, trout, lemon sole, sea bass, swordfish
Scampi, mussels, clams, prawn, squid (all types of seafood)
Sunflower oil, olive oil, avocado oil, rapeseed oil
Herbs and spices
Basil, oregano, parsley, chives
Rosemary, thyme, sage
Turmeric, cumin, marjoram, curry powder
Paprika, ginger, cinnamon
Cereal, milk, porridge, orange juice, grapefruit juice, toast and butter, toast and marmalade, toast and jam, croissant, bagel (American), fruit, tea, coffee
Many Europeans eat ham and other cold cooked meats for breakfast, but this is rare in the UK.
No food and drink vocabulary guide for English learners could be complete without a mention of the full English breakfast.
The full English breakfast is a traditional breakfast in England that is very rich and quite high in fat, so it is not a good idea to eat one every day! This ‘breakfast’ is sometimes eaten as a bruch (a meal between breakfast and lunch) as a treat.
A ‘full English’ includes some or all of the following: bacon, eggs, sausage, hash browns, baked beans, tomato, fried bread, mushrooms, black pudding, tomato ketchup or brown sauce, tea or coffee, orange juice
Burger, hot dog, chips, sausage, crisps, sandwich, pizza, noodles, fish and chips (a ‘fish and chip supper’ is traditional English fast food!)
(Be careful you don’t get the words dessert and desert confused!)
Cake, doughnut, pastry, mousse, ice cream, biscuits, cookies, chocolate, sweets
Water, milk, juice, squash / cordial, pop (fizzy drink), cola, lemonade, hot chocolate, tea, coffee, milkshake
Wine (red, white, rosé), beer (ale, bitter, stout, mild), cider, spirits, alcopops, brandy, whisky, liqueurs, cocktails, gin, rum, vodka, punch, mulled wine, gin and tonic, martini
In the UK, a traditional meal was always ‘meat and two veg’, which was usually meat with potatoes and a vegetable, normally carrots and peas or broccoli.
This way of eating was very much the usual meal in the 1950s but after the 1960s international cuisine found is way to the UK and out palates developed to include more daring foods, from Italian pasta and Thai curries to Japanese sushi and American hot dogs and bagels!
Nowadays people in the UK eat a wide variety of foods from all over the world and our diets are all the more exciting because of it.
The Traditional Roast Dinner
A tradition has never died out in the UK however is the roast dinner. This is traditionally eaten on Sunday (because it takes a long time to cook and all the family are typically at home). The ‘Sunday roast’ consists of a roast meat (beef, lamb, chicken or pork – but turkey or goose at Christmas!) along with roast potatoes and a selection of vegetables and sauces.
The other foods included in a roast dinner typically depend on the type of meat, which is always the centre piece. Here are some traditional English roast dinners:
Beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, other vegetables (normally including carrots), gravy, mustard or Horseradish sauce
Chicken, roast potatoes, roast parsnips, vegetables, cranberry sauce, bread sauce
Lamb, roast potatoes, vegetables, mint sauce
Pork, roast potatoes, vegetables, apple sauce.
As you can see, the typical roast dinner always has the roast meat and roast potatoes (although if you wanted to be extra healthy, you could serve boiled potatoes). The main change for each meal concerns the sauce.
Plus, roast beef always comes with Yorkshire pudding – without this important ingredient any English person will not believe it a ‘proper’ roast beef dinner!
Methods of cooking
grill / broil – to cook by exposure to heat, under a grill
bake – to cook in an oven by dry heat, without direct exposure to a flame, often the food is covered
roast – to cook in an oven or over an open fire, typically the food is uncovered
boil – to cook in boiling water
sauté – to cook by frying quickly in a small amount of hot fat or oil
fry – to cook in fat using a shallow pan / frying pan
chargrill – grill at a very high heat
stirfry – fry quickly while stirring
steam – cook by heating food in the steam over boiling water
What do you think about food and drink vocabulary?
What are the traditional foods of your country?
What are your favourite foods and drinks?
Do you enjoy any traditional English dishes?
Do you find any words related to food and drink confusing?
Let us know your thoughts about food and drink vocabulary in the comments!