In the Kitchen With Laura Supper vs Dinner

A late 19th century kitchen table
Kitchen Table Greenmead Historic Village MI

A Meal By Any Other Name…

If you follow me on social media you know that I just love passing on interesting articles. One recently caught my eye was about what you call the evening meal. Now if you’ve followed along with me, you’ll know that I’m concerned with words having meaning and the loss of that meaning on our culture.

Or Supper Is the Evening Meal To Begin With…

Although there are other non-related meal words out there (like breakfast and brunch), there are 3 thorny words that fight for dominance over just two meals: Lunch, Dinner, Supper.

Let’s start with Dinner since that’s the biggest meal and also the start of the confusion. The term Dinner doesn’t really mean a meal at any certain time of the day. It just means your biggest meal of the day.

So picture it — a traditional farming family back in the days when you worked on the land most of the time. The big meal is at noon. (See dinner bell to call everyone in.) That’s when everyone is together. It fuels people through the rest of the day and means that no one has to go to bed on a full stomach.

Supper was then the evening meal – supper is ALWAYS the evening meal and can’t be correctly used at a different time of day. Supper was usually a lighter affair. Just a light meal to end the day. The term supper clubs – where people went for a meal on the town – was also meant to imply a light, evening meal which would be accompanied by dancing, etc. and that is still the term used today.

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The Great School Lunch Power Grab

Now I can’t say I have any numbers on this from my school lunch survey . (I tried, but you try to construct a question that asks did you start calling dinner lunch when you went to school without prejudicing the response or confusing people.) But I really think school has has much to do with this name change as anything. It didn’t take long for a dinner pail to become a lunch box with a much smaller meal than dinner. Once you’re used to calling the noon meal lunch at school (which was common school use), you’re not going to differentiate between the noon meal being called different things depending on whether you are at school or not. Also, in urban areas and office jobs, lunch became a light meal. You just “grab lunch.”

So if you now have your big meal of the day in the evening and the big meal of the day = Dinner, you start to refer to the big meal in the evening as Dinner.

Where Lunch  and Dinner Wins

So in this game of musical meal names, Lunch has grabbed the power position of the noon meal, Dinner has – in many cases – elbowed Supper out, and Supper is often let standing when the music stops. People today usually equate Dinner and Supper whether their last meal of the day is their biggest or not. Some people, me included, deliberately say Supper as the evening meal just to be clearer when I mean, but I think Dinner is going to win.

UPDATED May 27 2018: I got a great tweet in response that I’m including as an update.

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

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Sarah Uthoff - Trundlebed Tales

Sarah S. Uthoff is a nationally known Laura Ingalls Wilder authority and has presented at five of the Wilder homesites, many times at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum, many conferences and numerous libraries, museums, and events around the Midwest. She is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic, and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation. How can you help? Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, look at her photos, and find her on Facebook , Twitter , Google+, LinkedIn , SlideShare, and Academia.edu . Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and former director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.

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