What is the Difference Between Food and Meal

The main difference between food and meal is that food refers to the individual food items we consume, whereas meal refers to the intake of both food and beverages at a customary or a pre-planned time.

In simple words, imagine that you are hungry, and you decide to have a slice of banana bread or drink a glass of hot chocolate. Both banana bread and hot chocolate are two food items you may consume. A bar of chocolate, a bunch of grapes, a glass of orange juice or milk, some apples, bread, etc., are all examples of food. Now imagine it is a Saturday night, and you feel like going out and enjoying some Chinese delicacies with your family or friends. There you may ask them, “Shall we go out tonight for a meal at Chinese Dragon?” Here, the idea of a meal includes more than a single food item:  stir-fried tofu served with fried rice and oriental sauces or stir-fried beef served with oyster sauce, Asian greens and pineapple fried rice.

Key Areas Covered

1. What is Food  
      – Definition, Features, Importance
2. What is Meal
     – Definition, Features, Examples
3. Relationship Between Food and Meal
     – Outline of Common Features
4. Difference Between Food and Meal
     – Comparison of Key Differences

Key Terms

Food, MealDifference Between Capstone and Thesis - Comparison Summary

What is Food

The term ‘food’ basically refers to anything you can eat or drink. A mango is food; a vegetable burger is food; mixed berry smoothie is food. The simple items such as fresh fruits, as well as complex food items that demand lots of culinary skills, all fall into the general category of food.

Food vs Meal

The food we consume gives us all the nutrients we need for the maintenance of a healthy human body. The food converts into energy and helps the human body to perform its functions properly. In brief, the nutrients we take in help the human body to produce energy, to grow and repair the body tissues and to ensure the functioning of the different systems working inside the human body. Therefore, food and nutrition is essential and play a vital role in the functioning of all the organisms living on Earth.

What is a Meal

In general, a meal refers to the planned or the customary intake of food. We generally take three principal meals per day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. A meal also refers to all the food we consume during special occasions: a New Year’s lunch, a Christmas dinner, a Thanksgiving dinner, or a Birthday lunch.

Compare Food and Meal

Generally, a meal includes multiple dishes. For instance, imagine you are having a simple dinner at a hostel with your roommate. Your dinner may include tangerine chicken with jasmine rice, onion salad, and chocolate ice cream. You can eat these dishes as single food items separately; then they will be considered food items. However, if all the four food items are taken together on one occasion, it becomes a meal.

Relationship Between Food and Meal

  • Food refers to anything we consume in solid or in liquid form. A combination of multiple food items is considered a meal. Therefore, a meal is also made up of solid or liquid food items.
  • Both food and meals provide the human body with essential nutrients such as proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, lipids, etc.
  • Both food and meals enable the body to restore energy and continue the smooth functioning of the systems inside the human body.

Difference Between Food and Meal


Food refers to the individual food items we consume, such as a bar of chocolate, some apples, or bread. A meal, on the other hand, usually consists of an intake of both food and beverages at a customary or a pre-planned time.

Main Categories and Types

Breakfast, lunch and dinner are the three main meals human beings take on a daily basis. However, we plan special meals to celebrate special occasions, such as Birthday dinners and workplace lunches. However, when it comes to food, there exist millions of varieties of popular food cultures such as street food, Chinese food, Indian Food, Continental food, seafood, vegetarian food, etc.


The main difference between food and meal is that food basically refers to anything you can eat or drink, whereas a meal refers to the customary intake of food. However, when it comes to food or meals, the most significant thing to consider is the quality of your food choice and the nutrient content of your diet. You should always try to take a balanced diet with all the nutrients required in the right amounts. A balanced diet may have many benefits to your health. Most importantly, a balanced diet will help you to feel better and look better.


1. “Nutrition.” World Health Organization.

Image Courtesy:

1. “1621684” (CC0) via Pxfuel
2. “Meal-table-roasted-chicken-1246287” (CC0) via Pixabay

About the Author: Anuradha

Anuradha has a BA degree in English, French, and Translation studies. She is currently reading for a Master's degree in Teaching English Literature in a Second Language Context. Her areas of interests include Arts and Literature, Language and Education, Nature and Animals, Cultures and Civilizations, Food, and Fashion.

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