Party Pointer: History of Brunch and Lunch

Ever wondered about how the pattern of meals we eat daily developed? Check out this history of brunch and lunch.

If you want to have a party or reception during the day, you might want to host a brunch. A brunch, a combination of breakfast and lunch, is often served after a morning event or prior to an afternoon one, such as a wedding or sporting event. It is a heavy meal meant to take the place of both.

The term, a blend of the words breakfast and lunch, was introduced in Britain around 1896 by Hunter’s Weekly and then became student slang. Some sources say that the term was invented by New York Morning Sun reporter Frank Ward O’Malley based on the typical midday eating habits of a newspaper reporter.

Lunch is a new meal in the history of eating. Dinner was eaten in the middle of the day, and supper was a light meal before going to bed—which most people, other than the very rich, did as soon as it got dark  because candles were very expensive. By the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the dinner meal was served later, supper was only served at long evening occasions, and to fill in the long gap between breakfast and dinner, luncheon was added.

The abbreviation lunch, in use from 1823, is taken from the more formal “Lunchentach,” which the Oxford English Dictionary reports from 1580, as a word for a meal that was inserted between more substantial meals. In medieval Germany, there are references to nuncheontach, a non lunchentach, a noon draught— of ale, with bread— an extra meal between midday dinner and supper, especially during the long hours of hard labor during the haying season or early harvesting.

In the 1800’s, working men often went home for a brief dinner, where their wives fixed for them, but as workplaces became farther removed from the home, working men began bringing something portable to eat at a midday work break.

These European meal patterns came to America during colonization. In colonial America the extended family participated in three meals a day, the standard meals being breakfast, dinner, and supper. As the first meal of the day, breakfast was eaten immediately upon rising or a few hours later, after the earliest chores have been finished. Working men and schoolchildren came home for dinner, the main meal of the day, which was usually served in the early or late afternoon. Supper, the last meal of the day, was light and, sometimes, optional. It was eaten in the early evening.

Except for special occasions like the family Sunday lunch or weekend lunch parties, lunch is usually a lighter meal. Generally fewer courses are served, and the luncheon table is less elaborately set than a corresponding dinner table, with less formality, and is often arranged for the diners to be more or less self-serving.

With the growth of cities and the shifting of occupations of American men, the traditional meal pattern began to change during the mid-nineteenth century,  The first meal to change was dinner. As towns and cities grew, it became harder for workers to return home for a midday dinner as the distance between home and the place of work increased.

Dinner, the most important meal, moved to the evenings, when the family could eat together at a more leisurely pace. The midday meal came to be called lunch and evolved into a small, light, and frequently rushed meal–often something brought from home in a tin pail or a brown bag, or a quick visit to a company cafeteria. Sandwiches, soups, and salads became common luncheon foods. After World War II, the American meal pattern changed yet again. Snacking became increasingly common as the century progressed, and the “three squares” diminished in importance.

So now we can enjoy breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner (supper) and snacking in between–so if you are planning a party, you have many options of when and what to serve, depending on what your event needs.


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