My students often get confused between the English words: food, dish and meal. They are all English nouns used when talking about what we eat! So when is the right time to use each one?

Food is a general word that refers to anything you can eat.

What is your favourite food?

Are you allergic to any food?

Dish has multiple meanings in English, but it can mean type of food, or food prepared and cooked in a particular way.

My mother’s favourite dish is roast lamb with mashed potato.

Do you have any vegetarian dishes? (The speaker is at a restaurant and is asking if there are any meals that don’t have meat in them.)

At a restaurant there could be 10 different things on the menu to choose from. So, there are 10 different dishes on the menu.

Dish is commonly used when talking about food from a particular place or country.

My favourite Mexican dish is fish tacos. (The speaker explains that of the many types of Mexican food, fish tacos are her favourite.)

Meal is an occasion, or time when you eat. The most common meals are breakfast, lunch and dinner.


My favourite food is avocado. My favourite dish is spaghetti carbonara. My favourite meal is breakfast!

Try answering these three questions:

  1. What's your favourite food?
  2. What's your favourite dish?
  3. What's your favourite meal?