What were meals like during medieval times?

By: Kasy Long

    • Have you ever wanted to travel back in time to medieval times? Maybe it has been a dream come true for you, but you should probably know that the medieval lifestyle was drastically different than our current society. Even the food was more unique than today’s meals.

    If you’re curious about medieval meals and you want to plan a feast, look no further. We have the complete guide to the food and meal customs during medieval times. Luckily, some of the traditions have changed.

    How the meals were conducted

    If a meal was being hosted at a castle or manor house of someone in the royal family or court, there were many rules on how the feasts should be conducted. The lord (or another member of the court) sat at the end of the dinner table in a high-backed chair. He was surrounded by his guests, a priest, noblemen, his wife, and knights who were ready to protect him from any possible attacks.

    A serving boy always offered the lord the first choice of meat. After he made his selection, the dinner guests were served next.

    Colleen Galvin/Flickr
  • While they had knives and spoons, forks weren’t an available eating utensil. Instead, diners had to use their fingers. To season the food, guests could add salt and pepper to spice the tasteless food—much as you can still do to your meal today.

    About the food

    In medieval society, food was a sign of social distinction. For example, the nobles could afford fresh meat flavored with exotic spices. Members of the lower class and peasants had to settle for salted pork and barley bread. But if you were attending a fancy medieval dinner party, what could you expect to find?

    Before the 14th century, bread wasn’t typical food at meals. Can you imagine life without bread? Bread-based diets didn’t become mainstream until the 15th century when wheat popularized throughout Europe. Wheat-based cereal represented the basis of nearly every meal.

    In addition, vegetables (including cabbage, beets, onions, garlic, and carrots) were common foods consumed by farmers and manual workers. For protein, legumes (including chickpeas, beans, and peas) were added to the diet, especially for members of the lower class.

    Birds, like chickens, geese, and ducks, were saved for special occasions. Instead, beef and venison were used as frequent meal options. Medieval people also enjoyed fresh fish, particularly cod and herring. Castles generally had their own fishponds.

    But if you’re planning a medieval dinner party, serve traditional dishes, including bukkenade (beef stew), pumpes (meatballs), cormarye (roast pork), mylates of pork (pork pie), parsnip pie, blaunche perreye (white pea soup), payne foundewe (bread pudding), hypcras (spiced wine), and more. Your guests probably haven’t tried these dishes before, but it never hurts to introduce people to new things.

    About the meals

    People in the medieval ages were strict about their eating habits. For example, they restricted themselves to two meals per day: lunch at midday and a light dinner in the evening. Of course, like many people today, eating small snacks was also common, but only for people of nobility and in the upper class. They had time to eat during the day, whereas manual workers were forced to wait until the evening dinner.

    Morning breakfast was only consumed by working classes, children, women, the elderly, and the sick. Because the Church of England preached against the sins of gluttony, eating breakfast was considered a sign of weakness. People were ashamed of having breakfast.

    But today, breakfast is now considered the most important meal of the day.

    So, if you were to visit the medieval ages, you would have to save your appetite for lunch and dinner. At least you had plenty of delicious options to choose from for your meals.

    A deeper dive – Related reading from the 101:

    Learn about board games and other activities people played during medieval times.

    People are frequently curious about medieval castles. Learn about the secrets within the palaces.

    Learn more about the skillful mind games conducted by medieval knights.