We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Square Meal?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
Our promise to you
DelightedCooking is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At DelightedCooking, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

The term “square meal” is a piece of slang which dates back to 1800s America. It refers to a large, substantial meal which is filling, satisfying, and usually tasty as well. It is also usually implied that a square meal is nutritionally balanced and healthy, though not always. Since balanced meals are generally viewed as vital for human health and happiness, it is not unusual to hear terms like “he looks like he needs a square meal.”

The origins of slang terms can often be fascinating to trace, not least because they are usually clouded by folk etymology and general foolishness. Many folk etymologies for the phrase suggest that it is somehow related to square plates, when this is not, in fact, the case. In this instance, the meal is “square” in the sense of “honest” or “proper,” a usage which dates back to at least the 1600s. This puts square meals in the same family as square deals and “fair and square.”

The first written instance of “square meal” appears to have emerged in the mid-1800s, to advertise a Gold Rush era restaurant in the American West. The author of the advertisement actually clarified the term, specifying that it meant a wholesome and balanced meal, which suggests that the slang term may not have been used colloquially, and that the author may have in fact invented it. Since then, the term has spread to other regions of the United States and some other English speaking nations as well, although it continues to be closely associated with Western culture.

The contents of a square meal are open to debate. Nutritional guidelines and standards have certainly evolved from the days when “pork and beans, onions, cabbage, and other articles,” in the words of a 19th century advertiser, were considered a square meal. It is generally assumed that a square meal has a healthy serving of vegetables, associated with a lean protein and a whole grain starch and ideally flavored with something interesting as well. Most nutritional guidelines also recommend low amounts of fat and heavily processed foods in a balanced diet.

Getting a square meal is of particular concern for developing children and athletes, since their nutritional needs are more demanding than the average population. Fortunately, in most of the developed world, access to food supplies is relatively easy, allowing people to eat well on a regular basis. Unfortunately for some people in the developing world, a square meal is a more challenging proposition.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon102837 — On Aug 09, 2010

Unfortunately that is a mistake in that edition. In an earlier print of the story the meal is referred to as a "spare" meal meaning meager or frugal, which makes sense in that context.

Search online for that story in: The Spirit of the English magazines, Volume 9

By anon78292 — On Apr 18, 2010


By anon56331 — On Dec 14, 2009

I've come across an earlier usage than the restaurant advertisement cited above.

In a collection of short stories titled "Great British Tales of Terror: Gothic Stories of Horror and Romance 1765-1840," edited by Peter Haining and published in paperback by Penguin Books, England, in 1973; is a story by William Child Green. The story is "Secrets of Cabalism or Ravenstone and Alice of Huntingdon."

The editor’s introduction to this story states that it was "published anonymously in a Christmas annual, circa 1819."

The sixth paragraph has the following line: "The secretary found him on his knees, as his custom was, eating his square meal in that humble posture..."

This is referring to a prisoner’s meal, which I suspect would be anything but "filling, satisfying, and usually tasty."

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Read more
DelightedCooking, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

DelightedCooking, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.