Learn Useful Food Idioms with Meaning and Examples in English.
You can jump to any section of this lesson:
- 1 (A) Baker’s Dozen
- 2 (A) Hard/Tough Nut to Crack
- 3 (Have) Egg on One’s Face
- 4 (Put) All One’s Eggs In One Basket
- 5 (Take It with a) Grain of Salt
- 6 (The) Icing on the Cake
- 7 (To Be on the) Gravy Train
- 8 (To Have) Bigger Fish To Fry
- 9 A Few Sandwiches Short Of A Picnic
- 10 A lot on one’s plate
- 11 Above The Salt
- 12 Acknowledge The Corn
- 13 Acquired Taste
- 14 All Sizzle And No Steak
- 15 All The Tea In China
- 16 Apple of One’s Eye
- 17 Bad Egg
- 18 Bar Fly (or Barfly)
- 19 Best (Greatest) Thing Since Sliced Bread
- 20 Big Cheese
- 21 Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
- 22 Bottom of the Barrel
- 23 Bring Home the Bacon
- 24 Carrot-and-Stick (Approach)
- 25 Cherry-Pick
- 26 Chew the Fat
- 27 Cook Someone’s Goose
- 28 Couch Potato
- 29 Cry over Spilt (USA: Spilled) Milk
- 30 Cut the Mustard
- 31 Eat Humble Pie
- 32 Eat Someone’s Lunch
- 33 Food for thought
- 34 From Scratch
- 35 From Soup to Nuts
- 36 Hard nut to crack
- 37 Have a Lot on One’s Plate
- 38 Have bigger fish to fry
- 39 Have egg on your face
- 40 Have One’s Cake and Eat It, Too
- 41 Be like chalk and cheese
- 42 Hit the Spot
- 43 Hot Potato
- 44 In a Nutshell
- 45 In a Pickle
- 46 Like Two Peas in a Pod
- 47 Low-Hanging Fruit
- 48 Not Mince Words
- 49 Nutty as a fruitcake
- 50 Pie in the sky
- 51 Piece of Cake
- 52 Piping Hot
- 53 Pour (Rub) Salt into (on) the Wound (an open wound)
- 54 Read the Tea Leaves
- 55 Red Meat
- 56 Rotten to the Core
- 57 Sell Like Hotcakes
- 58 Simmer Down
- 59 Slower than molasses
- 60 Small Potatoes
- 61 Sour Grapes
- 62 Spill the Beans
- 63 Take something with a pinch (grain) of salt
- 64 Take the Cake
- 65 The Whole Enchilada
- 66 There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
- 67 Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth
- 68 Tough cookie
- 69 Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
- 70 Walk on Eggshells
- 71 Watering Hole
- 72 You Can’t Make an Omelet (Omelette) Without Breaking Some Eggs
(A) Baker’s Dozen
- Meaning: Thirteen
- Example: Your order of a dozen doughnuts is ready. We’ll throw in one more to make it a baker’s dozen.
(A) Hard/Tough Nut to Crack
- Meaning: A difficult problem
- Example: The problem of how to motivate employees can be a tough nut to crack sometimes.
(Have) Egg on One’s Face
- Meaning: Be embarrassed, feel foolish
- Example: Fred had egg on his face after claiming he could climb the tree but then having to give up.
(Put) All One’s Eggs In One Basket
- Meaning: Rely on a specific course of events
- Example: If we depend on a rise in the price of oil, we’re putting all our eggs in one basket. What if it falls?
Note: Generally used with “put,” as in the example.
(Take It with a) Grain of Salt
- Meaning: Be skeptical of a statement
- Example: James will tell you all about his adventures in Africa, but take it with a grain of salt.
(The) Icing on the Cake
- Meaning: A bonus; something that makes a good situation even better
- Example: My new girlfriend is very intelligent. That she’s beautiful is just icing on the cake!
(To Be on the) Gravy Train
- Meaning: To make an easy living, to benefit easily from one’s association with something that brings profits
- Example: Ever since her company’s stock split, Rita’s been on the gravy train – she was given stock as a benefit.
Note: This expression probably originates from the language of railroad hoboes.
(To Have) Bigger Fish To Fry
- Meaning: To have more important things to do
- Example: I can’t help you with your presentation right now. I have bigger fish to fry.
A Few Sandwiches Short Of A Picnic
- Meaning: Abnormally stupid, not really sane
- Example: Sometimes I think John’s a few sandwiches short of a picnic. He never seems to understand directions.
A lot on one’s plate
- Meaning: A lot to do
- Example: I just have a lot on my plate right now while I’m finishing up my degree and doing this huge project for work.
Above The Salt
- Meaning: Of high standing or honor.
- Example: We’ll seat you at the head table-not next to the president, but definitely above the salt.
Note: Very old-fashioned
Useful Food Idioms in English | Image 1
Acknowledge The Corn
- Meaning: Admit to a mistake, especially a small one; point out one’s own shortcomings, or another’s
- Example: OK, I’ll acknowledge the corn. I took the candy bars from the kitchen table.
- Meaning: Something one learns to appreciate only after trying it repeatedly
- Example: Asparagus is an acquired taste. I hated it as a child, but now I love it.
All Sizzle And No Steak
- Meaning: Failing to live up to advance promotion or reputation
- Example: Some people feel the Apple Watch is all sizzle and no steak.
All The Tea In China
- Meaning: Great wealth, a large payment
- Example: I wouldn’t go out with him for all the tea in China!
Apple of One’s Eye
- Meaning: A favorite person or thing, a person especially valued by someone
- Example: Edward has only one child, and she’s the apple of his eye.
- Meaning: Someone who is not to be trusted
- Example: James is a bad egg. Don’t trust him.
Note: This is much less common than its affectionate opposite, “good egg.”
Bar Fly (or Barfly)
- Meaning: Someone who spends much of his or her time in bars
- Example: The place was filled with barflies and other assorted creatures of the night.
Best (Greatest) Thing Since Sliced Bread
- Meaning: An innovative development
- Example: Have you tried the new iPhone? It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread.
- Meaning: An important person in a company or organization
- Example: Let’s all be on our best behavior today. The big cheese (the president) will be visiting the office.
Bite Off More Than You Can Chew
- Meaning: Try to do more than one is capable of doig
- Example: That’s a huge lawn. Are you sure you can finish mowing it today? Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
Bottom of the Barrel
- Meaning: Low-quality choices
- Example: Our top five candidates for the job have all turned us down. We’re really getting down to the bottom of the barrel here-maybe we should place a new ad.
Bring Home the Bacon
- Meaning: Earn money for one’s family
- Example: I can’t complain about my husband. He may not be the world’s most glamorous guy, but he brings home the bacon.
- Meaning: A tactic in which rewards are offered, but there is also the threat of punishment
- Example: The boss is using a carrot-and-stick approach-if we meet the sales target, we’ll get raises, but if we don’t, he’ll cut vacation time.
- Meaning: To present evidence selectively to one’s own advantage
- Example: The president was accused of cherry-picking research to justify her programs.
Chew the Fat
- Meaning: Chat for a considerable length of time
- Example: We’re not doing much – just chewing the fat and having a few beers. Why don’t you come over?
Cook Someone’s Goose
- Meaning: To insure someone’s defeat, to frustrate someone’s plans
- Example: Let’s steal one of the spark plugs from Don’s car. That’ll cook his goose!
- Meaning: A lazy person who watches a great deal of television
- Example: Mark is a couch potato. I can’t remember the last time he left his apartment except to go to work.
Cry over Spilt (USA: Spilled) Milk
- Meaning: To waste energy moaning about something that has already happened
- Example: The money is gone. Don’t cry over spilt milk – there will be new opportunities.
Cut the Mustard
- Meaning: Do something adequately
- Example: I don’t think I’m too old to cut the mustard. If you give me a chance, I’m sure I can do the job well.
Eat Humble Pie
- Meaning: To admit defeat or error, to accept humiliation
- Example: The coach was forced to eat humble pie after confidently projecting victory.
Note: This is also used in the USA but is less common.
Eat Someone’s Lunch
- Meaning: Defeat someone thoroughly
- Example: China is systematically teaching people to speak African languages, but very few Americans can speak them. When it comes to trade with Africa, they’re going to eat America’s lunch.
Food for thought
- Meaning: Something that makes you think carefully
- Example: The teacher’s advice certainly gave me food for thought.
- Meaning: From individual ingredients, not using a prepared mix
- Example: I’m looking forward to tonight – my girlfriend is baking me a cake from scratch for my birthday.
From Soup to Nuts
- Meaning: Everything; from beginning to end
- Example: Amazon started out as a bookseller, but now they offer everything from soup to nuts.
Hard nut to crack
- Meaning: A difficult problem or a difficult person
- Example: This problem is getting me down. It’s a hard nut to crack.
Have a Lot on One’s Plate
- Meaning: Be busy, be in the middle of many ongoing tasks
- Example: I’ve got a lot on my plate right now, but why don’t we meet next week?
Have bigger fish to fry
- Meaning: Have more important things to do
- Example: It’s really not worth my time; I’ve got bigger fish to fry!
Have egg on your face
- Meaning: They are made to look foolish or embarrassed
- Example: The CEO really had egg on his face after he went on stage to demonstrate the new product and couldn’t get it to work right.
Have One’s Cake and Eat It, Too
- Meaning: To want two incompatible things (usually used in the negative)
- Example: If you want lower taxes, you have to expect problems in school funding-you can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Be like chalk and cheese
- Meaning: Things or people who are very different and have nothing in common
- Example: The hotels here and in Russia are like chalk and cheese – you’ll find much better service here.
Hit the Spot
- Meaning: Be very satisfying (said of something eaten)
- Example: We went to Mark’s Midtown for lunch. I had a grilled chicken sandwich, and it really hit the spot.
- Meaning: A controversial subject or difficult project that is best avoided
- Example: Tax increases will be a hot potato in this election, and most candidates will try to avoid taking a stand on them even if they think they’re necessary.
Note: This is often used in political contexts.
In a Nutshell
- Meaning: Expressed in a few words
- Example: You should apply to the university now. There are lots of reasons, but in a nutshell, it will end up costing you more if you wait.
In a Pickle
- Meaning: In need of help, in a difficult spot
- Example: I’m really in a pickle. I spent all the money I had saved, and I have no way to pay next semester’s tuition bill.
Like Two Peas in a Pod
- Meaning: Bearing a strong resemblance
- Example: Hallie and Maria aren’t related, but they’re so similar – like two peas in a pod.
- Meaning: Easy parts of a task; solutions easy to obtain
- Example: It’s easy to solve those puzzles – they’re low-hanging fruit. But the Sunday puzzle is much more difficult.
Not Mince Words
- Meaning: Moderate or weaken a statement
- Example: The boss didn’t mince words in my performance evaluation. She said if I didn’t improve, I’d be fired.
Nutty as a fruitcake
- Meaning: Crazy; idiotic; wacky.
- Example: The kids are always nutty as fruitcakes when they’ve had something sugary to eat.
Pie in the sky
- Meaning: Something that is unrealistic or that cannot be achieved
- Example: He keeps talking about how he’ll move to Los Angeles to be a famous actor, but it’s just pie in the sky if you ask me.
Useful Food Idioms in English | Image 2
Piece of Cake
- Meaning: Very easily done
- Example: I’ve already done the difficult parts – finishing the presentation tonight will be a piece of cake.
- Meaning: Very hot (generally said of food)
- Example: Nothing tastes better than fresh cinnamon rolls, served piping hot.
Pour (Rub) Salt into (on) the Wound (an open wound)
- Meaning: Worsen an insult or injury; make a bad situation worse for someone
- Example: Breaking up with George was bad enough, but seeing him out with Carla just poured salt into an open wound.
Read the Tea Leaves
- Meaning: Predict the future from small signs
- Example: Everyone says things are going great for our company, but if you read the tea leaves you’ll see trouble ahead.
Note: This comes from the practice of fortune-telling by examining the patterns of tea leaves in the bottom of a cup.
- Meaning: Political appeals designed to excite one’s core supporters; demagoguery
- Example: The candidate threw red meat to the base, blaming immigrants for the country’s problems.
Note: This is often used in the phrase “throw red meat to the base,” as in the example.
Rotten to the Core
- Meaning: Entirely evil
- Example: Sam is rotten to the core. He steals, he lies, he’s violent. I’m glad he’s in prison.
Sell Like Hotcakes
- Meaning: Be sold very quickly
- Example: The new Honda is expected to sell like hotcakes after it’s released.
- Meaning: Become less angry; regain one’s composure
- Example: Simmer down. I won’t discuss this while you’re yelling at me.
Slower than molasses
- Meaning: Exceptionally slow or sluggish; not fast at all.
- Example: This old laptop my dad gave me is a piece of junk. It’s slower than molasses!
- Meaning: Unimportant, insignificant
- Example: We’re wasting our time on small potatoes. Let’s get to the big news that made us have this meeting.
- Meaning: Spiteful disparagment of a goal one has failed to achieve
- Example: Since Susan got the job, Francisco has been saying he didn’t want it. But that’s just sour grapes.
Spill the Beans
- Meaning: Reveal a secret
- Example: We had planned this to be a surprise party for you, but Jason spilled the beans.
Take something with a pinch (grain) of salt
- Meaning: If you take what someone says with a pinch of salt, you do not completely believe it.
- Example: I heard that you can get a free movie ticket if you wear red, but Kevin toldme that, so I’m going to take it with a pinch of salt.
Take the Cake
- Meaning: Be the most extreme instance
- Example: Julie has made some poor choices in men over the years, but this takes the cake.
Note: This is generally used as “this takes the cake” or “that takes the cake,” as in the example.”
The Whole Enchilada
- Meaning: All of something.
- Example: No, I don’t want just the basic version of the software. I’ll take it all. Give me the whole enchilada.
Note: This expression is North American.
There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch
- Meaning: Nothing is given to you without some expectation of something in return.
- Example: There’s no such thing as a free lunch. You’ll have to turn over personal information, and it’ll cause you trouble later.
Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth
- Meaning: A project works best if there is input from a limited number of people
- Example: Let’s divide the project staff into small teams. Too many cooks spoil the broth.
Note: Too many cooks in the kitchen is another form. This is a proverb.
- Meaning: A very determined person
- Example: Our principal was a little lady, but she was one tough cookie!
Wake Up and Smell the Coffee
- Meaning: Stop deluding yourself
- Example: Emily, your boyfriend has been seen out with three different women just this week. You need to wake up and smell the coffee.
Walk on Eggshells
- Meaning: To have to act very sensitively in order to avoid offending someone
- Example: I’m always walking on eggshells when I meet with Tim. He has good ideas, but he gets angry so easily.
- Meaning: A place where alcoholic beverages are served, a bar
- Example: Watering holes in New York City range from simple taverns serving a shot and a beer to spectacular skyscraper bars with 360-degree views and elaborate craft cocktails.
You Can’t Make an Omelet (Omelette) Without Breaking Some Eggs
- Meaning: Achieving a major goal requires the ability to tolerate some problems
- Example: The staff is arguing over the workload, but we have to continue. You can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs.
- All Sizzle And No Steak
- All The Tea In China
- Apple of One's Eye
- Bad Egg
- Chew the Fat
- Cook Someone's Goose
- Couch Potato
- Cry over Spilt (USA: Spilled) Milk
- Cut the Mustard
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