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Meals in the Bible

Margaret Minnicks is a health-conscious person who researches the health benefits of foods and drinks.


Foods and eating habits were different during biblical times than they are today. People in the Bible did not eat the same foods that we eat. They did plant and grow some of the same vegetables that we produce. They were forbidden to eat the same meats that we also consume. Besides all that, they did not have the appliances and utensils and means to prepare the foods as easily as we can do cook and serve today. Foods were served in a common bowl and eaten with the hands (Proverbs 26:15) or bread was dipped in the dish (John 13:26).

We are accustomed to eating three square meals every day. In the Bible, people ate just two regular meals a day. Breakfast was a light meal eaten in the morning between 9 a.m. and noon. It consisted of fruits, bread, and cheese. Supper was a heavier meal in the evening when the air was cooler. It was the major meal of the day. Meat, vegetables, butter, and wine were consumed during that meal.

Washing one's hands was a ritual done at the table before eating (Mark 7:3). Water was passed around and people washed their hands. A short prayer or blessing was offered before people began to eat. Earlier Jews did not gather around a table. Instead, they sat on mats on the floor to eat. Later, they began using tables with couches on which they reclined (John 21:20). People leaned on the table with their left arm and ate with their right hand.

Biblical Meals

The diet of the Israelites consisted of staples such as legumes, vegetables, fruits, fish, dairy products, bread, olive oil, and wine. Vegetables were eaten often because plenty of them was always available. Meats were reserved mostly for special occasions. For instance, meats were served to strangers and honored guests. When the prodigal son returned home, his father honored him by killing the fatted calf (Luke 15:11-32).

Like vegetables, grains were an important part of the diet. Grains included barley, corn, millet, wheat, and rye.


Bread was a staple of the Jewish diet and could be eaten by itself or with something to enhance its flavor, such as salt, vinegar, broth, or honey.

Fish was also an important part of the meal. Fruits were favorites among the Hebrews. They grew in abundance in the warm climate. There were grapes, raisins, figs, pomegranates, melons, apples, and olives. Nuts included almonds and pistachios.

Grilled fish

Grilled fish

Everyday Meals

In his book, The Satisfied, Warren W. Wiersbe says, "The average Jewish family began the day with an early snack and then had a light meal between 10 a.m. and noon. They didn't eat together again until the evening meal after sunset. When their work was done, they gathered for the main meal of the day.

Bread and wine were almost always included. Milk, cheese, vegetables, and fruits were also consumed. Meat was expensive and was reserved for special occasions and not eaten during everyday meals. However, fish was often eaten regularly. Many of Jesus' disciples were fishermen before they were called to follow Him.


According to scriptures in the Old and New Testaments, Jewish people enjoyed celebrations. Having a feast was a good way to entertain and be among family members and friends. Eating was the main part of those celebrations along with music, singing, and dancing.

The type of celebration depended on the wealth of the host. That's why there was such a concern when the host ran out of wine during the wedding at Cana where Jesus performed His first miracle by changing water to wine (John 2:1-11).

Several feasts in the Bible included the following ones:

  • the Sabbath
  • the feast of new moons
  • the sabbatical year
  • the year of Jubilee
  • Passover
  • Pentecost
  • Feast of Tabernacles
  • the Feasts of Purim

Feasts were held for marriages (John 2:1-11), birthdays (Genesis 40:20), burials (Jeremiah 16:7-8), sheep shearings (1 Samuel 25:2, 36), and on many other occasions.

Guest Meals

In the Old Testament, hospitality was a law. It was a duty (Leviticus 19:33-34) for strangers to be treated to a special meal. The guest meal was a festive occasion and sacrificial. That meant killing an animal so its meat could be consumed as the main part of the meal. Bread cakes were the second most significant food served to guests.

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