When you’re visiting Germany for the first time or when your German in-laws come to visit, you may wonder: what do they typically eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner? When do they eat and how is it prepared? On this page, you will find the answers. Click the links to get in-depth, category-specific information or recipes and shop appropriate products online.
The German proverb: Iss dein Frühstück wie ein Kaiser, Mittagessen wie ein König und Abendessen wie ein Bettler (eat your breakfast like an emperor, lunch like a king and dine like a pauper) says it all. Breakfast is one the most important meal in German households. Start off with a warm beverage such as coffee, tea or hot cocoa. Next follow slices of fresh, crusty or toasted bread (Brot) or bread rolls (Brötchen) with various spreads and toppings. These include Butter (butter) or Margarine (margarine), Marmelade (jams/preserves), Honig (honey), or chocolate/hazelnut spread (aka Nutella). Some prefer Quark mit Schnittlauch (a type of curd cheese with chives), Wurst (sausage) and Käse (cheese) on top of the bread. Some spread raspberry jam over a slice of Emmentaler on bread and butter. A glass of juice (Saft) is also commonplace, as is a boiled egg (Ei). Cereals are also popular, particularly among the German youth. For example oat flakes or Müsli, which is usually a mixture of whole-grain oat flakes, nuts, and dried fruits. Mixed with Joghurt (yogurt), kefir or Milch (milk), Muesli is often topped with fresh fruit (Obst)! Müsli is not only delicious, but it is healthy too, making it a good alternative to sugary cereals.
With today’s busy lifestyles there is a growing trend towards eating breakfast on a run. In Germany, you can find a bakery (Bäckerei) on nearly every street corner, in train or metro stations. Here you can buy Brötchen oder Brez’n mit Aufschnitt (bread rolls or soft pretzels with cold cuts) to be consumed while walking. However, on Saturday and Sunday, most families still enjoy a traditional breakfast or brunch with family and friends serving fresh bread and eggs. The most standard types are weich – oder hartgekochtes Ei (soft or hard-boiled egg), Spiegelei (fried egg) or Rührei (scrambled egg).
Grosse Pause/ Zweites Frühstück / Pausenbrot
Germans have plenty of words to describe a meal that is eaten between main meals! Far from being unhealthy, eating small in-between meals is actually encouraged to prevent overeating at lunch and dinner. Eating a snack between breakfast and lunch is very traditional in German schools. This tradition is called Pausenbrot (recess sandwich) or Zweites Frühstück (second breakfast). A little known fact for Americans is that German schoolchildren generally do not have meal plans at school. So, the Pausenbrot is meant to make sure students have the energy and ability to concentrate for the entire morning and practice their manners. Although the word Pausenbrot indicates that it’s a sandwich snack, it doesn’t necessarily have to contain bread. Pausenbrot may be a small sandwich, but fruits, yogurt or a müsli bar are also popular.
Adults also need to keep their energy levels up during the day! For them, the Zwischenmahlzeit (in-between meal), also referred to as Brotzeit, Vesper or Zweites Frühstück may include sandwiches, energy bars, fruits or yogurt. In Bavaria, adults may drink a light wheat beer and consume a Weisswurst before lunch. After all, snacks aren’t just for children! The English word “snack” is now part of the German vocabulary, as is Imbiss, which refers to a meal truck that serves french fries and sausages). The Zwischenmahlzeit is meant to be eaten in addition to the main meal to fill one up during work hours.
Traditionally, German families eat their hot main meal during the day, between 12 and 2 p.m. Decades ago, it was still common that some office workers went home, had lunch and returned to work. However, many families now eat their hot meal in the evening. A typical lunch plate might consist of Kartoffelsalat mit Würstchen or Frikadellen. This is potato salad with sausage or meat balls for the first part. Next is Spätzle mit Geschnetzeltem (Spätzle noodles with stir-fried pork strips), Schnitzel mit Buttergemüse (Schnitzel with buttered vegetables) or Fischstäbchen mit Kartoffelpüree (Fish sticks with mashed potato). Meat is served most days, particularly pork and chicken. Vegetables are also a standard part of any Mittagessen despite common misconceptions! Typical vegetables served at lunchtime are grüne Bohnen (green beans), and Möhren (carrots). Additionally, Erbsen (peas) and Kohl (cabbage) are fan favorites. Potatoes are also a staple and come in the form of Salzkartoffel (boiled), Knödel (dumplings), Bratkartoffel (fried potatoes), Krokette (croquettes), Kartoffelpüree (mashed potatoes) and, of course, Pommes Frites (french fries)! Naturally, as popular as potatoes are, rice and noodles are also often eaten as side dishes!
Dinner or Evening Meal (Abendbrot)
It is still common for many households to have Abendbrot for dinner, at least one day in the week. Literally translated it means “evening bread” and is a light cold meal with breads and cold cuts, usually eaten between 6 and 7 pm. This is because German families tend to eat their main meal during lunch. A typical Abendessen consists of a selection of whole-grain bread, cheeses, deli meats and sausages, and mustards and pickles (gherkins are very popular). The evening meal is accompanied by a salad and/or soup, depending on the season. A glass of sparkling mineral water (Mineralwasser) or a glass of juice (Saft) is usually the beverage of choice for young people. For adults, a pint of beer or a glass of wine with this meal is typical.
Coffee and Cake (Kaffee und Kuchen)
Kaffee und Kuchen means “Coffee and Cake” and it’s very similar to the British tradition of “Teatime”. It’s a custom that brings families together to enjoy a little together and “Gemütlichkeit” (coziness). Families and friends gather together in the mid-to-late afternoon to drink coffee and enjoy a slice or two of often homemade cake. Typical cakes you might find at such a gathering include Black Forest cake (Schwarzwälderkirschtorte) and bee sting cake (Bienenstich). Other favorites are cheesecake with Quark (Käsekuchen) and fruit tarts like plum or apple tarts (Zwetschenkuchen or Apfelkuchen). When people don’t have time to bake at home, they often purchase pastries from the corner Bäckerei (bakery). These purchased goods could include Mohnstückchen, a poppy seed pastry or Apfeltasche, an apple-filled pastry pocket! The cakes and pastries are, of course, almost always accompanied by a steaming hot cup of rich German coffee. This dark coffee is typically served with cream or condensed milk. However, tea has become more popular over the past decade, particularly in Ostfriesland. Here, it has always been traditional, and a quarter of all the tea in Germany is consumed in Ostfriesland.
Just like American kids, German children also like to eat so-called fast food. And, just like in North America, this increase in consumption of fast food has led to increasing problems with obesity. According to a recent study, German children spend about 15 Euro (approximately $19) per week on fast food. About one-third of all male youths and one-sixth of all female youths eat fast food at least one a week. This is much less than American children, but it is becoming a serious problem all the same. The most typical fast food eaten in Germany is similar to that eaten in American. Namely, burgers, pizza and fries from well-known chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King and Pizza Hut. A more traditional choice is a Bratwurst served with a bread roll (Brötchen). Currywurst, a sliced sausage served with a curry-ketchup, and Pommes Frites (french fries), is always a great choice! This is then served either with mayonnaise, ketchup or even sometimes with both! This combination is called Pommes rot-weiss, referring to the red ketchup and the white mayonnaise. The sausages and fries can all be purchased from street stalls known as Würstchenbuden. One of the most common fast food meals has risen to such popularity that it outsells all US fast food chains in Germany combined. Döner Kebab was first introduced in Germany by Turkish immigrants, and now you can find Dönerbuden (kabob vendors) on virtually every street corner in large towns and cities! A Döner Kebab is made from thinly sliced meat (veal, lamb or poultry) cut from a rotating vertical roasting spit. The meat is served in a warm pita pocket or flatbread (Fladenbrot) with lettuce, onion, cucumber, tomatoes and a yogurt sauce (Joghurtsoße).