A meal is an occasion for eating that takes place at a given time and involves cooked food. Depending on the culture of the speaker, the time of day, or the size of the meal, the names used for particular meals in English differ. Meals mostly take place in houses, pubs, and cafeterias, but they can happen everywhere. Daily meals, usually many times a day, happen on a regular basis. In accordance with such events as birthdays, marriages, anniversaries, and holidays, special meals are usually held. As meals are normally bigger, more varied, and more satisfying than snacks, a meal is different from a snack.
The type of meal served or consumed varies by tradition and place at any given time. Three primary meals are consumed in most western cultures: in the morning, early afternoon, and evening. Additionally, the names of meals are most frequently synonymous by tradition. Some serve dinner at midday as the main meal, with dinner as the late afternoon/early evening meal; while others will call lunch for their midday meal and dinner or dinner for their early evening meal. These names may vary from region to region or even from family to family, except for 'breakfast'.
Meals were usually communal affairs throughout history. People came together, exchanged meals, and maybe even spoke during the day. A rising majority of adults in developing nations consume most or all of their meals alone in the 21st century. Compared to people eating in groups, it is unknown if persons eating alone consume more, fewer, or the same quantity of food, partially because of variations in whether they eat alone at home or eat alone in restaurants. By welcoming reservations for solo diners and adding bar seating and large tables that solo diners can share with others, restaurants have reacted to the growing number of individuals dining alone.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, with the invention of the printing press, various books on how to handle households and prepare food were published. Competition was rising between the noble families in Holland and England as to who might plan the most extravagant banquet. Cookery had evolved as an art form by the 1660s and successful cooks were in demand. In rivalry with their competitors, all of them wrote their own books describing their recipes. Many of these books are available online and have been translated.
Thousands of cooking and recipe books were published by the middle of the 20th century. With the TV cooks' arrival, the next revolution arrived. Fanny Cradock, the first TV chef in England, has a show on the BBC. TV cookery shows also created a new generation with recipes. Recipes were accessible by post from the BBC in the early days; they became visible on television later with the advent of the CEEFAX text on tv.
Owing to the stagnation of the late 2000s, there has been a renewed emphasis on cooking at home in the early 21st century. Television networks such as the Food Network and magazines are also a big source of recipe content, with foreign cooks and chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson and Rachael Ray getting prime-time shows and supplying the specifics of all their recipes and Internet websites to back them up. These were joined by reality television shows such as Top Chef or Iron Chef, and several free recipes from internet pages.