The obvious answer is "a meal which is hot", but when I see this phrase it often seems as if there is a deeper meaning present, as if there is some major distinction between hot meals and other meals (cold meals? lukewarm meals?).

E.g. (from the Wikipedia article "Lunch"):

In Finland, lunch is a full hot meal, ...

In Romania, lunch (prânz in Romanian) is the main hot meal of the day.

These usages seem to use "hot meal" as carrying a substantial quality, that the temperature of the food involved is somehow associated with its quantity or ability to satiate hunger. Is there some such association?

What does "hot meal" mean?

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    1. The meaning, technically, is just literal: "a meal that is hot" as you correctly noted. 2. Hot meal does possess certain very significant qualities because it is prepared and served hot before it cools. So, yes, there is a direct association. 3. From 1 & 2, usage has given hot meal an idiomatic meaning of such a meal, eaten once or twice a day, in contrast to the other kinds of food. – Kris Apr 26 '15 at 14:54
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    @Kris: How do you explain the word "full" in "full hot meal"? There is something in addition to its temperature that defines "hot meal". Do you consider a grilled-cheese sandwich a "hot meal"? It can be so hot that it burns your mouth... How about a piece of pizza at a pizzeria serving customers at a sidewalk window? It's "served hot before it cools". – TRomano Apr 26 '15 at 15:42
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    Generally, folks in the US would regard a hamburger in a wrapper or a slice of pizza on a paper plate to be a sort of "meh" hot meal. Yes, technically hot, but not what they meant, and apt to arouse irritation if they had been promised a "hot meal". – Hot Licks Apr 26 '15 at 18:37
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    I don't know why this is being closevoted - the only onelook.com match is from the very unreliable Urban Dictionary. – Andrew Grimm Apr 27 '15 at 0:25

A hot meal is one that is prepared and cooked, as distinct from a sandwich, say, or some cheese with a piece of fruit.

In some countries, it has been the custom to set aside a couple of hours in the middle of the day for the mid-day meal, which allows the mid-day meal to be a full meal rather than something quickly prepared, requiring no cooking, that could be fit into a relatively brief "lunch hour".

P.S. For attestation that "hot meal" has the long-established meaning I've said it has and is not a mere "slang" term as @Kris alleges (see comment below, if @Kris has not already eaten it) see Meals in Science and Practice: Interdisciplinary Research and Business ... (H L Meiselman, ed.)

See also Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia ( Ken Albala, ed).

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    also note that in most of these countries and several others a 'hot meal' is perceived as inherently superior to a cold one. – Please stop being evil Apr 26 '15 at 17:36
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    Yes, the important thing about a "hot meal" is that it is not prepared ahead of time, unlike a "brown-bag", "sack lunch", "picnic", or "lunch box". – Jacob Krall Apr 26 '15 at 18:58

In the term "hot meal", the part "hot" does not refer to temperature per se, but to the fact that the meal is prepared immediately prior to being served (usually involving cooking, but many other preparation techniques can be involved). If you left your packed lunch in a car parked in the sun, it might be hot by the time you get to eat it, but it still wouldn't be considered a hot meal. The quantitative aspect is covered by the "meal" part, as a meal is supposed to satiate for many hours; a quick bite that is cooked/fried might be called a hot snack instead.

As with many notions, the limits of what would be considered a "hot meal" are not sharp; I'm not sure whether accompanying sandwiches by a bowl of (hot) soup would turn lunch into a proper hot meal, though it is not completely cold either.

  • I agree with the basis. Just because a meal is hot doesn't qualify it for the "hot meal" moniker, depending on why it is hot. However, I would also say that all foods that do qualify as a "hot meal" are hot. I can't think of anything that would be served cold that is considered "a hot meal". – Doc Apr 27 '15 at 6:10

In the US, a "hot meal" infers more than temperature - a hamburger and french-fries, though hot, would probably not be what the person who suggests it, (or whom it was suggested to) had in mind. While a school cafeteria that guarantees a "hot lunch" might serve a 'burger and fries', the term "hot meal" conjures images of (some form of) meat, a complement of vegetation, and the involvement of cutlery.

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    I am vegetarian and I assure you I eat hot meals every day. There is no assumption of meatiness in a hot meal. – Alessandro Macilenti Apr 26 '15 at 20:27
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    @Alessandro Macilenti & Chan-Ho Suh - I was speaking of the "Average American". We are still, in general, a "meat and potatoes" culture. Try serving a vegetarian meal (to folks who are not of the 'vegetarian persuasion') on Thanksgiving, and see what happens. Or, try it at your wedding reception. The expression "A hot meal," carries with it a certain expectation to the majority of folks. I'm sorry if you feel left out - but that's the way it is. – Oldbag Apr 26 '15 at 22:05
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    "(some form of) meat, a complement of vegetation, and the involvement of cutlery." Is raw, cold sushi also a hot meal, then? I would argue that the expectation of meat is not at all linked to the term "hot meal" but rather any "meal" at all. I must agree with @AlessandroMacilenti that there certainly are non-meaty "hot meal" main course items, e.g. a piping hot 3.5"-tall vegetarian lasagna platter. – JustAskin Apr 27 '15 at 0:29
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    @Oldbag I would disagree with your assessment. Yes, people would be disappointed (if not angry) at being served a vegetarian meal for Thanksgiving, but not because of the lack of a "hot meal", but rather because of the lack of the very traditional Turkey, Dressing, Gravy, Cranberry Sauce, etc. The same can be said of a wedding reception (where you are typically served steak, fish, or some vegetarian option, with the choice of which left to the diner when replying to the RSVP). Those meals are traditional, it has nothing to do with 'hot meal' but rather 'traditional meal' – Doc Apr 27 '15 at 6:07
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    @Oldbag everyone here understands your points. What we disagree with is that there is such a precise mental image formed as you assert. (Not a vegetarian, incidentally. ) – Chan-Ho Suh May 3 '15 at 19:29

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