Something like "good soup, but no meat"

update: not necessarily food related



junk food
Prepackaged snack food that is high in calories but low in nutritional value; also, anything attractive but negligible in value.
For example, Nell loves potato chips and other junk food, or When I'm sick in bed I often resort to TV soap operas and similar junk food.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


There are many idioms in this general vein.  One food-related one that seems close to the meaning you want is all sizzle and no steak:


    A thing or person which fails to measure up to its description or advanced promotion.
    Her latest novel is all sizzle and no steak.

Idioms by The Free Dictionary:

    Disappointing or anticlimactic.  Having an exciting, promising, important, or aggrandizing buildup that proves to be unwarranted.

    • Everyone is in a panic over the supposed water shortages, but personally I think the whole thing is all sizzle and no steak.
    • The film had a lot of hype before its release, but after seeing it, I think it’s all sizzle and no steak.

Since you’ve expressed your question in terms of food in two different ways, I’m not sure what broader, generic meaning you really want.  Consider smoke and mirrors:


    Smoke and mirrors is an idiom for a deceptive, fraudulent or insubstantial explanation or description. …

Urban Dictionary:

  1. Something/Someone that deceives or distorts the truth.
  2. Something/Someone that distorts or blurs facts, figures, etc., like a magic or conjuring work; artful deception; tricky inventiveness.

Idioms by The Free Dictionary:

    deception and confusion.  (Said of statements or more complicated rhetoric used to mislead people rather than inform.  Alludes to the way a magician uses optical illusion to create believability while performing a trick.  Fixed order.)

    • Most people know that the politician was just using smoke and mirrors to make things look better than they really were.
    • Her report was little more than smoke and mirrors.  No one will believe any of it.

  • Talking of smoke, I've seen all smoke, no fire being used somewhat in this sense too though I am not able to find any online dictionary definitions/references. – alwayslearning Jul 17 '17 at 3:36

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