Dinner Dilemma: Does “Dinnertime” Mean Supper or Lunch?

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Only a sudden oven breakdown could be more haunting for a hostess than an inaccurate perception of dinnertime. Friends arrive six hours late to eat overbaked lasagna, or six hours early to greet the cook scrubbing the toilet. Is dinner served at noon or night? I say “not at all” at our house, where lunch and supper supersede to avoid the confusion of when dinner shall be served.

Some Internet bloggers call dinner’s conflicting time a lingering issue between Yankees and Southerners. My experience finds the divide rather lighthearted and a simple example how Illinoisans from north to south and across the middle can speak different dinner languages. Dinner seems largely a difference for rural and urban dwellers and what time of day you tend to eat a hearty meal of roast beef with mashed potatoes.

Fewer yet say dinner requires Grandma’s fine china and a candle. Losing clout in their argument are those evening dinner-eaters who flip-flop to eat dinner at noon on Sundays.

By the end of the day, dinner’s definition reflects personal lifestyle.

Like most farm families, I grew up eating dinner at noon. Before retirement, Granny rang the dinner bell only at noon to summon the men from their farm chores for meatloaf. My other grandma leaned out the back door before 1 p.m. and hollered “Dinner’s ready!” toward the barnyard and hoped the neighbors didn’t show up for ham and potatoes. My dad, brother and the farm employee know to head houseward for pork chops when my brother receives a text-message jingle for the midday market report.

For my husband, heavier meals had always been in the evening throughout his life. So my then-fiancé later confessed his astonishment when my mom placed a baked, turkey-sized chicken on the farmhouse table at a noon meal. I explained how the leftover chicken makes a delicious second meal in soups and casseroles. He remained bewildered and repeated “whole” with wide eyes and a head nod, as if she had placed a whole pig there. It is dinner, after all. Expect a tossed salad for supper.

Our church follows my guidelines to avoid dinner-speak altogether as they serve their annual Steak Supper and Turkey Supper, and renamed the Come-As-You-Are Dinner to Luncheon. No one seems to debate the general timing of lunch and supper.

Meanwhile, my life has adjusted to a light lunch and larger supper, as our primary income is off the farm and our meal together as a family is served around 6 p.m. But on hungry middays, I crave Grandma’s meatloaf, home-canned green beans and the stomach-topping apple crisp with a scoop of ice cream.

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