Spanish Meal Times – Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner in Spain – Spanish Eating Habits

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Lunch and dinner in Spain are later than you think — how do Spanish eating habits and Spanish meal times compare to your home country? For us, having such a late dinner in Spain took quite a bit of adjustment. If you’re going to visit the country for a week or a year, you might want to prepare yourself for Spanish eating habits and the time of meals in Spain.

Lunch and dinner in Spain are later than you think — how do Spanish eating habits & Spanish meal times compare to your home? If you're going to visit the country for a week or a year, you might want to prepare yourself for Spanish eating habits and the time of meals in Spain. Enjoy our quick, broad-brush guide to the traditional Spanish meal schedule. Spanish culture | Spain Food | Spanish food | Spain travel tips | Spain travel guide | Spanish tapas | spanish dish | al fresco dining

Spanish Meal Times: Spanish Eating Habits

Understanding Spanish eating habits and the typical Spanish meal times are both important elements of enjoying your visit. For most of you, the time for lunch and dinner in Spain might be significantly different than how your own family operates. Below I try to explain meals in Spain and Spanish eating habits as best I can.

One of the biggest differences in Spanish eating habits for us was that Spanish people eat much later (and more often) than we were accustomed to. Restaurants might not be open when you might expect them to be. Lunch in Spain starts late. Dinner in Spain starts even later. For hungry kids and adults alike, this can seriously impact your enjoyment.

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5 Meals a Day: Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner in Spain (+2)

Spanish Meal Times - Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner in Spain - Spanish Eating Habits

It turns out that concepts like “three meals a day” and “breakfast is the most important meal” are not part of Spanish food culture. And from what I understand, the same is true for Spanish eating habits as a whole. To understand the Spanish dining culture, you must know these five Spanish mealtimes. Below is a quick, broad-brush description of the traditional Spanish eating schedule.

Spanish Eating Schedule — Meals in Spain

There are essentially four meals in Spain each day. Sometimes five, although these are not all “full meals” by some standards. The meals in Spain, in order, are as follows:

  • Desayuno
  • Almuerzo
  • Comida
  • Merienda
  • Cena

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Desayuno: Breakfast in Spain…Kind Of

Lunch and dinner in Spain are later than you think — how do Spanish eating habits & Spanish meal times compare to your home? If you're going to visit the country for a week or a year, you might want to prepare yourself for Spanish eating habits and the time of meals in Spain. Enjoy our quick, broad-brush guide to the traditional Spanish meal schedule. Spanish culture | Spain Food | Spanish food | Spain travel tips | Spain travel guide | Spanish tapas | spanish dish | al fresco dining

Desayuno is the first typical Spanish meal of the day. This is the Spanish breakfast equivalent, but there’s often not much to it. Breakfast food in Spain is usually just a pastry and a drink like coffee or milk. Out of all the Spanish mealtimes covered here, breakfast in Spain is often the smallest. Most kitchens in Spain have a small table for family members to sit for a quick bite before they head out to work or school. Our boy had to leave the house at 7:40 am to be on time for classes at his school in Valencia, so he ate something fast between stumbling out of bed and getting dressed for the day.

Almuerzo: Brunch in Spain (Not really)

Almuerzo comes a few hours after Desayuno. Perhaps this could be called Spanish brunch since it’s usually eaten between 10:30 and 11:30, but instead of poached eggs and a bloody mary, it’s often just more bread. Where we lived in Valencia, almuerzo often takes the form of a toasted baguette with ham and/or a tomato spread (tostada con tomate), most likely accompanied by cafe con leche (basically a latte) or cafe solo (espresso).

Most Spanish eating habits are slow and unrushed, and you’ll see that at lunch and dinner in Spain. However, almuerzo can take the form of a quick bite in a cafe. You’ll see many office workers using this time to smoke, chat and have a snack at street-side tables. You may even see some school kids on the street gnawing on a small sandwich, which many kids bring to school with them — including our kids.

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Comida: Lunch in Spain

how do Spanish eating habits & Spanish meal times compare to your home? If you're going to visit the country for a week or a year, you might want to prepare yourself for Spanish eating habits and the time of meals in Spain. Enjoy our quick, broad-brush guide to the traditional Spanish meal schedule. Spanish culture | Spain Food | Spanish food | Spain travel tips | Spain travel guide | Spanish tapas | spanish dish | al fresco dining

Comida is the third Spanish mealtime of the day. It’s essentially lunch but is usually served around 2 pm or even later. If you eat a sandwich at 11 am, you’re not going to be hungry for a few hours, right? Traditionally in Spanish food culture, comida (lunch in Spain) is also the biggest meal of the day, often involving multiple courses.

If you go to a restaurant, they usually have a choice of set course lunches, which make up their menu del dia (“menu of the day”). These usually consist of a first plate, drink, then an entree and possibly coffee and dessert. Valencia is the home of paella, the delicious rice dish that many people associate with all of Spain. So you can imagine what’s the most common main course here. Be warned that your coffee will almost never come until you finish your dessert. Even if you ask.

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Merienda: Snack Time in Spain

Spanish pastries. Lunch and dinner in Spain are later than you think — how do Spanish eating habits & Spanish meal times compare to your home? If you're going to visit the country for a week or a year, you might want to prepare yourself for Spanish eating habits and the time of meals in Spain. Enjoy our quick, broad-brush guide to the traditional Spanish meal schedule. Spanish culture | Spain Food | Spanish food | Spain travel tips | Spain travel guide | Spanish tapas | spanish dish | al fresco dining

The fourth Spanish meal of the day is merienda. I’ve heard it compared to what people in Commonwealth Nations might consider tea time. The way I saw it play out here in Valencia, however, is mainly as a snack for kids who are just getting out of school at around 5 pm. It’s usually more bread: a small sandwich, a pastry or some cookies. They need a snack at five, it seems. After all, dinner won’t be served for another four or five hours! Our kids were growing so fast that they usually devoured a few bananas and apples as soon as they get home. I’m sure that they wouldn’t complain if we fed them chocolate croissants.

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Siesta Culture in Spain

Does finishing school at 5 pm sound like a long day? Well, kids in Valencia have a two-to-three-hour break in the middle of the day so they can come home for comida (Spanish lunch), which is traditionally the family meal. Most schools and businesses close for several hours in the afternoon so that everyone can go home or to a restaurant and eat together.

Spanish siesta culture is different in each part of the country, but this was a huge part of Spanish eating habits in the entire country for centuries. In fact, most people take off a few hours for lunch. It’s also common for people to go to work, stay for an hour or two, then close up shop and head out for almuerzo for an hour. After living in 24/7 Tokyo for so long, this way of living was a bit of a shock, but we got used to it. It was all part of the Spanish culture shock that became part of our family story.

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Cena: Dinner in Spain

how do Spanish eating habits & Spanish meal times compare to your home? If you're going to visit the country for a week or a year, you might want to prepare yourself for Spanish eating habits and the time of meals in Spain. Enjoy our quick, broad-brush guide to the traditional Spanish meal schedule. Spanish culture | Spain Food | Spanish food | Spain travel tips | Spain travel guide | Spanish tapas | spanish dish | al fresco dining - Spanish Meal Times - Breakfast, Lunch & Dinner in Spain - Spanish Eating Habits

Finally, cena is the last meal of the day and comes at around 21:00 or later. Dinner in Spain is often light compared to lunch. In fact, dinner in Spain looks a lot like what I enjoy for breakfast: eggs, potatoes, and some kind of fried or grilled seafood (we are still a family from Tokyo after all). Of course, dinner in Spain can take many forms, with the shared, small-plate style of tapas being the most popular.

If you’re planning on dinner in Spain around 7 PM at a tapas place — or almost any Spanish restaurant for that matter — you’ll likely be eating alone. The place may not even be open yet. The same goes for trying to eat lunch in Spain at a traditional Spanish restaurant at noon. Sure, the tourist hotspots will be open earlier, but the food will be prepared (and priced) for tourists. Not for locals.

Dinner in Spain was too late for us. You may enjoy starting an appetizer at 10 or 11 pm, but as a parent of two, it was tough for us — especially because we all had to get up early! I don’t know how Spanish people do it, really. It’s different when you eat meals in Spain on vacation for a few weeks, but when it’s every day, it was a challenge.

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Spanish Eating Habits & Spanish Meal Times: Could You Adjust?

Lunch and dinner in Spain are later than you think — how do Spanish eating habits & Spanish meal times compare to your home? If you're going to visit the country for a week or a year, you might want to prepare yourself for Spanish eating habits and the time of meals in Spain. Enjoy our quick, broad-brush guide to the traditional Spanish meal schedule. Spanish culture | Spain Food | Spanish food | Spain travel tips | Spain travel guide | Spanish tapas | spanish dish | al fresco dining

What are your favorite meals in Spain? Would these Spanish eating habits be a plus or a minus for you? Could you eat such a late-night dinner in Spain on a regular basis? Have you been to Latin American cultures where the mealtimes were later than you were accustomed to? How did you adapt (or did you)?

Did you enjoy this post on Spanish eating habits and Spanish meal times? What did we miss? What info on eating in Spain did we miss? Or was it different where you visited? For example, to us in Valencia and Barcelona, breakfast food in Spain for bread and coffee. Was Spanish breakfast different for you elsewhere? 

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Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links. This means, at no extra cost to you, we might receive a small commission if you make a purchase or book a hotel in Spain using those links. My opinions are my own and I only recommend places/services that I believe will genuinely help your travel. We want you to make the most of your Spain travel time and enjoy the Spanish eating habits as best you can. Whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner in Spain, we hope you relish every bite!

Comments

  1. Thank you for such a useful post! I wish we had known all of this when we traveled to Spain a couple years ago. Oh well it was still a blast. Still interested in living there someday… now we’ll know how to properly eat!

    • Thanks for your kind words. Yes, it was a real culture shock for us. Especially how LATE people ate! We would be pushing the kids to bed, and their classmates would start texting them “Hey, I just finished dinner and about to start on the homework…”