Idioms add color and texture to plain language by conjuring up images that go beyond the literal meaning of the words. They are beautiful and fun.
But, for newcomers in America, idioms add another layer of confusion to what Americans actually mean, both in conversations and written text.
The ever-so-famous American love for food spills into their language as well. There are so many food-related idioms and phrases used in American English that it gets tough to wrap your head around them.
But you don’t have to be baffled anymore. Here are all the popular American food phrases that confuse foreigners, explained!
- PIECE OF CAKE – something that is easy.
After you are done learning from this list, talking to Americans and understanding what they mean will become a piece of cake.
- BITE THE BULLET – something negative that is inevitable or bound to happen.
Even if you hate paying for the high cost of healthcare in America, you’ll have to bite the bullet if you fall ill.
To avoid having to bite the bullet in case of medical emergencies, get new immigrant medical insurance. Finding the right insurance plan is now simple, because you can use Insubuy to find, compare and select the most comprehensive plans.
- BITE THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU – criticize or talk ill about someone who is helping you (usually in terms of monetary benefits)
Your roommate pays all the bills for you, so be careful about biting the hand that feeds you and complaining about his messy room.
- EASY AS PIE – something extremely easy.
With this guide by your side, understanding Americans will become easy as pie.
- BITE TO EAT – getting something to eat.
Some food idioms in American English do refer to food only. So, when your friends ask you if you would like to grab a bite to eat, know that you’d be going out to get a meal, and not just one bite.
- EAT YOUR WORDS – Accepting that you were wrong in what you said.
When you just arrive in America, you may feel Americans are crazy, but soon enough you’ll be eating your words. That’s probably because this guide helped you get along well with your new friends.
- EAT YOUR HEART OUT – to be jealous/envious of someone/something.
Seeing an underserving candidate get promoted just because they laugh at the bosses’ jokes would sure make you eat your heart out
- HAVE YOUR PLATE FULL – be extremely busy
While settling in a new place, you have your plate so full that you hardly get time to eat.
(That’s what we call irony now, isn’t it?)
- CRYING OVER SPILLED MILK – being upset over something that cannot be fixed.
The idiom comes from an older phrase ‘no weeping over shed milk.’
It is no use crying over spilled milk after having to empty your wallet on medical bills. You should have gotten insured beforehand.
- THAT’S THE WAY COOKIE CRUMBLES – used to denote that someone has accepted their fate.
You might not be a fan of your boss, but if you need to keep the job to pay the bills. That’s the way cookie crumbles.
- SPILL THE BEANS – let out a secret, or divulge the details.
This guide spills the beans about what American food-related idioms mean. You’re welcome!
- COLD TURKEY – quit something abruptly (usually an addiction)
He went cold turkey on his gambling habit, and since then, things have started to get better for him.
- TWO PEAS IN A POD – things or people who are very similar
Hannah and Jenny are like two peas in a pod. They are taking the same classes, have the same hobbies, and even dress alike.
- GO BANANAS – become hyper, wild, or crazy
My dog goes bananas when he sees a bone. (Crazy)
You don’t have to go bananas over such a small issue. (Hyper)
The bridesmaids went bananas at Sylvia’s bachelorette. (Wild)
- APPLE OF (SOMEONE’S) EYES – someone who is cherished more than others.
Melissa is the apple of her husband’s eye. He would do anything for her.
- FULL OF BEANS – be hyper or have a lot of energy.
Babysitting isn’t an easy job. Kids these days are full of beans and can get tough to handle.
- BUTTER SOMEONE UP – flattering someone with praises to get something in return.
Ross is a very smart man. You cannot just butter him up to get him to buy you things.
- HAVE YOUR CAKE AND EAT IT TOO – want both the things.
Doing a full-time job and managing a full-credit course together isn’t possible. You cannot have your cake and eat it too.
- CREAM OF THE CROP – refers to people who are the best of the best.
Not everyone can get admission at Harvard. They take only the cream of the crop.
- EAT YOU OUT OF HOUSE AND HOME – eat too much of someone else’s food.
Usually used as an exaggeration of someone eating a lot.
John’s growing children will probably eat him out of house and home one day.
- HAVE/PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET – putting too much faith in one thing.
You should always apply to multiple colleges for admission. It is foolhardy to put all your eggs in one basket.
- BUY A LEMON – a car that needs a lot of repairs or doesn’t function well.
Within a week of bringing her car home, Mia realized she had bought a lemon.
- GO NUTS – go crazy or insane.
If you don’t get insurance in America, you have probably gone nuts.
- BE PAID PEANUTS – work too hard in return for a low wage.
In many countries, interns are paid peanuts. They clock 12-hour shifts and still are barely able to afford a place to live.
- BE/LAND IN A PICKLE – be in a difficult situation.
The lead vocalist left the organizers in a pickle when he backed out at the last moment. But now the organizers have filed a lawsuit against him for violating the terms of the contract and he has landed in a pickle.
- TAKE (SOMETHING) WITH A GRAIN/PINCH OF SALT – to be skeptical of an unverified claim or answer.
I’m not really sure if Robert is telling the truth. Everything he says should be taken with a grain of salt.
- DROP LIKE A SACK OF POTATOES – fall quickly and hit the ground hard.
Don’t keep your gaze fixed on the phone when you are walking down a flight of stairs. You risk dropping like a sack of potatoes.
- THE PROOF IS IN THE PUDDING – something/someone is useful/successful because it has been tried before.
The phrase comes into the American food idioms list from the British saying “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” which means you’d only know about something when you actually do it.
Sarah has closed every deal that she lay her hands on, and she’ll do it again this time. The proof is in the pudding.
- BIG CHEESE – an influential, powerful, or very important person
It is quite evident that he is the big cheese in town. Even the mayor listens to him.
- BITE THE DUST – be ruined or destroyed beyond repair. It is also used slang for ‘to die.’
He slammed his hand into the wall so hard his watch just bit the dust.
The student council turned down our fundraiser proposal, again. Another idea bites the dust.
- BITTER/HARD PILL TO SWALLOW – an unpleasant or difficult reality to face.
Living in America is going to be expensive. That’s a hard pill to swallow for most newcomers.
- BITE OFF MORE THAN YOU CAN CHEW – take up more responsibilities/work than you can finish.
By agreeing to work on two projects at the same time, Susan bit off more than she can chew.
- BRING HOME THE BACON – bring in money to support the household.
Mike is a full-time stay-at-home dad. His wife, Rachel, is the one who brings home the bacon.
- BREADWINNER – the one who financially provides for a family.
David always controlled every purchase in the family. He was the breadwinner, after all.
- GET CHEWED OUT – be scolded harshly.
Peggy didn’t expect to get chewed out like that by her parents when she came home three hours late.
- CHEW (SOMETHING) OVER – think carefully or slowly about something.
Don’t make hasty decisions when it comes to getting an insurance plan for your whole family. Chew over the options, and then make a call.
- COOK (SOMEONE’S) GOOSE – ruin someone’s plan, usually leading to a punishment for the person.
Bella knew Alice would tell their parents she came home drunk last night. Her goose was cooked.
- COOK UP – to plan or invent something; scheming, but not necessarily negative.
We are planning a surprise party for Joshua in the hall. We’ll have to cook up some excuses to keep him away while we are prepping.
- CUT THE MUSTARD – (people) who meet the standard
Many people try out for the basketball team, but only those who cut the mustard get picked.
- DUTCH TREAT – an arrangement when everyone pays their share of food bill; splitting the bill.
Mary ordered a full-course meal, while Larry just got a salad. It was only fair that they went Dutch treat.
- EAT OUT OF (SOMEONE’S) HAND – be submissive. (usually used to connote an unhealthy submission)
Joey has Jamie eating out of his hand. It shows how toxic he is as a partner.
- HAVE EGG ON YOUR FACE – be or look embarrassed.
When Harry saw the video of him dancing at the party last night, he had an egg on his face.
- EAT CROW/EAT HUMBLE PIE – become humble upon having been proved wrong.
Jill told everyone that she had gotten all of the answers right. But she had to eat crow after the results came.
Amy refused to believe what Terry told her. But later she had to eat humble pie.
- EAT ONE’S HAT – to have to do something unpleasant if proven wrong.
Charles said he’d eat his hat if his answer turned out to be wrong.
- FISHY – something that looks/sounds suspicious.
She says she has no money, but always dines at fancy places. Something is definitely fishy.
- FOOD FOR THOUGHT – something to think about
The philanthropist’s speech had a lot of food for thought for all the stakeholders of the society.
- FORBIDDEN FRUIT – something that you cannot have, which makes it all the more tempting.
The phrase is taken from the Biblical story of Adam and Eve. When God told them not to eat the fruit from the Garden of Eden, they were tempted to have the fruit because it was forbidden.
Telling Ariana to not buy that car just made it a forbidden fruit.
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- GIVE (SOMEONE) A TASTE OF (THEIR) OWN MEDICINE – to inflict the same harm or unpleasantness on someone that they have inflicted on you
Penny gave Leonard a taste of his own medicine by not doing any household chores, just as he never does them.
- HALF-BAKED – to say or do something without thinking or planning. A plan that is not fully realized.
Don’t go about giving out half-baked ideas in the meeting.
- GOOD EGG – someone who is good, but slightly peculiar.
Sure, Charley has a weird obsession with fancy hats, but he is a good egg.
- GRAVY TRAIN – something that is effortless (usually refers to a time/job); a luxurious life.
Joe is just riding on the gravy train. His parents’ investments are paying for all his whims and wishes.
- IN A NUTSHELL – say something concisely or in very few words.
We didn’t want to waste your time by telling you what phrase originated from where, and who used an idiom first. So, we have the meaning and usage presented to you in a nutshell.
- NOT KNOW BEANS ABOUT SOMETHING – speak about something with little authority; know very little about something.
Don’t take Dave’s advice on legal matters. He doesn’t know beans about the law.
- LAND IN HOT SOUP – land in a lot of trouble.
Cheryl was speeding down the highway and when she got caught, she knew she had landed in legal hot soup.
- NOT SOMEONE’S CUP OF TEA – something that doesn’t suit someone; something that is not someone’s preference.
I can spend the entire day at a museum all by myself, but don’t ask me to indulge in small talk at a party. That’s simply not my cup of tea.
- NOT WORTH A HILL OF BEANS – something worthless
Jana keeps making promises that she never keeps. Her words are not worth a hill of beans.
- PUT SOMETHING ON THE BACK BURNER – to delay or postpone action; reduce the effort on something.
TO MOVE THINGS TO THE FRONT BURNER means the opposite, i.e., to give something a high priority.
Jessica wasn’t as vested in the Chicago project, so she promptly put it on the back burner.
The NY project was moved to the front burner in its place.
- OUT OF THE FRYING PAN AND INTO THE FIRE – land from a bad to a worse situation.
Katie and John’s relationship wasn’t going well already, but then they jumped out of the frying pan into the fire by deciding to have a baby together.
- OUT TO LUNCH – absent-minded, confused, or crazy (harmlessly)
I don’t know what Jane was thinking when she erased her entire hard drive. She really is out to lunch.
- PIE IN THE SKY – something unrealistic or unachievable.
The fancy ads and banners for those wrinkle remover creams are just pie in the sky. You should know better than to believe them.
- SALT (SOMETHING) AWAY – save, store, or hoard something of high value.
Ann makes a lot of money, but doesn’t spend it at all. I’m sure she is salting it away for her future.
- SELL LIKE HOTCAKES – sell quickly
Sharon’s handmade sweaters are quite popular in the area. They sell like hotcakes.
- SOUR GRAPES – criticizing something/someone out of jealousy
After Richard didn’t get into college, he said he thought college was a waste of time anyway. Sounded like a case of sour grapes to me.
- SOW (ONE’S) WILD OATS – do something wild or foolish (usually in youth)
Mrs. Robinson had spent time traveling across the country and sowing her wild oats before she got married and became a mother.
- SQUARE MEAL – a full, balanced meal
In order to keep a healthy diet, it is recommended to eat three square meals a day.
- STEW IN (ONE’S) OWN JUICES – suffer due to the consequences of one’s own action.
Nancy never saved in her youth, and now when she is older and ailing, she has no money even for her medicines. She really is stewing in her own juices.
- TAKE THE CAKE – to win a prize or exceed normal behavior.
I always knew Emily made hasty decisions, but getting married to a guy she just met really takes the cake.
- TALK TURKEY – to have a serious talk (usually about a business deal)
Both the parties sat down to talk turkey about the merger.
- UPSET THE APPLE CART – disturb the status quo; disturb the existing situation.
The new boss upset the apple cart when he laid down new rules for his employees.
- TOUGH NUT TO CRACK – someone or something that is difficult to understand.
Cooper did not often change his facial expressions, and was a bad listener. He was a tough nut to crack. With that, it is a wrap on our menu of meal idioms. Armed with the knowledge of American food slang and trendy food phrases, you can now hold great conversations with your American pals.
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