American Dinner Food Posted by on Jun 5, 2018 in Culture, food

We’ve already taken a look at what Americans eat for breakfast and lunch. Now it’s time to see what’s for dinner. In this post we’ll learn about some common American dinner food. First let’s learn about when and where Americans like to have dinner.

At Home or Out?

For many Americans, the biggest question around dinner time is whether to stay home or go out. During the week, it’s definitely more common to eat dinner at home. On the weekend or special occasions like birthdays or holidays, people like to go out for dinner. Sometimes you need to make a reservation for dinner if you’re going to a popular restaurant on the weekend or a holiday. Whether at home or in a restaurant, dinner is a social meal. It’s a good time for families to talk about their days with each other, or to catch up with friends.

What’s for Dinner?

When kids come home from school, one of the first questions they’ll ask their parents is “What’s for dinner?” People eat all sorts of different things for dinner in the US. Generally speaking, you usually have a main course and some side dishes for dinner. Some people have desert after dinner, but definitely not every day. Let’s take a look at some common dinner foods.

American Dinner Food

A typical dinner I have at home.

Main Courses

There are so many different choices for main courses that it’s impossible to list them all here. Typically, a main course will be a type of meat or fish. Here are a few examples of popular main course items:

  • baked/grilled/fried chicken

  • steak

  • pork chops

  • meatloaf

  • baked or grilled fish

  • pasta

  • tacos/fajitas

  • stew

  • vegetable stir-fry

As you can see, there are lots of choices for dinner. While pasta may be from Italy and tacos from Mexico, these are both very popular choices in the US as well. I probably eat pasta for dinner at least once a week. My favorite is penne pasta with vodka sauce and some parmesan cheese.

I love making pasta for dinner.

Now let’s see what Americans usually choose for side dishes.

Side Dishes

Veggies and rice for sides.

Typically there will be 1-2 side dishes with the main course for dinner. Once again, there are too many options to even count. Here are some of the most common:

  • baked/mashed potatoes

  • rice

  • macaroni and cheese

  • beans

  • corn on the cob

  • grilled vegetables

  • side salad

  • coleslaw

  • bread

A lot of people plan their meals to have a protein (meat or fish), a starch (potatoes or rice), and some vegetables. This is what you might call a balanced meal.

Drinks and Desert

There are plenty of choices for a beverage at dinner – water, juice, milk, soda, tea, a beer, a glass of wine, or maybe a cocktail of some sort. It’s very popular to go out for dinner and drinks with friends where you’ll have a drink or two and a leisurely dinner. As far as desert goes, many Americans definitely have a sweet tooth. Common desert foods include cake, ice cream, and brownies.

So, how exactly are Americans cooking this food?

Cooking Methods

I like to stir-fry vegetables and boil rice.

As far as cooking methods go, Americans use just about every one for dinner – baking, grilling, frying, steaming, and boiling. Most American kitchens have an oven and a stovetop, and many people even have a grill in the backyard that they use when the weather is nice. Many people also have a crock pot, which is also known as a slow cooker. These are great because you just get everything ready in the morning and then you’ve got a yummy dinner ready when you get home from work. I love using a crock pot to cook dinner as there are so many great options.

Eating Out

That’s just for one person!

Going out for dinner is a much different experience than cooking at home. Restaurants usually serve appetizers, which are small plates that are meant to be shared. Some common appetizers include:

  • mozzarella sticks

  • chicken wings

  • potato skins

  • nachos

  • chips and dip

Some common appetizers.

When going out to eat with family or friends, people often order a few appetizers for the table to start. That’s why they’re also called starters. Your waiter or waitress will typically ask you something like, “Can I start you folks off with any appetizers?”

Whereas many countries typically have family-style dining at restaurants, in America people usually make separate orders. Only appetizers are shared and each person will get their own main course and side items. Of course, there are some restaurants that offer family-style dining where everyone shares a variety of dishes. It’s just not as common as in other countries.

Many restaurants also have a desert menu, and your server will probably remind you of it. “Got any room for desert?” is a typical question heard from servers in American restaurants. I don’t know about you, but I’m usually too full from dinner to have desert!

When it comes to getting the bill, it really depends on the situation. A guy will typically pay for dinner if taking a girl out on a date, for example. Two friends or colleagues will probably split the bill or just ask for separate checks. When eating out, it’s expected that you’ll leave a 15-20% tip for your servers. American restaurant workers are paid a very low hourly wage and rely on their tips for their income. Keep this in mind when dining out in the United States.


That does it for our look into the three daily meals in the US. I hope you learned a bit about food culture in the United States from these posts, and I hope you’re not too hungry after reading them! I’d love to hear what a common dinner is like in your country. Leave a comment below and tell me all about it!

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About the Author: sasha

Sasha is an English teacher, writer, photographer, and videographer from the great state of Michigan. Upon graduating from Michigan State University, he moved to China and spent 5+ years living, working, studying, and traveling there. He also studied Indonesian Language & Culture in Bali for a year. He and his wife run the travel blog Grateful Gypsies, and they're currently trying the digital nomad lifestyle across Latin America.