A meal is an instance of eating, specifically one that takes place at a specific time and includes specific, prepared food.
Meals occur primarily at homes, restaurants, and cafeterias, but may occur anywhere. Regular meals occur on a daily basis, typically several times a day. Special meals are usually held in conjunction with such occasions as birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, and holidays.
A meal is different from a snack in that meals are larger, more varied, and more filling, while snacks are more likely to be small, high-calorie affairs; however, any food eaten in small amounts at an unscheduled time can be classified as a snack.
A picnic is an outdoor meal where one brings one's food, such as a sandwich or a prepared meal (sometimes in a picnic basket). It often takes place in a natural or recreative area, such as a park, forest, beach, or grassy lawn. On long drives a picnic may take place at a road-side stop such as a rest area.
A banquet is a large, often formal, and elaborate meal with many guests and dishes.
A multi-course meal
Most Western-world multicourse meals follow a standard sequence, influenced by traditional French haute cuisine. Each course is supposed to be designed with a particular size and genre that befits its place in the sequence. There are variations depending on location and custom. The following is a common sequence for multi-course meals:
Sorbet or other palate cleansers might be served between courses.
Before the meal, a host might serve a selection of appetizers or hors d'œuvre with appropriate wine or cocktails, and after the meal, a host might serve snacks, sweets such as chocolate, coffee, and after-dinner drinks (cognac, brandy, liqueur, or similar). These are not considered courses in and of themselves.
A meal may also begin with an amuse-bouche. An amuse-bouche, also called an amuse-gueule, is a tiny bite-sized morsel served before the hors d'œuvre or first course of a meal. These, often accompanied by a proper complementing wine, are served as an excitement of taste buds to both prepare the guest for the meal and to offer a glimpse into the chef's approach to cooking.
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