Scott Hardie | April 17, 2023
I have long been confused by people who insist on a strict separation between breakfast food and all other food. Having lunch out once with co-workers, I ordered an omelette, and my appalled colleague looked at me like I had just committed a felony. "You can't have an omelette for lunch! That's breakfast food!" Hey, if the restaurant offers it, obviously I can. It's not like I put in some special off-menu request to the chef.

Anyway, this division is most baffling to me when it comes to potatoes. As far as I can tell, the following is very common American reasoning:

• French fries are a lunch or dinner food. They cannot be eaten with breakfast!

• Hash browns are a breakfast food. They cannot be eaten with lunch or dinner!

• Mashed potatoes are a dinner food that you can sometimes have with lunch. But they cannot be eaten with breakfast!

• Home fries are a breakfast food. They cannot be eaten with lunch or dinner!

• Au gratin potatoes are a dinner food. They cannot be eaten with breakfast or lunch!

• Tater tots are a lunch or dinner food that you can sometimes have with breakfast.

• Baked potatoes are a dinner food that you can sometimes have with (or for) lunch. But they cannot be eaten with breakfast!

• Potato salad is a lunch food that you can sometimes have with dinner. But it cannot be eaten with breakfast!

• Potato chips are a lunch food or a snack. They cannot be eaten with breakfast or dinner!

I don't get it. French fries are delicious and would pair well with some eggs and breakfast sausage. Hash browns would pair well with steak and green beans at dinner. And a baked potato for breakfast opens up all kinds of topping possibilities.

Whenever we consume something in a weird and arbitrary way like this, I often suspect that corporate manipulation is involved, like how the toy industry became segregated by gender in order to sell duplicate products. But I can't imagine that there's much profit to be earned by some secretive "Big Potato" conspiracy by tricking us into segregating our spuds. Wouldn't they want us to order potatoes the most profitable way all of the time?

So I still wonder: Why are we like this?

Steve West | April 17, 2023
What do you mean "we", paleface? I eat all of the types of spuds for any meal I choose. Yes, even potato salad for breakfast. I agree that French fries go well with breakfast and hash browns with dinner. I'm also fond of scalloped potatoes, potato pancakes or latkes, and pierogies with sour cream and onions (again, for any meal). Like you, I don't get it.

Erik Bates | April 17, 2023
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Samir Mehta | April 18, 2023
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Scott Hardie | April 25, 2023

I'm also fond of scalloped potatoes, potato pancakes or latkes, and pierogies with sour cream and onions (again, for any meal).
Thank you for helping me pick what's for dinner tonight! I considered adding latkes to my list, but a cursory search online indicated that they're already eaten for any meal, as they should be since they are delicious.

who's to say what any food goes with any meal?
Agreed completely! I do not understand these rules. I had spaghetti for breakfast today, and scrambled eggs with sausage and toast for dinner a few nights ago, and as far as I can tell, the world has not come to a screeching halt.

My mother had an unbreakable rule that you cannot eat the same meal twice in one day. I must have heard "but you already had that for lunch!" a thousand times while growing up. This reasoning extended to whole cuisines: If you ate Chinese for lunch, you could not also eat Chinese for dinner, even if it was an entirely different entree.

And I know people who are strict about only ordering what a restaurant specializes in. One went to an IHOP and teased their companion for ordering chicken Parmesan, because apparently a place that specializes in pancakes cannot possibly make non-pancake food well. Another went to a Mexican restaurant and teased their companion for ordering a cheeseburger, which I agree bypassed a lot of more interesting food in favor of something generic, but hey, it's what the guy wanted. Like I said at the start, if a dish is on the restaurant's menu, it's a valid choice.

cold leftover tots are amazing
I'm going to have to disagree with you there, but I wholeheartedly support you eating your gross, cold tots any time you want!

Given how relatively recent our conventions of breakfast, lunch, and dinner are, isn't this obviously a silly concept? ... Lunch as we know it is a follow-on from the industrial revolution.
Agreed. Even people who don't know the conceptual evolution of meals ought to find silly the idea that it's unacceptable to eat French fries before 11am.

In researching this topic, I found this history of breakfast, which doesn't get into potatoes but does explain the corporate manipulation behind several other dishes. I knew about cereal, but not about bacon. It doesn't surprise me in the least that bacon is closely associated with breakfast because some long-dead guy sought to sell more of his long-gone product and now, a century later, we're still stuck with the after-effects of his successful marketing campaign.

Also, I think this exploration of the psychology of breakfast approaches the answer by identifying hedonic and utilitarian goals when selecting food. We think of lunch and especially dinner as rewards that we have earned and thus we choose pleasurable food, while we think of breakfast as a necessity and thus choose conventionally appropriate food, so breakfast has a much narrower category of what's considered acceptable. That explains some potato dishes (chips are too fun to eat at breakfast) but not others (is there any less fun way to eat a potato than mashed?).

The future is coming soon - it is all food at all times, just like streaming content. ... I think people will normalize so many behaviors we won't recognize the three-meal system as a default anymore in 10-20 years.
Interesting! You might just be on to something. The Internet has so accelerated some trends that it wouldn't surprise me if the already-fading meal trends of the past disappear rapidly, especially in light of our Amazon-influenced current service mentality of "anything you want, almost as soon as you want it." I assume that major cities have long had 24-hour restaurants serving any kind of food at any time (I know that Las Vegas has), and I assume that ghost kitchens and delivery apps are now offering the same. Small-town economies won't support such a business, but perhaps the shift in attitude about what's "normal" will eventually happen everywhere anyway.

I look forward to full on fancy dates at breakfast (I actually have a very good restaurant concept around this idea)
I'll bet! Some people dress up fancy for brunch, so I can see it working.

Scott Hardie | April 25, 2023
Speaking of a mentality of not questioning what's normal: I confess that it was only this past weekend that I learned that Fritos, Doritos, Cheetos, and Tostitos are all made by the same company. I feel foolish that it never occurred to me before, but I just never gave it any thought. :-) Of course, thanks to industry consolidation, only a few companies make most branded food, but that's not what I mean.

Denise Sawicki | April 26, 2023
I agree that people should eat whatever they feel like at any time of day. Also, I wanted to recommend the show The Food That Built America. It has an episode on breakfast and an episode on chips, if these are topics that interest you.

Scott Hardie | April 29, 2023
Thanks, Denise! Kelly and I will check it out. The history of food is definitely a topic that interests us; we've watched all kinds of videos on YouTube about it (like Weird History Food) and would enjoy seeing more, especially if it's well done.

Here's an entirely different weird breakfast thing. I don't know about other decades -- you all tell me! I'm curious! -- but when I grew up in the 1980s, children's cereal commercials almost universally depicted their product next to milk, orange juice, and buttered toast. Why that combination?

Trix and the monster cereals did it:

Toy-based cereals like Barbie and G.I. Joe did it:

Video game cereals like Pac-Man and Nintendo did it:

Movie and TV cereals like Ghostbusters, Strawberry Shortcake, and C-3POs did it:

Sometimes there would also be jam for the toast, as with Cookie Crisp and Gremlins:

Once in a while, the toast would be replaced with a different bread item like a muffin, as with Batman:

And once in a very long while, there would be actual fruit added to the meal, as with Cocoa Pebbles:

Part of this phenomenon is not a mystery: Whenever this breakfast spread appeared, the announcer would say that the cereal was "part of a balanced breakfast" or "part of a healthy breakfast," and I understand the need to pretend like it's not junk food. But why was it always precisely the same side items? Why never potatoes or eggs or bacon or sausage, or waffles or pancakes or French toast or bagels? Why almost never fruit? If I had to make a guess, it would be that cooked food requires more work and is harder to style for the camera, but if so, that just says, "We're trying hard to pretend that this sugary cereal can be healthy for breakfast, but not that hard."

I took those screenshots from a compilation of children's cereal commercials that Kelly and I watched recently. The one cereal that was not photographed with those side items was Cheerios, which was not coated in sugar and thus didn't need to maintain any pretense of being "healthy."

Denise Sawicki | May 3, 2023
Yes, I remember seeing this a lot. If I'm having a big bowl of cereal and milk, I don't understand why I'd want more carbs and more milk and another beverage!

Samir Mehta | May 3, 2023
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