The Internet TESL Journal

A Lesson on Food Idioms

Yen-Ling Teresa Ting
yltting [at]
Faculty of Sciences, University of Calabria (Calabria, Italy)

This is a lesson using food-idioms in context. Use it as a classroom handout and have learners work together to guess how these colourful expressions add flavour to our language and life experiences. This activity can be followed-up with a quiz on food idioms at where you can find more food idioms.

There are some common idiomatic expressions which use food words. You may be able to hypothesize what these expressions mean but if not, start by guessing whether they carry positive or negative connotations. Then check your intuition by rewriting the text using the sentences in activity II.

Bringing Home the Bacon on the Gravy Train

Activity I) What do you think these expressions mean?

Bob works hard to bring home the bacon1, and put bread and butter2 on his family's table. Every morning, he drags himself to his desk at the bank and faces his tedious 10-hour-a-day job. His boss, Mark, is a bad egg3 but has somehow taken a liking to Bob so he always speaks well of Bob in front of Mr. Davies, the owner and big cheese4 of the company. Mark tells Mr. Davies that Bob's the cream of the crop5 and is one smart cookie6 who uses his noodles7. Mark likes to chew the fat8 with Bob during coffee break and discusses half-baked9 company plans with him because he trusts Bob and knows that Bob won't spill the beans10 behind his back. On these occasions, Bob tries to avoid any hot potatoes11 and, even if Mark isn't his cup of tea12, Bob makes an effort to butter him up13 by leading Mark into discussions about electronic gadgets which Mark is nuts about14. Bob really thinks that Mark is out to lunch15 and nutty as a fruitcake16, but in a nutshell17, if he polishes the apple18, his job could become a piece of cake19 and maybe one day he will find his gravy train20.

This is definitely an exaggerated use of idiomatic expressions. But you can see how these expressions make spoken informal language much more colourful and jovial.

Activity II) How good is your food-idiom intuition?

Here are some non-food idiom expressions which you can use to substitute the food idioms in Activity I. Check answers with your teacher.

A boss 4 - big cheese
B food  
C very easy  
D on the table but still unofficial  
E the best  
F continues to be servile and brown-nose his boss  
G scoundrel  
H make a living  
I is an intelligent person  
J show admiration  
K basically  
L share confidential information  
M means to a big income with little effort  
N chat  
O thinks  
P a little out of touch with reality  
Q problematic issues  
R a little crazy  
S really likes  
T the type of person he likes  


A 4 E 5 I 6 M 20 Q 11
B 2 F 18 J 13 N 8 R 16
C 19 G 3 K 17 O 7 S 14
D 9 H 1 L 10 P 15 T 12

The Internet TESL Journal, Vol. IX, No. 6, June 2003