Food and cooking metaphors and idioms are woven throughout the English language. Some examples of food metaphors and idioms include:
- Food for thought
- Apple didn’t fall far from the tree
- Walking on eggshells
- Let them eat cake
Some examples of cooking metaphors and idioms include:
- A bun in the oven
- You’re toast
- It’s a half-baked idea
- A recipe for disaster
Below I’ve outlined a long list of other examples that can inspire your imagination!
Top Food Metaphors and Idioms
1. Food for Thought
“Food for thought” refers to an idea that is worth thinking about. It is usually an idea that requires time to think through.
Something that’s food for thought might need to be pondered over for a few days. For example, you might lie in bed thinking about it overnight (see also: “I’ll sleep on it”).
Of course, a brain doesn’t eat anything. But the metaphor refers to the concept that you need to ‘digest’ food, chew on it, and savor it. Similarly, an idea can be metaphorically digested, chewed upon and savored when you sit and think about it.
2. Your Fingers in too many Pies
To have your fingers in too many pies means that you’re either:
- Nosy – You want to know about everyone else’s personal business.
- Doing too much – You have too many tasks going on at once
You can use this saying when talking about someone who is snooping to find out information about other people. Alternatively, you could use it in another context when someone has too many tasks on their to-do list, which means they don’t get any of the tasks done to high enough quality.
This saying supposedly comes from the idea that someone visiting a bakery wants to try every single pie before buying. This obviously spoils the pies for everyone else.
Shakespeare famously used the metaphor in his play Henry VIII where Cardinal Wolsey is explained in this way:
“The devil speed him! no man’s pie is freed
From this ambitious finger”
The implication in this context was to say that Wolsey was too involved in other people’s business.
3. An Appetite for Destruction
The figurative phrase here is “appetite”. If you literally have an appetite, you really want to eat food. You’re hungry!
So, if you have an appetite for destruction, you really want to destroy something!
People often use this term when referring to toddlers when they go through a phase of knocking over their play blocks. But it can be also used when talking about adults who have trouble controlling their anger.
It’s also the title of a famous Guns n’ Roses album.
4. Hard to Swallow
When we say that something is hard to swallow, we really mean it is something hard to hear. You might be told that you aren’t going to get high enough grades to get into university and you might respond: “Ouch, that’s hard to swallow!”
Of course, in this instance you’re not literally swallowing anything at all. But imagine something that’s dry or dense and requires a lot of chewing before you swallow it.
Dealing with upsetting information can feel a bit like that – you’ve got to really ‘chew it over’ to come to terms with it.
5. Walking on Eggshells
To be walking on eggshells is to say that you’re being very careful about what you say and do. This is often used when you realize your partner or parent is in a bad mood. You might try not to say anything to further frustrate them because you know they will easily get upset or angry.
This idiom comes from the concept that eggshells will very easily break. So, if you walk on eggshells, you want to tread very softly and carefully so you don’t break the eggshells. Similarly, when used figuratively, you’ll use this term to say that you want to speak carefully.
6. Fed Up
Someone who is ‘fed up’ is frustrated or angry. They say this when they don’t want to waste any more time or energy with something anymore.
You can be fed up with an argument, meaning you don’t want to keep having the argument – it’s taken up too much of your emotional energy. Or, you can be fed up with your job if you feel like you are exhausted by it and can’t muster the energy to go into your job anymore.
7. Doesn’t Cut the Mustard
Something that doesn’t cut the mustard is something that just isn’t good enough for its purpose. You could say that a saw doesn’t cut the mustard if it can’t cut through wood. Or, you could even say an employee doesn’t cut the mustard if they’re a poor worker and you’re going to fire them.
This was one that was fun to research – the origin of this term is surprising!
Its origin is in harvesting mustard plants. Apparently back before machinery was used on farms, they were very hard to cut with a scythe. You needed to have a very sharp scythe for it to work.
So, a blunt tool literally couldn’t cut the mustard!
8. Sour Grapes
We say “sour grapes” to refer to someone who is a sore loser or upset about not getting something.
Imagine, for example, you lost a race. If you refuse to shake hands with the winner, we could say you have sour grapes.
This idiom may have its origin from the face people pull when they bite into a grape that is sour. Their nose might wrinkle up and they visibly express their distaste.
9. Apple didn’t fall far from the Tree
The “apple didn’t fall far from the tree” means that someone is similar to their parent.
The idea here is that you tend to be similar to your parents in many ways. Just like apples that fall from trees don’t go far (they’re usually close to the tree they fell from), humans also seem to remain close to their parents in terms of their behaviors.
You might use this idiom when talking about a son of a criminal who ends up going to prison. To show how the son is the same as their father, you can say “the apple didn’t fall far from the tree”.
10. Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds You
The saying “don’t bite the hand that feeds you” means that you shouldn’t upset someone who is giving you something you need. So, for example, don’t yell at your parents because they’re providing you with a home and shelter! Or, don’t make your boss angry because he is the person giving you your job.
More generally, you might want to use this phrase whenever you are being unhelpful to someone who is helping you out.
11. Don’t Bite off More than you can Chew
This is a saying you might use when someone has volunteered to do a lot of tasks, or even one really big task. It is a way of saying that someone is at risk of trying to take on too much work, and they may not be able to finish it all.
The analogy is pretty obvious for this one. If you take a big bite of something (say, a burger) and try to chew it, you may find there is too much food in your mouth! You might have to spit it out and take a smaller bite so you can chew it and swallow it.
12. The Apple of my Eye
The apple of your eye is someone who you love and admire. You could say this about your girlfriend or even your child.
This phrase was actually used in the bible. For example:
Proverbs 7:2: “Keep my commandments, and live; and my law as the apple of thine eye”.
Here, the idea is that God’s law is the thing you should love and adore. But usually, we use the idiom to talk about a person, such as your lover.
13. It’s my Bread and Butter
Something that’s the “bread and butter” is the core thing that makes you money or keeps you sustained somehow.
Here are some examples.
You could say that teaching is your bread and butter if that’s your core skill. No matter where you go, that’s the skill you will use to get a job.
Or if you own a dentistry you could say that cleaning teeth is your bread and butter. You may do lots of other things (like crowns and fillings) but the thing that makes you most of your money is cleaning teeth.
14. To Break Bread
To break bread is simply to eat. This term is most commonly used when people come together to have a meal. For example, you can break bread with an enemy which would mean to eat together and try to find common ground.
Occasionally in the New Testament, this idiom is also used to mean distribution of food. You can imagine someone literally breaking up loaves of bread and passing out small bits of the bread to people in need.
15. Sweet as Honey (Simile)
This one can be phrased as a simile or a metaphor.
If you talk to your daughter and call her “honey”, you’re using a metaphor. Here, you’re saying she is a sweetheart or simply a lovely person who reminds you of lovely sweet things like ice cream.
But you can also call a person (or a dog, even!) sweet as honey. Here, you’re phrasing it as a simile to mean the same thing – that the person is ‘sweet’, or reminds you of tasty sweet things.
16. Couch Potato
A couch potato is a person who spends too much time sitting on their couch watching the television.
We will often use this idiom to refer to someone who is lazy and perhaps even overweight. A potato is bottom-heavy and could look a bit like someone who is obese, which may be one explanation for the origin of this idiom.
17. Pork Barreling
Pork barreling is a term used to refer to the spending of government funds in ways designed to please voters and get them to vote for you in an upcoming election.
It is usually used negatively by journalists when referring to the unfair distribution of funds to marginal electorates. If the government thinks they are going to lose electorates in a particular area, they will ‘pork barrel’ those electorates, meaning they will spend extra money in that area to indirectly buy votes from those people.
The term may have its origins in the idea that the actions of governments is analogous to sending barrels of pork (or, simply, tasty food) to people to buy their votes.
18. The Meat and Potatoes
The meat and potatoes are the core or fundamental aspects of something. For example, if you ask someone to tell you the meat and potatoes of a story, you’re asking just for the most important points and not all the finer details.
This saying has obvious origins: meat and potatoes were (and still are, in many cases) the two central pieces of food on the dinner plate in parts of Western Europe. So the meat and potatoes is the basics before you add any relish, garnish, spices, etc. on top.
19. Milk them for all they’ve Got
To milk something (or someone) for all they’ve got is to get everything you can from them.
For example, if you were to sue someone for malpractice, you could tell your lawyer to “milk them for all they’ve got”. This would mean to try to get as much money out of the person as possible!
Another example might be in a university classroom. To milk the teacher for all they’ve got is to ask them as many questions as you can to get as much information as possible out of them.
20. Humble Pie
To eat humble pie is to admit that you were wrong. It’s something you might have to do if you were humiliated and made to apologize.
While I had thought that this term was simply based in the fact that to apologize is to be humble, Wikipedia says that the term actually originates from ‘umble pie’ which is a type of pie that is full of animal innards like kidneys, liver, heart and lungs.
21. In Poor Taste
Something that’s in poor taste is inappropriate, offensive or unseemly. For example, a joke that offends someone is considered to be in poor taste.
So it’s really got nothing to do with the sense of taste. But the analogy exists because something that tastes bad might give you a similar response to something that’s in poor taste – you’ll scrunch up your nose and say “I won’t go near that again!”
But we also have the related term ‘bad taste’. Bad taste often refers to someone whose fashion sense is poor. We say they have bad taste because we’re relating it to food. Just like a person can like food that is (from our opinion) gross, they could also like clothing that is (from our opinion) ugly.
22. It’s a Lemon (When life gives you lemons make lemonade)
Lemons are often a metaphor for things that are failures or don’t live up to their potential. This happens in two situations:
- Cars: A used car that has a lot of problems after you buy it is called a lemon.
- When life Gives you Lemons: There’s a well-known idiom that says: “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. This means that you can make the most out of bad things if you have a positive outlook. Even a lemon can be turned into something good.
In both instances, you can see how lemons are a metaphor for something that’s disappointing.
23. Cherry Picking
Cherry picking means to be selective about what you choose. This idiom is used in a few different contexts:
Debates: “Cherry picking” is a term often used negatively to highlight that someone has only chosen data and facts that back up their biases. For example, a person might present data that backs up their claims about an argument while ignoring data that is not beneficial for them.
Being Choosy: It can also be used to describe someone who is very picky about what job they apply for or what stocks they will buy on the stock exchange. For example: “He’s cherry picking the best stocks on the market for his new portfolio.”
24. Chew the Fat
To chew the fat is to have a friendly conversation with someone. When we talk, our jaws move up and down a lot. Similarly, when we chew fat, we will move our jaws up and down. Because fat is rubbery, you’ll often need to chew it a lot before you can swallow it.
So, having a long conversation where the conversation is free-flowing is analogous to chewing fat – your jaw just keeps on moving!
25. Comparing Apples and Oranges
This famous saying is used to talk about how sometimes you can’t compare two things. Apples and oranges have different tastes and colors, so it is hard to make an objective comparison.
It would be much easier to compare one apple to another. Comparing two apples will be easy because you can say one is more red than the other, or one is sweeter than the other, and it will feel like a fair comparison.
So if you were to say “it’s like comparing apples and oranges”, you’re using a simile that says “I’m finding it very hard to compare these two things”.
An example might be trying to compare a beach holiday in Spain to a ski holiday in France. They’re both great but in different ways. So you say: “I can’t say which holiday was best because it’s like comparing apples and oranges”.
26. Not my Cup of Tea
Something that is not your cup of tea is something you don’t particularly like.
People like tea in very different ways. One person might like flavored tea while someone else might like a traditional English black tea. Some might like sugar while others like milk in their tea.
So this is an idiom that helps you to say something just isn’t your preference. It’s a polite way of saying you don’t like something without offending anyone else who might like it.
27. Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid
This saying means that you shouldn’t fall for a lie or cult myth.
Kool-Aid was mistakenly believed to have been the culprit of the mass suicide of the Jonestown cult. Supposedly, 909 people in the cult committed mass suicide in 1978 through cyanide poisoning. Many of them drank the cyanide mixed in a sports drink similar to Kool-Aid.
So today, we say “don’t drink the Kool-Aid” to tell people not to fall into a cult trap.
You might use the saying to tell someone not to believe a conspiracy theorist, or even to tell them to be cautious about being lured into following a religious or political organization’s beliefs.
28. It’s all Gone Pear Shaped
To go pear-shaped means for things to go wrong.
For example, you can say the economy has gone pear-shaped if it has fallen into a recession. Or, you could say your relationship has gone pear shaped if it is going to come to an end and you’re arguing all the time.
It’s believed that this idiom comes from the British Royal Air Force. When pilots unsuccessfully did loops in the air, the loops didn’t look like neat circles or ovals. Instead, they looked like the shape of pears. The top of the loop will be thin while the bottom is bulky, like a pear.
29. Have your Cake and Eat it Too
The proverb “you can’t have your cake and eat it too” means that you have a choice, but you can’t choose both options.
If you have a cake and eat it, you will no longer have the cake. So you can either choose to eat the cake or choose not to each the cake. But you can’t choose both.
We will often use the term when telling someone they’re trying to get the best of both worlds, even though they can’t. You might say to someone at a shop: “You can either keep your money or buy the toy. But you can’t do both because you can’t have your cake and eat it too.”
The first known use of this term was in a letter from Thomas Duke of Norfolk to Thomas Cromwell in 1538.
30. Let them Eat Cake
“Let them eat cake” is an idiom that is said to show disregard and ignorance of the plight of the poor. Today, you might say it to indicate that you don’t particularly care about a group of people’s problems.
For example, you could say: “That company is running out of money? I don’t care. Let them eat cake.” In other words, you have no regard for whether they succeed or fail.
This is a saying that was supposedly made by a French princess in the 17th or 18th Century. While often attributed to Marie Antoinette, it’s not clear whether it was her who said it.
The mythology says that when Marie Antoinette heard that the French masses were starving because they had run out of bread, she said: “let them eat cake”. In other words: if there’s no bread, then they can just eat cake instead!
31. I’m in a Pickle
To be in a pickle means to be in a tough situation that you can’t get out of.
For example, you might find yourself stranded on the side of the road and can’t get home. Here, you would say “I’m not sure how I will get out of this situation. I’m in a bit of a pickle.”
This is a Dutch term that originates from the idea that pickle sauce can be spicy. So, sitting in the pickle sauce can be uncomfortable, much like the situation you find yourself in.
Top Cooking Idioms and Metaphors
32. I Grilled Him
To grill someone is to interrogate them. This means to ask them tough questions to try to get information out of them. It will involve making them feel uncomfortable by posing questions they don’t want to answer.
When food is grilled, it is held over a fire. So if we imagine a person being held over a fire, we could imagine it would hurt. A lot!
In this metaphor, ‘grilling’ someone is a bit like metaphorically holding them against a fire until they tell you what you want to hear.
33. My Blood is Boiling
This is a metaphor you will use to express that you are angry.
In my article about metaphors for anger, I show how in our society ‘hot’ is often associated with anger. For example, we also have anger metaphors like “I’m fired up” and “I’m red hot”.
Similarly, for this metaphor, heat is invoked to show that – if you’re angry – you’re feeling hot inside.
Of course, your blood wouldn’t literally be boiling like an egg boiling in a frypan. But it’s a good way to show anger because it’s associating your mood with heat.
34. A Recipe for Disaster
You would say “this is a recipe for disaster” if you can see something bad is about to happen.
Literally, a recipe is a list of instructions about how to cook. It gives an outline or overview of how to make food. But in this idiom, you can observe that all the “ingredients” are put together for something bad to happen.
Or, you could also use this idiom if you are in a playground that looks dangerous for children to play in.
When someone is roasted, it means you have made jokes at their expense. The jokes are usually quite personal or even potentially offensive. But, they are usually also funny and hurtful because they’re true.
Much like “grilled”, we say someone has been “roasted” because they’re metaphorically held up against a fire. They’re made to feel uncomfortable by the jokes, a little but like they would be uncomfortable if held against a fire.
36. A Half-Baked Idea
A half-baked idea is an idea that is not fully thought-out and likely has a lot of flaws in it.
For example, if you approach an investor with a business idea, but there are some problems with it, the investor might say: “I will not invest in your business idea because it’s half-baked. You need to show me more details.”
The analogy presented here is to food that is half-baked. Imagine a half-baked potato. It might be a bit tough and undercooked on this inside. Similarly, people’s ideas can be half-baked or “undercooked” if they’re not fully thought-through.
37. You’re Toast!
To say someone is toast is to tell them that they’re destined to lose at something. It usually implies that they are in so much trouble that they cannot get out of it.
For example, you can say someone is toast if they’re about to go into a boxing match with a gorilla. You’d say: “If you go into the boxing ring you’re toast. There’s no way you can win!”
Bill Murray is said to be the first person to popularize this metaphor when he used it in the movie Ghostbusters (1984). Apparently, he change the script from:
“I’m gonna turn this guy into toast.”
“All right, this chick is toast.”
And a metaphor was born!
38. A Bun in the Oven
The metaphor “a bun in the oven” is used to say someone is pregnant.
When there is a bun in the oven, it’s slowly cooking and will be ready shortly. Similarly, a pregnant person has a baby in the womb who is being prepared and will be ready shortly! So, here, the oven is a metaphor for the pregnant womb and the bun is a metaphor for the baby.
There are countless food metaphors and idioms in this world. Food is one of the central features of all our lives – we celebrate with food, and offer food as a way to console our friends when they are sad.
Similarly, cooking is so central to our daily lives that we have developed an extensive amount of cooking metaphors and idioms in our everyday lives.
But the great thing is, if none of these cooking and food idioms and metaphors suit you, you can be creative and make up your own! The only limit to metaphors and similes is your own imagination. Simply come up with an analogy that works for your situation and make sure you explain it well so people can understand your fabulous figurative language!
I’m a Scorpio, I love the outdoors, and I’ve written articles in some major online publications like Medium and The Weekly. My favorite metaphor? Anything that’s got to do with baseball. I’m fascinated by the fact our language has baseball weaved all through it. Read more about me here.