A “square meal” is a American slang term coined in the 1800s. It is generally used to refer to a large and satisfying meal, especially one that is balanced and nutritious.
The origins of slang terms can be difficult to trace, because the trails are often clouded over with folk-etymologies. Some stories say that the term dates back to the square plates of the Royal Navy, but in fact that is not the case. In this instance, the word ‘square’ is used to mean ‘honest’ or ‘proper’, which dates back to the 1600s, and puts ‘square meal’ in the same category with ‘fair and square’ and ‘a square deal.’
The first written instance of a ‘square meal’ was in the 1800s, to advertise a restaurant in the Midwest. The advertisement actually clarified that the term meant a wholesome and balanced meal. This may mean that the term was not used colloquially before that, and the author may have in fact invented it. ‘Square meals’ soon spread to other regions of the United States and to other English speaking countries. It is still closely associated with Western culture.
The term was then expanded on in 1956. Nutritionists used the phrase to represent the four main food groups that they knew of at the time. It is somewhat outdated, but a good, ‘square’ meal should still encompass all of these categories, and be tasty as well.
This includes meat, eggs, beans, and nuts. Using the knowledge from modern day nutrition science, we know that lean meat provides the most nutrition and should be eaten for optimal health. Beans and nuts are wonderful sources of dietary fiber as well. Protein should make up approximately 25% of the meal.
2. Dairy Products
Even just a small amount of cheese or other dairy product is good for you and will help the nutritional content of the meal. Milk is good for bone health as well, and all dairy products are rich in calcium. About 5-10% of a ‘square meal’ is made up of dairy products.
3. Whole Grains
Wheat, oat, barley, quinoa, brown rice, the list goes on and on. In a 2002 study, whole grain consumption was shown to be an important component of reducing risk of type-II diabetes. While their refined counterparts do not, whole grains lower the insulin fasting level that commonly causes disease. They also reduce the risk of heart disease and help with weight maintenance. A good percentage for a balanced meal would be about 25% whole grains.
4. Fruits and Vegetables
Fruits and vegetables are without a doubt the most important of the four food groups, an should make up 40-45% of any meal. They are low in fat and filled with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants that fight stress and disease and boost immunity.
Getting a good, ‘square’ meal is vitally important to any person, and especially to children and athletes. Fortunately, in most of the developed world, food is readily available and the general population is able to eat well on a regular basis. However, in developing countries, getting a balanced, ‘square’ meal is more challenging.