Idiomatic expressions are sayings in English that don’t mean what they appear to mean.
They have a literal meaning and a figurative meaning. The literal meaning is what you understand immediately from the words used. The figurative meaning is something that goes deeper than the words you’re hearing or reading.
In fact, many times the words used in an idiomatic expression have almost nothing to do with a speaker’s intended meaning.
Though English speakers have almost no problem with these expressions, they pose quite a problem for English learners. The meanings of these phrases are almost impossible to interpret based on the words alone, so you should prepare yourself for English conversations by learning them now!
English idioms, like American slang words, modern expressions and many greetings, have to be learned through memorization.
But it doesn’t have to be entirely painful. In fact, it can be yummy!
Why Learn English Expressions About Food?
Like people all over the world, English speakers love food. In fact, they love food so much so that they use food-related expressions to say all kinds of things!
And even though those English speakers love food, the following English idioms and expressions and are not to be taken literally. In other words, just because these phrases talk about different types of food and food-related vocabulary, they are not actually about food. You will see what we mean as you read our list below.
20 Delicious English Expressions That Feature Favorite Foods
Turn off the stove, wrap up the leftovers and set your kitchen timers. These expressions will have your mouth watering and your fingers ready to dial the phone number for take-out.
(It is) easy as pie
This English expression has nothing to do with the crispy, crumbly, mouth-watering delicacy that is pie. Well, it is true that pie is super easy to bake. It is also easy to eat an entire pie in one sitting.
In fact, when something is said to be as easy as pie, that means that it is very simple to do, so simple that anyone could do it.
(To) go bananas
Though I can’t be sure, this idiom may be related to monkeys because monkeys do love bananas.
When someone says “that man has gone bananas,” it means that they’ve become hyper, wild or crazy. So, it might be helpful to think about a monkey jumping through the trees, seeking bananas.
(You are) the apple of my eye
Hey, romantic English learners, watch out. When you tell your lover that they are the apple of your eye, you mean to say that they are the one who you admire, love and want. So, this apple isn’t meant to be tossed around lightly. You’ve been warned.
(To be) full of beans
Like the last expression, to be full of beans means to be hyper or have a lot of energy. English speakers generally use this phrase to refer to children who can’t seem to sit still, and it can be interchangeable with the expression “you’ve got ants in your pants!”
(To) spill the beans
Same beans, different meaning. If someone claims “you’ve spilled the beans!” it means that you have accidentally said something you shouldn’t have. For example, you may have accidentally told someone too much information about a surprise party. You may have told someone the truth after they’ve been lied to, or you may have told someone’s secret. Be careful with who you are talking to!
(To) butter somebody up
Hmm…butter. Just the thought of it makes me want to boil corn on the cob or make some popcorn in the microwave.
But I have to focus! When you butter someone up, you are praising or flattering them. Maybe they deserve it, maybe they don’t, but you’re doing this because you want something from them. You might want a promotion or a raise at work, a better grade in school or a little bit of that warm, buttery popcorn they just brought from the microwave.
Have your cake and eat it too
If there’s anything that can rival butter in terms of deliciousness, it’s cake. Just imagine having a beautiful cake in front of you right now. You want to eat it all immediately—but you’ll be sad when it’s all gone and eaten. You want to have your cake and eat it too. You want do to both—but you just can’t.
This phrase is used when you want to have the best possible outcome for a situation even though that outcome is not possible.
That’s the way the cookie crumbles
Where there’s cake, there better be cookies. This expression though doesn’t have anything to do with cookies. It’s just a way of saying “that is the way things happen” and acknowledging that sometimes things turn out in a way that we can’t control.
(To be) the cream of the crop
To be the cream of the crop means to be the best of the best. It essentially refers to people or things that are of high excellence.
This phrase mentions cream because the cream is the yummiest part of fresh milk—it’s the best.
(To) eat you out of house and home
Having a lot of food is a great thing when you get to eat it all, but when others take over and eat your food it’s not as fun.
To have someone eat you out of house and home means to that this person has eaten all your food and left you with scraps (or nothing). They have eaten so much of your food that you ran out of money and have no home left.
(To) have all your eggs in one basket
When someone puts all their eggs in one basket, it means that they have put too much faith in one thing. In fact, they’ve put so much faith into something that when it fails, they will be left with nothing.
(To) buy a lemon
There are those lemons you can buy at the grocery store, and then there’s one other kind of lemon you can buy. This second kind of lemon is actually a car.
If you went to the car dealership and bought a lemon, then you bought a car that doesn’t function well or needs a lot of additional repairs. That’s really too bad for you—when someone buys a lemon, they often have to buy a new car.
There’s no use crying over spilled milk
This expression is normally used when someone is sulking (feeling sad) or complaining about a past mistake or circumstance. This phrase means to say that one shouldn’t complain about things that have already happened or that can’t be changed.
(To) go nuts
Along the same lines of being full of beans or going bananas, when someone goes nuts they are hyper or have a lot of energy. It can also mean to become insane.
(To be) paid peanuts
When someone is paid peanuts, it means that they work for a low wage. Essentially, the work they do is worth a lot more than what is being paid.
Two peas in a pod
If you’ve found the apple of your eye, chances are good that you might be two peas in a pod. This phrase refers to two people who work well together or get along really well.
The pod is the small pouch that protects peas while they grow. Now you can imagine two little peas nice and cozy inside their pod.
(To be) in a pickle
Though this expression is an odd thing to think about (how does one get into a pickle?), it actually means “to be in a difficult situation.” I guess it would be a very difficult situation if you were stuck inside a tiny pickle, so it almost makes sense.
(To) take something with a grain of salt
If someone makes a promise they can’t keep, you might be told to take it with a grain of salt. For example, someone might tell you: “Be careful, airplanes are dangerous. But that’s just my opinion so take it with a grain of salt.” This expression advises someone to be skeptical of some promise or statement or to not take things literally or harshly.
(To) drop like a sack of potatoes
When I fall down a flight of stairs, my mom loves to say that I fell like a sack of potatoes. It means that someone or something has fallen quickly and hit the ground hard. A sack of potatoes is so heavy that it falls fast and makes a really loud sound. For the record, I’m not injured. Thanks for asking, Mom…
The proof is in the pudding
And so this list ends full circle (finishes at the beginning): First we had butter, next was cake, and now we end with something just as yummy: pudding.
This phrase means that something is successful and useful because it has been tried before. It essentially says that something is deemed good quality because it has a record for being good and reliable. “He won the last ten races so he’ll definitely win this race! The proof is in the pudding!“
But why pudding? The original British English phrase is “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” meaning that you don’t know how delicious the pudding is until you have tasted it. You test the pudding’s quality by eating it.
However, American English speaks only say, “the proof is in the pudding.”
How Learn More Idiomatic Expressions
Are you starving yet? So am I, but that’s not all!
There are more food idioms and idioms that have nothing to do with food at all. You can check these out in books such as “101 American English Idioms” or “175 Common American English Idioms.” You can also get a guide to idioms from Scholastic or McGraw-Hill.
Make sure you remember all these expressions for your next English conversation.
Don’t worry, it’ll be as easy as pie!