German food culture and eating habits


Updated on Oct 09 • 5 minute read

What do Germans like to eat? One of the most fun things to do when you find yourself immersed in a different country and its culture is figuring out their eating habits! Sharing food with your new German colleagues and friends is a great way to break the ice, as well as an excellent window into some of Germany’s cultural traits. So, the answer we’re going to be answering today is: how do I survive Germany’s eating habits as a foreigner? Easy for some, a bit more of a culture shock for non-europeans. Let’s find out what’s cooking.

Meals in Germany

First of all, we’ll take a look at Germany’s three main meals in the day: breakfast, lunch and dinner. Additionally, we’ll take a look at some of the food themed quirks, zoom in on food at work and talk about some standout dishes.

Traditional German breakfast

What do Germans eat for breakfast?

For years, people liked to say: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day! A marketing trick by breakfast cereal companies? Or the truth? Well, many Germans still feel the same way. On most days, Germans usually have breakfast (Frühstuck) before they leave for work. For most people, this means between 6-8 in the morning. If you want to have the typical German breakfast, you have the following options!

Start your breakfast off by pouring yourself a nice mug of tea or coffee, to really wake yourself up. If you’re more into something fresh, a glass of orange juice (Saft) will hit the spot. The German bread and butter for breakfast is... well, bread and butter! Lightly toasted or freshly sliced, you add a generous spread of butter or margarine and then pick your topping. As a topping, Germans like it sweet, like jams, marmelade, Nutella or honey. If you’re not into sweets in the morning, then cold cuts of various kinds of meats, cheese or a (hard) boiled egg offer a more hearty alternative. If you’re one of those people who can’t stomach as heavy as bread in the mornings, you could have your quark, milk or yoghurt, mixed with breakfast cereals, fruit or a slightly less sugary helping of muesli. These dairy-rich alternatives are also great for a breakfast on the go, alongside the freshly pre-prepared sandwiches and pretzels (Brötchen) you can snag at one of the many German bakeries along your way to work.

Second breakfast

You thought you were done? Oh, no, not yet. Like many schools and workplaces around Europe, there’s often a break around 10 or 11. For Germans, this is more than a coffee break, because it’s known as Second Breakfast (zweites Frühstuck) or Break bread (Pausenbröt). So, if you send your kids to a German school, make sure you pack them a muesli bar, some fruit or a Brötchen for during their break. In fact, pack one for yourself to keep your energy levels steady and keep yourself from giving in to unhealthy cravings.

Lunch in Germany

what do Germans eat for lunch?

Unlike some other countries, Germans often have a hot meal during lunch time (Mittagessen). However, since most people only have a 30 minute lunch break these days, this is becoming more and more rare. So, these days most people have a quick hot meal if there’s a microwave available, or simply have their hot meal in the evening.

Lunch at work

Due to relatively short breaks, easily reheated meals and home-made leftovers, such as a pasta or rice-based dish or soup, are popular during lunch time. In other cases, people prepare something that can be easily brought to work, such as a salad, fruit or another one of the infamous sandwiches brötchen with cheese or meat. In some cases, a school or workplace will have an in-house cafeteria or nearby lunchrooms available. This is nice, so you can always have access to fresh, affordable local lunch food, both warm and cold, so be sure to take advantage of it if you want to save some time on preparing your lunches. If you’re in a central location, your co-workers will want to go out to lunch from time to time. You’ll have access to a variety of food, from sandwiches to fast food to places that serve foreign cuisine. So, feel free to try some local food or take a trip to the local italian place, if you don’t feel like bringing your own food.

That said, you can always prepare, bring and heat (if necessary) heat food that you’re more familiar with. In fact, your colleagues will probably be eager to try it for themselves, giving you an easy way to connect with your new colleagues over food! The only unwritten rule for this is that you make sure you don’t bring food that has a particularly strong odour. Nobody likes the person reheating fish in the only microwave in the break room!

German cuisine

What do Germans eat for dinner?

So, now that families get back together after work and or school anywhere between 5-7 in the evening, it’s time for the Abendbrott. Yep, it has the German word for bread in it! This is a remnant from the hot meals that German traditionally ate during lunchtime. These days, that only happens a number of times a week, depending on peoples’ schedules. In any case, the essence here is that one out of your three meals is lighter on the stomach, while the other two are originally filling and calorie heavy to make sure you have energy for whenever you’re most active during the day.

Whether it’s during midday or in the late afternoon, when Germans do have the time to cook there’s quite a wealth of dishes for you to enjoy.

In most cases, a hot German meal consists of meat, potatoes and vegetables. And yes, Germany is a part of potato Europe (as opposed to tomato Europe), meaning they take their Kartoffeln seriously. Potatoes can be served in a variety of ways, from boiled (Salzkartoffel), mashed (Kartoffelpuree), baked (Bratkartoffeln) and, of course, as fries.

Germany is also famous for a number of their meat products, such as the famous Schnitzel, Bratwurst or Frikadellen. These are often served at dinner, but can also often be found as a standalone meal to accompany your beer when you’re out at a part or, for example, at one of the many Oktoberfest celebrations. And, of course, like almost every European country, you’ll also often find your meal accompanied by chicken, meatballs and regular sausages.

As far as vegetables go, green beans, broccoli, peas and cabbage are staples at the German dinner table. Vegetables are often boiled, stir fried or come from the oven, to keep them slightly chewy. Alongside the vegetables you’ll also have the option of a soup or a salad and something like pickles to finish your meal off with something fresh. And, to my personal dislike, Germans also have a love of putting mustard on- or in their food!


As we discussed earlier, Germans like juice or coffee with their breakfast, and we all know that most Germans can hold their beer. But in terms of drinks, there's another drink that Germans are absolutely crazy about. It's simpler than you think, though: sparkling water! Carbonated, fizzy water is the drink of choice for almost any time of the day. In fact, it's so popular, that if you don't specify you would like plain, tap or mineral water, German restaurants will serve you sparkling water instead. Prost!

Tipping culture in Germany

When going out to eat, Germans like to leave the so-called Trinkgeld. The fact that this translates to Drinking money tells you all you need to know about German tipping culture! Though tipping is not something that is really expected, Germans do like to give the staff a little something extra so they can afford their own drinks after work. Also, make sure that you tip in the appropriate manner: leave money in the tip-jar if there is one, or let the staff know to ‘make it 20’ when you’re presented with a bill at €17.30. Rounding up to any easy number like 15, 20 or 25 is an easy and appreciated way to tip in Germany.

Now that you know what your food experience will be like at the German dinner table, will you be eagerly awaiting the next dish, or will you make sure to pack your own lunch?

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