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30 Food Idioms Explained to English as a Second Language Learners

Updated on October 1, 2012
Piece of cake!
Piece of cake! | Source
Spill the beans!
Spill the beans! | Source

1. Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth

Too many cooks spoil the broth is an idiom that says that having lots of people working on the same thing may actually be bad. In this case, “many” is not necessarily good.


We should not ask too many students to join the experiment. Too many cooks spoil the broth.

2. There is No Such Thing As a Free Lunch

There is no such thing as a free lunch is a warning that nothing comes for free. We would need to work hard or give something in exchange to get what we want.


There is no such thing as a free lunch. Students have to study hard to earn a high mark.

3. Take Something With a Grain of Salt

When we are told to take something with a grain of salt, we are warned not to so easily believe something someone has said. That thing may be blown up or simply untrue.


I have to take her words with a grain of salt. She is known to exaggerate things to make people believe her.

4. Spoon-Feed Someone

To spoon-feed someone means to help someone in ways that are more than what is needed. Spoon-feeding someone is helping a person way too much.


Be careful not to spoon-feed her. She needs to learn things her way and be street-smart.

5. Spill the Beans

We spill the beans when we tell other people a secret that they are not supposed to know.


She’s spilled the beans and told the press that she’s indeed dating the movie hunk.

6. Sink One's Teeth Into Something

To sink one’s teeth into something is to be deeply involved in something. In some cases, to sink ones’ teeth into something can also literally mean to bite a food.


I’ve been sinking my teeth into home-based businesses that actually pay.

7. Salt of the Earth

We refer to people who lead simple and honest lives as salt of the earth.


He is the salt of the earth. He is very clean-living.

8. Put All One's Eggs in One Basket

To put all one’s eggs in one basket can mean to place all of one’s resources like money in one place or in one kind of investment. This idiom can also mean to risk one’s resources by putting them all together.


The couple was advised to diversify their assets and not to put all their eggs in one basket.

9. Piece of Cake

Something is a piece of cake if it is easy, simple, and can be quickly made.


Piece of cake! I can answer that test in less than five minutes.

10. Packed in Like Sardines

People or things are packed in like sardines in a place when they are so tightly placed beside one another. A place that is packed is crowded and does not have much extra space left.


Employees are packed in like sardines in trains during morning rush hours.

11. Out of the Frying Pan and Into the Fire

If we go out of the frying pan and into the fire then we are just trading one bad thing for something that is even worse. We are not making our condition better.


Quitting your job at this point is going out of the frying pan and into the fire. There is no job waiting for you yet.

12. In a Nutshell

In a nutshell means in a gist or in summary. It is used to tell about something using only a few words.


He delivered a long commencement speech. In a nutshell, he said that sheer persistence pays off.

13. Icing on the Cake

An icing on the cake is something that makes an already attractive thing or situation even better. An icing on the cake is a bonus.


She landed a high-paying job and the icing on the cake is that she can work from home.

14. Have One's Cake and Eat It Too

To have one’s cake and eat it too means to have something both ways. We use this expression when we want to use something and still keep it for ourselves.


She wanted to have her cake and eat it too when she asked for more projects but refused to work overtime.

15. Have a Lot on One's Plate

To have a lot on one’s plate is to have many responsibilities or matters to deal with. A person with a lot on his or her plate is very busy.


I’ve a lot on my plate so I’ve to manage my time wisely.

16. Hard Nut to Crack

Somebody who is a hard nut to crack is a difficult person. He or she is tough to deal with.


My boss is a hard nut to crack. Many of her people leave her within six months from hiring.

17. Half-Baked

Something is half-baked if it is not done well and completely. Many things that are half-baked are poorly planned and executed.


His business plan is half-baked. There are many elements missing in it.

18. Eat One`s Words

To eat one’s words means to recant, take back one’s words, and eventually admit that what one has said is false.


The proud mother cursed her daughter but later ate her words when she asked her for help.

19. Drop Someone or Something Like a Hot Potato

To drop someone or something like a hot potato means to all of a sudden stop being involved with a person or in a thing.


The film studio dropped the movie star like a hot potato after he was accused of assault.

20. Cry Over Spilled/Spilt Milk

A person who complains about something that has happened and which cannot be undone is someone who cries over spilled/spilt milk.


The mother advised her daughter not to try cry over spilled milk. She told her to learn from her mistakes.

21. Cream of the Crop

The cream of the crop is made up of people who are considered the best in a certain group. It can also refer to things that are of very fine quality.


The company hires only the cream of the crop from top universities around the world.

22. Couch Potato

If you spend so much time sitting on a couch, being idle and sedentary, and just watching TV, then you can be called a couch potato.


She is a couch potato. She watches movies at home all day and refuses to even take a walk outside.

23. Compare Apples and Oranges

To compare apples and oranges is to match up one thing or person to something or someone very dissimilar. It also means to compare two persons or things that should not be compared.


Comparing me with my sister is like comparing apples and oranges. We have nothing in common.

24. Can't Stomach Someone or Something

If you can’t stomach someone or something then you absolutely do not like that person or doing that thing.


I can't stomach her. She speaks foul of others and thinks that she is the best all the time.

25. Bread and Butter

Bread and butter refers to a person’s main source of income. It is usually a job from where a person gets money to buy his or her basic necessities.


Her daytime job is her bread and butter. To guarantee her financial independence, she looked for other ways to earn money.

26. Bottoms Up!

“Bottoms up” is an expression used to mark the end of a drinking toast. It is a signal to start drinking.


The president said “Bottoms up” to mark the end of the company party.

27. Born With a Silver Spoon In One's Mouth

Born with a silver spoon in one’s mouth is an idiom used to describe people who are privileged enough to be born into a rich family.


He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth but decided to give up his inheritance to become a priest.

28. Bitter Pill to Swallow

Something is a bitter pill to swallow if it is very painful to accept as true.


Learning that he did not land the movie role was a bitter pill to swallow for the aspiring actor.

29. Bite the Hand that Feeds One

Bite the hand that feeds one is an idiom that means to damage or hurt people who have done good things to us.


The battered housewife chose to keep quiet about her husband’s abuses because she did not want to bite the hand that fed her.

30. Not Someone's Cup of Tea

Something is not someone’s cup of tea if that person does not find much pleasure doing it.


Drinking until the wee hours of the morning is not my cup of tea. I’d rather hit the sack early.

Copyright © 2012 Kerlyn Bautista

All Rights Reserved

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    • liesl5858 profile image

      Linda Bryen 

      7 years ago from United Kingdom

      Hi! kerlyn b, kumusta Pilipina din ako pero baguhan pa dito sa HubPages. Ang galing mo, thank you for your informative and interesting hub. You have such great hubs that I read especially the recipes. Well done.

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Just thought I'd let you know that my Pin of this hub has been re-pinned 14 times in about two weeks, and I don't have a large following on Pinterest...there are lots of educators out there who are finding this hub valuable. :)

    • Aris Budianto profile image

      Aris Budianto 

      8 years ago from Lying along the equator Country

      Great idioms, thanks for sharing kerlynb


    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      8 years ago

      Another good article in this series. I was just reading through these and thought how difficult it must be for English language learners to understand these simple phrases. Taken literally, it is shocking.

    • tirelesstraveler profile image

      Judy Specht 

      8 years ago from California

      Excellent. Idioms are most difficult to explain to ESL students. You did so nicely.

    • Marie-Renee profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for this article @kerlynb, it is important to know the real meaning of these idioms before using it, which is the mistake of some people. i have been enjoying your "idioms series" and collecting it as reference. Thanks for sharing.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 

      8 years ago from Brazil

      This is a wonderful collection you have. This just shows how confusing English can be for non-native speakers. I help a Brazilian lady with English and she assists me with my Portuguese. I will show her this list and I am sure it will spark a new line of discussions.

      Voted up and useful.

    • chef-de-jour profile image

      Andrew Spacey 

      8 years ago from Near Huddersfield, West Yorkshire,UK

      Some delicious idioms here and much food for thought. I'll need at least an hour to digest them all!

      Thanks for the lesson, a feast of idioms.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      8 years ago from The Caribbean

      Creative and interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      This was a fun read. I'm a bit of a foodie but never thought too much about how many "food-based" idioms there might be or how easy it is to take them literally (if English is not your first language) and thus fail to understand the intent. Up, interesting, and useful. Pinned. :)

    • internpete profile image

      Peter V 

      8 years ago from At the Beach in Florida

      What a great list! it must be so hard for anyone learning English to try to understand all of these! I learned Japanese and although it was hard, it didn't have so many random sayings that don't mean what one thinks it should mean. Nice work!

    • BlissfulWriter profile image


      8 years ago

      I just heard one the other day... What does "wet behind the ears" means? I can understand why would be difficult for non-native English speakers to understand.


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