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I know that wheat, barley, rye, onions, lettuce-like plants and turnips were common but how common were other things like meat or cheese? I've heard the "plowman's lunch" was a concoction of the dairy council so that's out as an approximation. I'd assume that a fair amount of poor quality beer or wine figured into the diet as well.

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Great question, which could open up for some interesting answers. I do however feel you need to specify a region, or several regions... An English Medieval diet would have differed significantly from an Italian or Russian medieval diet, for example! –  Noldorin Oct 15 '11 at 3:00
Very sad to see the Ploughman's Lunch was a concoction of the Cheese Board, I loved buying that when I was visiting English Pubs. –  MichaelF Nov 25 '11 at 13:23

2 Answers 2

up vote 21 down vote accepted

Here is one noting:

The European medieval diet was largely determined by social class. For the majority of the of the people, peasants, a large portion of their daily diet was made up of grains such as wheat, rye, oats or barley(carbohydrates). The grains were boiled whole in a soup or stew, ground into flour and made into bread, or malted and brewed into ale. Estimates from the late Middle Ages indicated that a gallon of ale a day was not unusual, but the actual alcohol in the drink was low. Protein was usually provided legumes such as beans, peas or lentils, fish where available, or on very rare occasions, meat such as poultry, pork, or beef. Additional nutrients were provided by seasonal vegetables and fruits. The peasant's diet rates high on modern nutrition standards. But seasonal fluctuations in food availability and poor harvests often caused long periods of very poor nutrition.

From Jeffrey L. Singman, Daily Life in Medieval Europe, Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1999, P. 54 - 55.

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The link is definitely false; "Meat such as beef, pork or lamb" This was put in the lower class. The only time you'd have meat was if you shot a deer and eat it. The penalty for doing so was death... –  Russell Jun 3 '12 at 7:10

To add another datum, from a later period but probably relevant nevertheless, Henry IV justly prided himself very much on the fact that under his administration every peasant family could afford a chicken meal every Sunday. This represented a very high living standard for peasants.

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