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
    Commented Oct 15, 2011 at 3:00
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    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
    Commented Nov 25, 2011 at 13:23

3 Answers 3


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
    Commented Jun 3, 2012 at 7:10
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    This is quite the exaggeration. Chickens are easy to keep and use for meat by just about anyone. Piglets and pigs can live off scraps.
    – Oldcat
    Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 20:55
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    Peasants could sometimes 'afford' mutton but beef was rarely part of their diet. Commented Oct 7, 2017 at 22:38

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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    Especially prior to the creation of broiler chickens in the early 20th century by way of selective breeding. Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 23:25

Obviously this varies considerably by location as well as occupation and social standing - I'm afraid 'peasant' covers a wide array of people.

I'm more familiar with the English diet than anything on the continent, but by far the bulk of their sustenance came in the form of pottage. Basically throw whatever green things you are currently getting from the garden into a pot and leave it on the fire for 3 hours to cook (it prevented food borne illness - a little overkill, but they didn't exactly have germ theory). This sounds horribly monotonous just always eating pottage, but this conceals the wide variety of plants which would be coming available in the gardens as different herbs and vegetables come into season (I suspect the winter and early spring pottage did get a little boring as this was whatever stored well for months - lots of peas and beans and tubers).

After that, much of their calories came from ale. Lots and lots of ale - during the day this would have been small ale, so the alcohol content was quite low (but after the day's work was done, strong ale kept you happy).

One of the ways England was considerably different than the continent would be the presence of a lot of sheep. The typical peasant didn't eat much meat or fish, but the sheep produced plenty of milk, which was turned into cheese. This 'white meat' was peasant food because it was cheap and plentiful (compared to actual meat).

The occasional bit of goose, pig, lamb (needed the rennet for making cheese), or salt-water fish if near the coast (fresh-water fish were too valuable), were occasional treats but hardly a staple of the diet for the lowest farmer. Obviously the wealthier you were, the more of that you ate.

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    I would have thought that given that no point in England is more than 70 miles from the coast and that most settlement was on the coast or rivers, that fish would have been an important part of many people's diet. Commented Oct 21, 2014 at 23:30
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    Without modern transportation, more than a few miles is a very long way. Salt-water fish was available, but I honestly do not recall anything about how prevalent it was away from the coast. Freshwater fish was a staple food for monks or wealthier classes (for the landowners really), but a very rare treat for a lowly peasant. Commented Oct 22, 2014 at 16:32
  • Fish were a major part of a typical Londoner's diet. There were two fish markets: one near Cheapside for freshwater fish floated down the Thames on barges and one in Eastcheap, near London Bridge, for fish caught at sea and sold wholesale at Billingsgate. Fish was salted or dried to keep for longer. Commented May 1, 2018 at 8:47

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