Food Culture and Tradition

Food, People and Culture Resources

New Zealand Meals, Customs and Special Occasions


The pattern of three meals a day is slowly making inroads into the long-cherished tradition of six meals: breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner and supper (although often afternoon tea and dinner may be one and the same). The factors that are creating the changes in New Zealand are similar to those found almost worldwide: increased food costs, more married women joining the workforce, concern about obesity, and a distinct increase in nutrition awareness. Although morning and afternoon tea breaks are still widely observed both at home and at work, meals are becoming lighter and more varied. In spite of all these factors, British influence still predominates in most meals and the way in which they are served.

Substantial breakfasts, small lunches, meat and vegetable dinners are punctuated by tea breaks. Ice and ice water are seldom seen although beer is usually served chilled. Most table service is on the formal side with a special knife always set for the sole purpose of buttering one’s bread. And New Zealanders still frown on the habit of resting one’s knife on the dinner plate; the main course is to be eaten throughout with knife and fork. Further, New Zealanders have no qualms about placing a spoonful of chilled salad on their main dinner plate right beside the roast and hot vegetables.


The New Zealand population is predominantly Christian with about 80 percent of the people being members of one of four denominations: Church of England, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Presbyterian. Ratana and Ringatu are the two main Maori sects, though many Maoris are Christian. Close to 4,500 New Zealanders are of the Jewish faith.

Although Christmas and Easter are celebrated with family gatherings, there is little question that the avidly sports-minded Kiwis generate more excitement over “rice dyes” (that’s Race Days, of course) and the accompanying outdoor picnics or hangis (pit-cooked meals) than over any religious oriented occasions. Foods vary little from the daily fare except that Sunday dinner is almost invariably roast lamb and roasted vegetables with trifle or pavlova for dessert. Festive days may include meals that are more leisurely but differ little in content.

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