Why Do Scandinavians Eat Dinner So Early?

Scandinavians enjoy eating hearty meals with lots of meat and vegetables. Still, they tend to eat their dinners relatively early compared to other countries around Europe and the rest of the world.

So, why do Scandinavians eat dinner so early?

Scandinavians eat dinner so early because it’s how they’re used to eating. Since they grow up eating dinner early, it becomes a regular part of their lives.

They also eat earlier because there isn’t a lot of daylight during the winter, leaving extra time for another meal later.

It’s interesting to learn about different cultures and their eating habits. This article will discuss why Nordic dinner comes earlier compared to global standards.

Also, see What Mountain Range Separates Norway and Sweden? to learn more.

Why the Nordic Dinner Comes Earlier Compared to Global Standards

There are a few reasons why Scandinavians seem to eat dinner so much earlier than the rest of the world. 

It’s Traditionally How Many Northern Europeans Eat

A big reason why Nordics consistently eat dinner earlier than many other countries around the world is that it’s a “tradition.”

Many Nordics may not even realize that they eat dinner earlier than other countries because it’s how they’ve eaten since childhood.

So naturally, the tendency to have early dinners sticks through generations of Scandinavians, as it becomes a regular part of their routines. 

And it’s not just dinner that they eat early; they often eat breakfast and lunch earlier than in other countries, too.

For example, Norwegians eat breakfast as early as 6 am and lunch as early as 10:30 am. [1] So, they would naturally be hungry for dinner by the time 4 or 5 pm rolls around.

Compared to other countries worldwide (where 12 and 1 pm are standard lunch hours), it’s easy to see why Nordic countries like Norway stand out.

There Is Less Daylight in the Nordic Countries

There isn’t a lot of daylight in the Nordic countries during winter, which could be a significant reason Scandinavians prefer to eat earlier.

For example, the sun in Stockholm, Sweden, rises at 8:47 am and sets at 2:55 pm during winter. [2]

Once it gets dark in the evening, the weather also usually becomes colder.

As a result, Scandinavians generally get home from work when it’s already dark and cold out, so it’s nice to have a warm meal for dinner earlier rather than later in the day/evening.

Although the weather improves and daylight hours increase dramatically during the summer, the “tradition” of eating early dinner remains throughout the year in Nordic countries. 

It Leaves Time for an Extra Meal Later

Most Nordics eat dinner between 4 pm and 7 pm, giving them plenty of time to eat another meal before bed. For example, a person who eats dinner at 5 pm is likely to be hungry again at around 9 pm. 

Since 9 pm is generally not too late, it gives the person a chance to eat another small meal, so they don’t have to go to bed hungry.

Of course, only some people want an extra meal later in the night, but eating dinner earlier certainly opens up the opportunity for dessert or supper later.

Nordics Often Eat Smaller Meals

Another reason Scandinavians eat dinner so early is that they eat small meals throughout the day but also eat more often than people in other countries. [4]

For example, they might eat a small breakfast, snack, and lunch before dinner, meaning they’re hungry to eat their next meal by the early evening.

And then, once they finish dinner, they can eat other small snacks or meals later. 

On the other hand, people from different cultures tend to eat bigger meals (i.e., more extensive breakfasts and lunches), meaning the meals are spread out more.

Therefore, these people would prefer to wait until later to have dinner, as they’re unlikely to be hungry by 4 or 5 pm.

This is especially true at lunchtime, as Nordic people eat much smaller lunches than people in other countries. 

For example, Scandinavians are unlikely to eat a lunch that many other nations consider standard-sized (like a large sandwich with 5+ toppings and lots of calories). 

Instead, Norwegians are known for having extremely basic and relatively small lunches most days, consisting of [3]:

  • Bread
  • Butter
  • Cheese
  • Meat

As a result, they become hungry for dinner earlier, which could be another reason they prefer to eat earlier in the afternoon/evening.

So it’s easy to see why they would be hungry by the time it reaches 4 or 5 pm. 

Do All Scandinavians Eat Dinner Early?

Not all Scandinavians eat dinner early, but most will eat by 6 or 7 pm. However, some people or families might have traditions of eating later.

Additionally, people who do shift work might be more inclined to eat later in the evening/night.

Many Scandinavians work standard hours each week and finish work around 4 or 5 pm, so it’s normal for these people to start preparing dinner once they get home. 

Other Scandanavians who are less likely to eat dinner early might be young adults, particularly college students, who are busy working and studying long hours.

But for the most part, Scandinavians prefer to eat by 7 pm daily.

Which Nordic Country Eats Dinner the Earliest?

Norway is the Nordic country that eats dinner the earliest. People commonly eat their main meal as early as 4 pm in Norway, after finishing work.

Other Scandinavian nations, like Sweden, follow closely behind Norway when it comes to eating dinner early.

Having dinner early is especially handy for children in the family because it gets the cooking out of the way.

The rest of the afternoon and evening can be spent focusing on other tasks before getting the kids to bed later.

Do Other European Countries Eat Dinner Early?

Other European countries eat early, but not as early as Scandinavian countries.

For example, Irish and English people typically eat dinner between 5 and 7 pm, which is relatively early compared to most countries in the south of Europe. 

Like Scandinavian countries, England and Ireland don’t get much daylight during the winter, so that could be one reason why it’s more traditional to eat slightly earlier than the rest of Europe.

In warmer European countries, like Italy, France, and Spain (where there is also more daylight throughout the winter), people tend to eat dinner later (between 8 and 9 pm in many cases).

In those countries, people are also more likely to sit outside and eat dinner due to the warmer weather.

[1] Source
[2] Source
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[4] Source

Christian Christensen

Christian started Scandinavia Facts to explore his family heritage, raise awareness of one of his academic interests as a professor, and civilly promote the region. Please see the About page for details.

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