Put Food on the Table: Definition, Meaning, and Origin

Last Updated on
October 28, 2023

The expression "put food on the table" refers to earning money to support one's family, particularly in meeting basic needs such as food and other essentials. The phrase draws on the image of a provider who works to ensure that there is always food on the family's table, symbolizing general provision for the household.

In short:

"Put food on the table" means to earn a living or provide essential needs for one's family.

What Does “Put Food on the Table” Mean?

The idiom is straightforward in its meaning. When someone says they are trying to "put food on the table," they are expressing the need to work and earn money to support their family. The phrase emphasizes the basic necessities, especially food.

  • It often implies the responsibility of a breadwinner.
  • Can be used to highlight the challenges of earning a living.
  • May also be used metaphorically to refer to any essential responsibility.

Where Does “Put Food on the Table” Come From?

The idiom "put food on the table" has a straightforward and literal origin, rooted deeply in the basic human necessity of providing sustenance for oneself and one's family. Historically, the ability to put food on the table was a direct measure of a person's ability to provide for their family, ensuring their survival and well-being.

Historical Example

"And some days when it would snow or be stormy weather, so that it was of no use to put food on the table, he would come and go to the same stumps and trees and get the food which he hid there some days ago."

- By the Way-side, Volumes 1-3, April 1898

10 Examples of “Put Food on the Table” in Sentences

Here are some sentences that demonstrate the use of the idiom in various contexts:

  • Even with two jobs, it's hard for him to put food on the table for his family.
  • She took up freelancing to put food on the table after losing her job.
  • It's not my prerogative to judge how someone chooses to put food on the table.
  • After the accident, he struggled to put food on the table, but his community helped him get back on track.
  • Many artists have side jobs to put food on the table while they pursue their passion.
  • With the rising cost of living, it's challenging to put food on the table.
  • She said she'd do whatever it takes to put food on the table for her children.
  • He started his business to put food on the table, and now it's a multi-million dollar company.
  • They had to work overtime during the holidays to ensure they could put food on the table.
  • Many farmers work tirelessly, rain or shine, to put food on the table for the rest of us.

Examples of “Put Food on the Table” in Pop Culture

The idiom has been referenced in various media, emphasizing its significance in society:

  • In Paramore's song "Hard Times," the lyrics mention the struggle to put food on the table.
  • The movie "Cinderella Man" portrays a boxer's fight to put food on the table during the Great Depression.
  • An episode of the TV show "Breaking Bad" has the protagonist justifying his actions to put food on the table for his family.

Synonyms: Other/Different Ways to Say “Put Food on the Table"

Several other phrases and idioms convey a similar meaning:

  • Earn one's keep
  • Make ends meet
  • Bring home the bacon
  • Earn one's bread and butter

10 Frequently Asked Questions About “Put Food on the Table”:

  • What does "put food on the table" mean?

It refers to the act of providing for one's family, especially in terms of basic necessities.

  • Where did the idiom originate?

The phrase has a literal origin, emphasizing the primary responsibility of providing food for the family.

  • Is the idiom used in pop culture?

Yes, it has been referenced in songs, movies, and TV shows.

  • Can the idiom be used metaphorically?

Yes, it can also refer to any essential responsibility or duty.

Yes, it carries a similar meaning to working for basic sustenance.

  • How can I use the idiom in a sentence?

For example, "She took up freelancing to put food on the table after losing her job."

  • Do people use the idiom globally?

While the phrase is common in English-speaking countries, similar expressions exist in other languages with the same meaning.

  • Can one use the idiom in a positive context?

Yes, such as when someone starts a successful business to "put food on the table."

  • Does the idiom always refer to food?

No, it's often used to represent basic necessities or responsibilities in general.

  • Is it appropriate to use the idiom in formal writing?

While it's more common in informal speech, it can be used in formal writing if the context is appropriate.

Final Thoughts About “Put Food on the Table”

The idiom "put food on the table" holds significant weight in the English language. It encapsulates the essence of responsibility, hard work, and the challenges of life. As with many idioms, it serves as a bridge to understanding cultural values and historical contexts.

  • The phrase likely stems from the literal act of providing food for the family table.
  • Traditionally, it's linked to family providers responsible for earning the household's income.
  • Today, the phrase metaphorically refers to earning a living and covering basic family needs beyond just food.
  • The phrase is versatile and applicable in discussions about jobs, wages, economics, and personal finances.
  • This phrase emphasizes the importance of work and the duty to provide for oneself and dependents, highlighting the need for a stable income.

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