Growing up parents often stress to their children the importance of getting three square meals a day, that’s how you grow up to be strong and healthy of course. My parents not only stressed that, but my dad, being full of nautical nonsense, was determined to tell everyone why exactly they are called square meals. I mean after all, why aren’t they called three round meals, or heptagonal, or triangular (you see where I’m going with this).
Eating on board the high seas was no easy task and sailors in the Royal Navy during the great age of sail were no stranger to this, so steps were taken to improve the simple task. Rails placed on the edges of tables, along with a square wooden plate that wouldn’t roll or slide was a quick and easy fix. Often the plates had indentations in the center to hold soups and broths. Another simple fix with square plates? Easier and more manageable storage. Since on board there was limited space to store things, most sailors receiving only a small trunk to store personal belongings i (if they were lucky), everything was created for optimal use of space. Round plates left extra room that would not be used, and a square plate maximized all capacity in storage. This leads to sailors being sure they were fed their Square Meal…which also ties into the phrase fair and square. They were given their fair share of food, on their square plates- no if, ands, or buts about it!
As a side note before these rails and square plates were invented sailors often used their elbows to keep their plates on the table…stay tuned for more on that! Hope you enjoyed today’s bit of Captain John’s Nautical Nonsense, make sure to share with friends to impress them at your next dinner party!