Danish food habits and traditions

Main themes: Food culture, family, communities, sharing, rituals, tradition and age

By Mathilde, Louise and Caroline (Bjerringbro High school)


In Denmark we enjoy a good meal and cozy gatherings with family and those we hold dear. We set out to spend a day in three different Danish families, each representing a generation: our grandparents’, our parents’ and our own generation. What is Danish cooking? Do there exist certain norm or rituals surrounding the daily food habits? Do the different generations in Denmark have the same customs and traditions in their food habits?


At Birgit’s place: Food as a daily routine at home

Birgit and Søren Sørensen are married and live together in the small town Grønbæk. They are 73 and 71 years old. For breakfast they usually have some kind of dairy product with porridge oats and a cup of coffee. During the weekends they have crusty rolls with jam or cheese. For lunch they have rye bread with sliced, cold meat and a glass of water. As an afternoon snack they have a cup of coffee with either cookies or a piece of cake and sometimes a piece of fruit, for example an apple. For dinner they mostly have potatoes and sauce with some kind of meat, mostly beef, pork or chicken, often with a salad on the side and occasionally a glass of wine if they feel like it. 

Birgit makes the dinner every night, while Søren peels the potatoes and sets the table. While Birgit cooks, Søren sits at the dinner table, watching TV. Only a short wall separates the kitchen and the dining room. Because it is mostly just the two of them, they only make dinner every other day and thus have leftovers the remaining days. Søren and Birgit rarely go out for dinner, unless they are with friends or family. They don’t eat fast food, and Birgit makes every meal from scratch.

At the dinner table, they always sit in the same chairs. Søren has his seat in the corner, where he always sits, also when they have guests over. By his side there is a calendar, a pad with telephone messages, a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Birgit always sits across from him. There are always a bouquet of flowers and candlesticks in the center of the table. The table is set with place mats, plates, forks and knives, a glass and a wineglass. Birgit likes using table napkins instead of kitchen roll. Every night they take their time to eat and chat. After they have finished eating, they help each other clearing the table. When they are done, they go to the living room, where they watch TV together. Later they eat a little midnight snack, mostly stewed fruit, for example strawberry or gooseberry, before they go to bed.

We think that this particular scenario is very typical for our grandparents' generation. They have plenty of time to cook, and they also like having the family for dinner.


At Ingrid’s place: Food as a family gathering

Ingrid is 46 years old and lives in Bjerringbro. She lives with Jørgen, who is also 46 years old. Ingrid has two children from a previous marriage, who shifts from living with her for one week and then living at their father’s the week and so forth. Jørgen has three children from a previous marriage, who live with the family the same weeks as Ingrid’s children.

Breakfast in in the family is typically something like oatmeal with milk, and during the weekend they will have rolls from the freezer. During the week lunch is prepared at home and packed in a lunch bag that can be brought along for school or work. The lunch typically consists of two pieces of rye bread with various kinds of toppings. During the weekends, lunch likewise often consists of rye bread with a generous selection of meats and toppings. For dinner, the family often has some kind of meat with potatoes that is made in the oven and a green salad.

It varies who cooks dinner in the family, and it also depends on what kind of food they are having. Sometimes they help each other. Jørgen mostly cooks every Monday and Wednesday, when Ingrid runs with the running club.

The family has permanent seats and they are always eating at the dining table in the kitchen. One exception is when they have guests. Then they primarily sit at the big table in the living room. The dining table is always set with plates, knives and forks, glasses, trivets, salt and pepper, and sometimes wine glasses if Ingrid and Jørgen are in the mood for it. Most of the time, only Jørgen decides to have a glass of wine. When the family eats, they talk a lot. The entire family is always seated until they have all finished eating. When everyone has finished eating, they help each other clearing the table and clean up the kitchen. Since everyone cannot be in the kitchen at the same time (7 people), they all have different tasks. Some wipe off the table, others put the dishes in the dishwasher, etc. When they have finished cleaning up the kitchen, they walk into the living room to talk and watch TV.


At Johnny and Jonas’ place: What you eat is your own choice

Johnny and Jonas have just moved away from home and into an apartment in Aalborg, one of the bigger towns in Denmark. We went to Aalborg to join them in their daily food habits. Especially we were curious about what had changed after the two young men have left their comfort zone with their mothers doing the cooking while living at home.

On a normal day, Johnny's diet consists of a breakfast, which is All-Bran fiber with milk. The dinner can be a plate of coleslaw salad, chicken skewers, cod roe ball, couscous salad and some melon. An afternoon snack could be an apple. Lunch is very different, but during the week, it may consist of three slices of rye bread with various spreads such as liver paté, mackerel and sausage.

One may notice that it's a really healthy diet Johnny eats during a week. We ask him if it is not expensive to buy that healthy food, but he replies that it is what he prefers, and thus prioritized. A nice salad or rye bread is cheaper in the long run than buying, bad unhealthy food. He explains that he sometimes buys fast food, but generally tries to stay away from expensive fast food, even if it's an easy fix in a life with a time pressure every day.

We also ask with whom he shares his meals. He replies that he mostly eats breakfast alone because his roommate, Jonas, starts school later than he does. But he mostly has lunch with someone at the school, and when he eats again, it is mostly by himself after school. But he is accustomed to being on his own at home, as they never had dinner together due to their different hobbies at different time schedules.

Jonas and Johnny have very different diets, as Johnny loves to cook and shop whereas Jonas prefers to buy fast food or precooked foods at the grocery store because it is an easier solution. The time he saves from not cooking, he spends with friends or watching television.


Three generations – three kinds of food habits?

It's very different what Danish families eat and what traditions they have. Some do not like to spend a long time cooking, while others love to cook. Some do it together and some prefer to do it alone. Nevertheless we see that there are some similarities in the way food is a social gathering and how it is a part of the structure in a daily life. Also there are similarities in the kinds of food the different generations eat – especially the food habits of Birgit and Ingrid’s families. We think it is because some habits have been passed on to the next generation. Many people have learned to cook in the kitchen by either our mother or father. Therefore, you will often find that the mother's food and your grandmother's food is sufficiently similar, however the grandmother is of course more experienced.