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What Does “Food For Thought” Mean? How To Use It Properly

What Does “Food For Thought” Mean? How To Use It Properly

Idioms and phrases help beautify the language and help you say more with a few words. One of these idioms that are widely used in common parlance is “Food for Thought.” These words also connote a symbolic meaning based on a collection of words.

Food for thought helps convey this message, “I have enough information to think about this topic.” Food here implies information & thought process is akin to digestion. The phrase dates back to the 1800s. It is used to suggest that the information provided must be considered with more seriousness.

Moving forward, we will look at the meaning and usage of “Food for Thought” in complete detail and explore its history, origin, and ways and means to use it properly in casual and formal conversation.

What Is The Meaning Of Food For Thought?

The phrase “food for thought” implies that whatever is being said in the sentence is worth giving some thought and consideration. While pondering over a topic or subject, we might come across some terms and ideas that need to be discussed or searched in detail. The motivation and ideas to ponder over an issue come from that one essential aspect, which becomes our food for thought.

As an idea, which is considered as food for thought, it has to be profound, have a deep meaning, and worthy of being mulled over to gain a complete understanding of the topic. The motive is to conduct profound research and not just plow over the aspect in a rush.

“It was quite interesting to look at the results of our study giving us food for thought.”

Another phrase with the same meaning as food for thought is “Chewing Something Over” or “Chew Over.” Again this phrase symbolizes the act of pondering over an idea in complete detail, just as a person constantly chews the gum until and unless there is nothing left in the gum worth chewing. In a sense, it refers to going over everything related to the core idea until you reach the stage of satiety.

“We will chew over it during lunch; until then, let’s focus on understanding its related aspects.”


Origin Of The Phrase “Food For Thought.”

There is a spiritual connotation associated with the phrase, food for thought. It is not clear who used the term, but Plutarch interpreted it to give the same meaning.

Here is the phrase, “Do not put food in a chamber pot.”

Plutarch interpreted this sentence and said that one should not put courteous words into a person who has a bad mind or thoughts. In this context, speech is the food that will go into a person’s brain, and once it goes into a decayed mind, the words also rot as if the mind was impure.


Origins in the Poem

It is also believed that the idiom food for thought appeared for the first time in Robert Southey’s poem A Tale of Paraguay. The poem was published in the year 1825. After this, we have the next written evidence of the phrase’s usage at the beginning of the 20th century.

Along with the poem, the phrase has been used in a wide array of literature. Here are a few references to the phrase used by authors in their works.

  • Here was food for thought. But, then, the man was exceedingly drunk. And his companion, who probably knew him well, paid no attention to his words – The Pines of Lory (John Ames Mitchell).
  • There was much food for thought in this, but no time to think – Spawn of the Comet (Harold Thompson Rich).
  • Ed Matheson’s report of the condition of the Indians appearing at the Eskimo Bay post gave the men food for thought – The Gaunt Gray Wolf (Dillon Wallace).
  • This in itself furnished food for careful thought – Negro Migration during the War (Emmet J. Scott).
  • And the result of this as I saw it in the streets gives food for thought – Westward with the Prince of Wales (W. Douglas Newton).

Among these books, you will find the earliest recorded observation of the phrase, food for thought. The first book (The Pines of Lory) was published in 1901 and gave us the first written expression of the same.

The other books mentioned were published between 1901 to 1920s. This means that we have recorded evidence of the phrase’s usage dating back to the start of the 20th Century.

How People Use The Phrase?


There are several ways and motives to use the phrase “food for thought.” People have been using it to augment an idea or a subject that must be considered. In other cases, researchers and authors use it to signify some core aspects to think over the outcome of an event or situation. In another case, it is used to think about a new scheme or proposal and understand it deeply.

Here are some other use cases of the phrase;

  • Self Assessment: When people get feedback and receive reviews about their performance, we can use the phrase to signify self-assessment and introspection.
  • Stimulating an Action: In situations when a person is stuck and does not have something to move on, any random idea can become food for thought and give us a new direction to work.
  • Assurance: The phrase food for thought can also be used to cement an opinion or a suggestion given from one person to another.
  • Observation: Painters, sculptors, and other forms of artists commonly use this expression either verbally or in an abstract form to generate an idea about the concepts of daily life.
  • To Think it Over: When the orators or event speakers depart from the stage, they often leave the stage with a hook sentence that can become the food for thought for the audience and get them thinking about the next aspects of the subject matter.
  • Giving Advice: After one person has completed a task and there is scope of improvement, the other person can suggest some changes and sum it up with a new idea that will become food for thought to either modify the current task or consider it for the next ones.
  • To Rethink or Reconsider an Action: When the outcome of a task is not as intended, an idea or advice can be left as food for thought to work the task in a new direction.

Examples Of The Phrase In A Sentence

Based on the use cases of the phrase food for thought given above, below are some examples of the same used in a sentence to bring better clarity.

In A Sentence:

  1. Yesterday’s meeting was an eye-opener for me; it provided me with substantial food for thought about my future in the company, specifically whether I should take the promotion or not.
  2. The teacher said that today’s class would provide enough food for thought that will be essential to prepare for the upcoming class and the final exams.
  3. I always enjoy listening to Elon Musk. The majority of these talks are food for thought, not just about running a successful business but also on how to live a life full of contentment.
  4. One wrong decision taken by any person in the family becomes food for thought for the entire family persuading them to think about their actions.
  5. Here’s some food for thought for you; if you are so good at baking cakes, why don’t you start your business? I heard that Instagram is a great place to start a new business these days.
  6. I find books instead of movies as the best source of food for thought, and they provide much greater entertainment than the movies.

In A Conversation

  1. A casual talk between two friends;
  • Friend 1: Did you get the Raphson-Newton method taught today?
  • Friend 2: I tried to understand, but something was missing, and I couldn’t get my head around that. 
  • Friend 1: Well, here’s some food for thought; try to understand it with the Fibonacci series and if you get some time, watch the movie 21. It will clear a lot of things. 
  1. Two art enthusiasts sharing their opinions
  • Person 1: This is one of the most incredible paintings by Pablo.
  • Person 2: Here’s some food for thought; it is believed that Pablo created the draft of this painting seven times, and there are some figures visible, if you look close enough, that was not meant to be there in the final work.

More English Idioms


Expressions and phrases like food for thought provide uniqueness to the conversation. Ever since its origin, it has been used in everyday conversation, official speeches, poems, news articles, etc. Using the phrase in the sentence gives it a professional character while providing more value to the sentence in which it is used. Shown above are a few examples and intrinsic meanings of the phrase “Food for Thought.”

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