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Food & Drink

How to Decide What Beverage to Drink with Dinner

dinner drink

The Problem

When sitting down to dinner (or supper, in parts of the country) at home, one is presented with several beverage options. A typical American home could have variations of water, milk, juice, soda, beer, wine, spirits, tea, coffee, and more. How does one decide what to drink with a given meal?

Case Study

The Flapper family began to gather in the dining area for a typical Tuesday evening dinner at home. Mike and his wife Emma prepared a delicious pesto pasta dish, with a salad and breadsticks on the side. “Mmm-mmm!” cried Mike, carrying the salad bowl to the table. “It’s a meal the whole family will be sure to enjoy!”

While the food portion of the meal is set in stone, everyone is more or less on their own as far as beverages go. It is assumed that the kids will choose between milk and water most days, with the possibility of chocolate milk on a special occasion. Emma will normally drink water, but once in a blue moon she’ll mix in a glass of wine that pairs well with the food.

Mike, however, is a real wildcard. He scours the fridge high and low, looking for something that really calls his name on that particular night. And tonight is no different. Before he can join the family at the table, he ponders his options. “Do I want sparkling water, apple juice, or a Russian Imperial Stout,” he asks himself aloud as he observes each and every shelf.

“Come on, sweetie, dinner’s getting cold,” Emma beckoned as Mike went out to the garage fridge to see if there was a special drink hidden away somewhere.

“IN A MINUTE!” Mike yelled, finally settling on a can of Sprite Zero in the back of the fridge. It wasn’t what he really wanted. Why was it so hard to make up his mind?

Certainly, we’ve all been there. What must be taken into consideration before choosing a dinner drink?

  • How thirsty are youIf you’re parched, water is the easy choice. If you aren’t thirsty at all, this opens things up considerably. Just don’t choose wine when you’re thirsty.
  • What are you eating? Does your main dish have an obvious beverage partner? People tend to drink sake with sushi, white wine with chicken, or red wine with steak. Other foods and drinks just don’t go well together, like Diet Mountain Dew with chili, or strawberry milk with pasta. Make a connection based on the food!
  • Additionally, how spicy is your food? If your main course is super spicy, you’ll want to counter that with something cooling. Milk is a popular choice to calm a burning mouth.
  • Are you on some sort of diet? Well, then, why waste precious daily calorie allotment on a dinner beverage? This should limit your choices pretty substantially.
  • How good or bad was your day? If you had an especially great or horrible day, it could affect your decision making process. A bad day usually means drinking away some sorrow, while a great day usually means raising a glass in a toast.
  • Who are you eating withIf you’re eating alone, you do you. But if you’re at a table with children, you might bypass the alcoholic dinner beverage just this once and opt for water.
  • How special is the occasion? Did you just throw some leftovers on the table on a random Thursday night, or are you celebrating an anniversary with a fancy home-cooked meal? One of these meals calls for a cup of Diet Dr. Pepper, the other perhaps is reason for a bottle of champagne.
  • How long will the meal take? If you’ll be done eating in ten minutes, why not just stick with something simple like water? If you’re sitting down for a multiple course meal with rousing conversation, bring on the wine!
  • How old are you? Your age can help play a role in choosing. If you’re 5 and the choice is yours, well, go for the juicebox. Older meal eaters may need to consider how their bodies will react to various beverages.
  • How healthy are you? You may need to consider dietary needs and/or health problems before slamming a Monster energy drink with dinner.
  • What are you doing after dinner? If driving is in your future, you may want to choose a non-alcoholic beverage.
  • What is your financial situation? If you’re deep-pocketed, you’d be less likely to think twice about sipping Scotch with dinner. If you’re a penny pincher, maybe the cheapest beverage option is for you, like tap water.
  • What are other people at the table drinking? If everyone else is just doing water, why do you need to be so fancy and get something special? You could go with the flow.
  • What options are available? It should go without saying, but consider everything you have available to you. Do you have twenty cases of Pibb Xtra in the garage you’re trying to get rid of? Maybe it’s best to drink those first before breaking into the San Pellegrino.
  • What is the weather like? If it’s -20º outside, you might be less inclined to drink lemonade and more inclined to drink hot tea.
  • What other beverages have you already consumed today? If you have consumed nothing but coffee to this point in the day, maybe opt for water with dinner. You might need serious hydration.
  • Is one of your beverage options exotic, special, or not normally available to you? For instance, if you’re visiting a friend in another state and they have a soda that you can’t find locally, maybe you should try that!
  • what will make you the happiest. If drinking a cup of boiling water with a mango wedge is what suits you, why consider any of the other options?

What about you? Are there other items to consider when choosing what to drink with your dinner entree? Did we miss something totally obvious? Leave your suggestions in the comments!

My Hot Take

Personally, I go with thirst factor first. If I’m thirsty, I’ve gotta go water. Secondly, I have to factor in how healthy I’ve eaten earlier in the day and, in general, how good of a day I had. It’s hardly uncommon for me to mix a cocktail or drink a beer or wine with dinner.

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