Which choice sounds more natural when talking about meal or foods that are already on the table waiting for their diners.

Should it be

The meal / food is ready.


The meal / food is prepared



Technically it seems like they should be used interchangeably but in common usage you wouldn't normally hear "prepared" to mean "ready". In fact, in British English we use the word "preparation" more to describe the early stages of a task. Recipes may describe chopping of vegetables prior to cooking as the "preparation" stage before the cooking "method".

Consider these examples:

The food is prepared in the kitchen.

This does not mean the food is ready. It doesn't even mean that the preparation is underway. It simply means that food is prepared in the kitchen.

The food is ready in the kitchen.

This means that the food is fully prepared and is in the kitchen.

If you wanted to use the word "prepared" then it would be better as:

The meal has been prepared.

This confirms the preparation has been completed. But your question is specifically about which is more natural and so I have to say that "ready" is the word you would most likely hear in English.

  • 3
    I don't understand what you're trying to clarify with "It simply means that food is prepared in the kitchen.". This is simply repeating the sentence, not explaining what it means. Myself, I'd understand this sentence to mean something like "When food is prepared, the place it is prepared is the kitchen", or "An activity performed in the kitchen is preparation of food."
    – amalloy
    Jun 20 '18 at 18:23
  • @amalloy - I upvoted your comment because I appreciated your paraphrase. But I wonder if you really couldn't understand where the answer was going. How about if we expanded it a little bit? "The food is prepared in the kitchen, not in the dining room."
    – J.R.
    Jun 20 '18 at 19:10
  • 3
    @J.R. I found the same sentence amalloy pointed out to be confusing, and I'm a native English speaker! My guess is that what this answer means there is that "The food is prepared in the kitchen." is short for, "The kitchen is the place where food is normally prepared, whether or not any food is in there now or any preparation is currently happening". It's not completely clear in this answer, however. Jun 20 '18 at 19:34
  • @ToddW - My first job happened to be in the kitchen of an upscale restaurant. I worked there for three years. Who knows? Maybe that's why it translated so easily for me – we prepared food in the kitchen.
    – J.R.
    Jun 20 '18 at 20:22
  • 1
    I'm also a native (American) English speaker, and I understood this answer except for that one sentence. Like, I know what the sentence originally asked about means, because I already knew it. But I don't understand how reading your explanatory sentence would help me come to understand the question. "'Food is prepared in the kitchen' means 'Food is prepared in the kitchen'"? Is the emphasis important? What meaning has been clarified?
    – amalloy
    Jun 20 '18 at 21:27

Both sound natural, as long as you change "prepered" to "prepared", which I assume, was just a typo.

The meal is ready.

might be seen as less formal, but otherwise both examples are the same.

  • 3
    +1 Although I'd say "ready" is more natural for the vast majority of people. "Prepared" doesn't simply sound more formal, to me; it sounds extremely stuffy, like something only an upper-class servant would say. Jun 20 '18 at 7:14

As a British English speaker, I'd expect either

The meal is ready.

or, more formally,

The meal is served.

The phrase "the meal is prepared" feels more like it's been translated from German.

  • 2
    The phrase "the meal is prepared" feels more like it's been translated from German I, as a German, wouldn't agree. In Germany you often hear people say "Das Essen ist fertig", which translates more to "the mean is ready" than "the meal is served" Jun 20 '18 at 9:27
  • @XtremeBaumer I meant that 'prepared' is more commonly used as a verb than an adjective in British English, at least not in an 'X is Y' construction. This leaves it feeling like a sentence with the verb at the end, which is regarded as a stereotypically German word ordering. Sorry, I should have been clearer.
    – origimbo
    Jun 20 '18 at 10:07
  • But "fertig" in German also has a sense of "finished"; Saying "the meal is finished" would mean something quite different in English. Jun 20 '18 at 13:58
  • "...from German". Maybe you are biased by the range of languages you speak :) It sounds fine in Spanish.
    – Miguel
    Jun 20 '18 at 16:37

I think the difference is that "is ready" describes a current state, whereas "is prepared" (in relation to food) describes something that happens to the food over a period of time.

To confuse this, saying "I am prepared" means almost exactly the same as "I am ready". For reasons I can't fully explain, "I am prepared" works very differently from "the meal is prepared".

  • 1
    I think its a matter of whether the event in question is imminent. If I'm in the lobby waiting for an interview, "I am prepared" means I've done my research and know how to answer any questions. But "I'm not ready" because I dropped all my papers and I haven't tied my tie yet. Jun 20 '18 at 17:17

My two cents:

When the preparation is done, the food is cooked. In other words, you are done with cooking. But since you mentioned that it is on the dining table, waiting for people, you better use ready.

On the market too, we have food that are ready-to-eat not prepared to eat! I may also take it this way - I prepared a burger but then after garnishing and decorating (making it presentable) with veggies around, it's then ready (to eat).

So, in short, prepared food is done with cooking, ready food is done with cooking as well as presenting to the eaters.


As a Dutchman I learned in school that the English sentence "The food is prepared" means that someone is preparing the food now, so this means explicitly that it is not yet ready. So the two sentences would mean very different things. This is a trap for Dutch speakers as a literal translation to Dutch ("Het voedsel is klaargemaakt") would mean that the food is ready. This should in English be said as "The food has been prepared".

  • 3
    Do you maybe mean "The food is being prepared"?
    – Geshode
    Jun 20 '18 at 13:29
  • 1
    English being the staggeringly mutable language that it is, "The food is prepared" is context-sensitive. You can announce it to indicate that the food is ready to be served, or you can use it to indicate the process of preparing the food was done, eg: "The food is prepared, the table laid and the meal consumed" as a narrative series of events, whereas on its own, it's more of a declaration of the food's status, you might announce to your guests that "Dinner is prepared!" to call them to the table. It'd be a more formal usage though. Jun 20 '18 at 15:40
  • As a native British English speaker, "The food is prepared." seems an incomplete sentence - it needs another clause specifiying the time, or place, or the method of preparation, or who is preparing it, etc. Of course in "The food is being prepared", the word being supplies the extra information about time - i.e. the preparation is taking place now.
    – alephzero
    Jun 20 '18 at 22:19
  • @Geshode Yes, "The food" is prepared" would be equivalent to "The food is being prepared", so they told us.
    – Jelmer
    Jun 21 '18 at 5:54

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