I have talked often in the past about the importance of learning common IELTS topics. This is probably the best way to learn vocabulary and become familiar with IELTS question types. As such, you should devote some time to reviewing the most common ones:

There are many more and some are more important than others, but I think that studying in terms of topic is really, really important if you want to learn IELTS quickly and effectively.

Today, we are going to look at another IELTS topic: Food.

ielts topics - food

Food: IELTS Topic or Sub-topic?

It is debatable whether something is a topic or sub-topic in IELTS, and to be honest I don’t think it is very important. However, I will try to explain a little about what I mean.

There are some broad topics such as society and technology, but then there are more specific ones like crime and computers. You could argue that the latter are sub-topics of the former, or you could argue that they are individual topics themselves!

IELTS Topic Society Technology
IELTS Sub-topic Crime and punishment
The Internet
Mobile phones

But does it really matter? Probably not.

The important thing is that you learn as many of these as possible because they are what the IELTS organisers will use to pick questions and materials for the test. You are never going to get a question about chemistry, calculus, or metaphysics… but there is a good chance that you will have questions about crime or computers!

It is also important to note that sometimes topics over-lap. We can consider “technology” and “childhood” to be separate topics, but of course you could be asked a question about whether we should allow children to use computers or whether the internet should be used in a classroom. In other words, IELTS topics are not mutually exclusive. They can be combined to create questions.

But what about “food”? Does it have any sub-topics?

Food, Cooking, Restaurants

In the past, I have talked about food on this website. I have talked about both restaurants and cooking, which could definitely be considered sub-topics of food. I would say that they are distinct from food but obviously related so it might be worthwhile studying them together.

Here are some old articles about food:

I also made a video to help you with the IELTS speaking part 2 cue card, “describe a restaurant.” You can see it here:

Food in the IELTS Exam

So when might food be discussed in the IELTS exam? This is a good question because it can help focus your studies. In my experience, it could potentially occur at any point in the exam, but it is most common in the speaking part.

Yes, you may find a reference to food in the listening test and you might have an article about food for the reading part, but these aren’t terribly common and I don’t think that knowing how to talk about food will really be a massive help. Instead, it’s more likely to appear in the speaking or writing tests.

Speaking about Food for IELTS

I find that the topic of food is most common in the IELTS speaking test. Here, there are many questions that could possibly occur in either parts one, two, or three. For part one, they will be simple questions in a conversational tone, usually referring to your preferences. For example:

  • What kind of food do you like?
  • What do you normally have for dinner?
  • Do you always eat breakfast?
  • Do you usually eat dinner alone or with other people?
  • What sort of food don’t you like?
  • Do you think you eat enough fruits and vegetables?
  • Do you have any food allergies?
  • Can you cook?
  • Do you prefer homecooked meals or eating in a restaurant?

There are many, many possible questions and those are just a few. As you can see, some of them involve cooking and others involve the place where we eat. You can consider them sub-topics, but they are definitely part of the greater topic of food.

For part two, you would encounter a cue card that asks you to describe something. Again, this could be a meal, a restaurant, or anything else related to the topic of food. For example:

  • Describe a meal you ate…
  • Describe a restaurant you like…

It is worth practising these sorts of questions before your test, but never try to memorise answers or you will be disappointed. The wording of these cue cards always changes and so you may not notice a subtle difference. For example, it could be a meal you ate recently, a meal you’d like to eat, or a meal that you know how to cook. These would require different answers.

As for part three, these usually involve greater issues such as society, gender, age, and so on. Your questions will often involve abstract or complex issues such as:

  • How can people be encouraged to eat more healthily?
  • Should fast-food companies be allowed to advertise to children?
  • What are the benefits of eating a balanced diet?

These questions usually require a little thought before you answer them because they are not simply matters of opinion. You must also justify your answer in order to get a good score. It is not enough to simply state a fact; you need to then explain it, give an example, and possibly even state some sort of summary or conclusion.

Food in IELTS Writing

ielts pie charts - nutrients in meals
An example of an IELTS writing task 1 question featuring food.

Although it is most common in the speaking test, you might also find food appearing in the writing test. This could theoretically be in task one, although you would not need much food vocabulary to answer it. This would be related to a line graph, bar chart, pie chart, or possibly a process diagram. In the case of the latter, it would be a diagram that shows you how something is made, such as a pie.

It is more likely, though, that you would encounter the IELTS topic of food in task two, where you would have questions that probably cross over with society. Here are a few examples of food-based questions that I have encountered:

Convenience foods will become increasingly prevalent and eventually replace traditional foods and traditional methods of preparation.

To what extent extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

In some countries, an increasing number of people are suffering from health problems as a result of eating too much fast food. It is therefore necessary for governments to impose a higher tax on this kind of food.

To what extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

Countries should try to produce all the food for the population and import as little food as possible.

To what extent do you agree or disagree?

In spite of the advances made in agriculture, many people around the world still go hungry.

Why is this the case?

What can be done about this problem?

With a growing population, many people believe that we should focus on producing more GM foods.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of doing this?

As you can see, the possibilities are varied and there are different question types that could occur. It is impossible to prepare for these by remembering the questions and hoping that they appear… so the best thing to do is study for the topic of food instead.

IELTS Food Vocabulary

I am always reluctant to recommend that people learn vocabulary in terms of lists because I think it creates new problems. If you don’t know how to use a word, it’s difficult to put it correctly into a sentence. Yet when it comes to IELTS, it is worth learning vocabulary in terms of topic. This can help you to relate words in your mind and use them accurately. This is true for learning IELTS food vocabulary.

Obviously, the language that you learn here is going to vary from person to person. I come from Scotland, so maybe I should know the word “haggis,” but for 99% of the world’s population, it is not a necessary word! 😅 That is because this food is specific to my country and it would never appear in an IELTS question. I would only bring it up if the question talked about traditional foods.

Therefore, when it comes to learning the names of food items, you should learn those that you think you would talk about. For example:

  • Foods you really like
  • Ones that you don’t like at all
  • Foods that come from your country
  • Famous foods around the world
  • Common or important ingredients

It is worth learning words that relate strongly to food, such as the items in a kitchen, dining room, or restaurant, and also the words we use for cooking. This vocabulary will of course vary slightly from culture to culture, but there are some constant ones like “boil,” “fry,” “stir,” and so on. Here is a video of IELTS cooking vocabulary:

How to Talk About Food for IELTS

If you are asked about food, then you should give an honest answer and use the language that you know how to use. Don’t try to use fancy language or tell the examiner what they want to hear. The best way to perform in IELTS is just to be natural and say what you know.

Let’s look back to one of the examples from part one of the speaking test and see how we could answer it:

What do you normally have for dinner?

To this answer, I would want to say that I don’t eat the same thing every day, but then given an example of something that I commonly eat. I think that this tells the truth and also shows the examiner that I have knowledge of the right vocabulary for this topic.

I might say:

Well, it’s hard to say because I don’t have the same thing every night, but I suppose I eat pasta at least once a week. I like it because it’s a versatile dish and I can make it totally different each time by putting in different ingredients like broccoli, bacon, or cheese.

What is so good about this answer? I have not said too much but I said enough to show that I knew the vocabulary and grammar necessary to answer the question fully. I have mentioned a main kind of food (pasta) and three ingredients (broccoli, bacon, cheese). Again, this will totally depend on your personal preferences and you shouldn’t waste time learning words like “bacon” if you don’t eat it in your culture. I have also used a nice adjective-noun combination with “versatile dish.” This would please the examiner but only if used correctly. Don’t use “difficult” words just for the sake of it.

As for the writing test, you will be more closely scrutinised for your vocabulary and grammar. This requires a greater range of language as well as accuracy, so it’s more of a challenge. (That’s why most people find writing to be the hardest part of the test.)

We shall now look at one of the sample questions from above:

Convenience foods will become increasingly prevalent and eventually replace traditional foods and traditional methods of preparation.

To what extend extent do you agree or disagree with this opinion?

Here is what I would write in my second paragraph:

The first and most obvious reason why ready-to-eat meals are not going to become staple foods is that they are generally unhealthy, or at least less healthy than traditional home-cooked meals. Food that we buy from fast food outlets or convenience stores often tastes very good, but it is usually heavily flavoured with salt and sugar, and possibly with other chemicals whose effects on the human body may be damaging. In some cases, these may even be addictive. The calorific value of this kind of food is often extremely high, too, which means that people who frequently eat fast food tend to become overweight or develop conditions like diabetes. For this reason, people will eventually shun them or they will be outlawed by governments that are fed-up with shouldering rising healthcare costs.

Notice some of the useful language I have used. This range of language tells the examiner that I am totally familiar with the topic:

  • ready-to-eat meals
  • staple foods
  • home-cooked meals
  • fast food outlets
  • calorific value
  • diabetes

I have also used combinations of words that show a familiarity with the language. I have said things like “heavily flavoured with salt and sugar” and “tend to become overweight or develop conditions like…” These may seem simple, but they are often misused. Being able to put those words into sentences correctly is far more important than knowing so-called advanced vocabulary.

Advice on Studying Food Vocabulary

If you want to learn more words about food and develop the correct grammar structures to use these words, then please avoid searching Google for “IELTS food vocabulary” and so on. It is much better to read books or articles about food and find those words organically.

Another great way to learn this sort of vocabulary is to look at cooking sites or videos and pick it up from there. Try watching some YouTube videos of Jaime Oliver or Nigella Lawson and listening to their use of the English language. You can also search the BBC Food website for more ideas.

The reason that I suggest you avoid typical websites for learning English is that many of them teach you long lists of vocabulary but without explaining how it should be used. These websites are also run by people who do not speak English perfectly and so they tend to share words that are not commonly used. I would strongly recommend that you learn new language in context from native speakers rather than non-native people online.

If you have any questions about IELTS and food, just post them in the comment section below and I will try to answer for you.