The lore stems from the military and a few orther origins. Depending upon who and what your believe there are several explanations; yet, I have some research dating back to 1859 (the earliest known use of the term) and that is your answer. Thankyou for trying... I will give details when the correct answer is found.
I went to High School with a girl whose father was a very strict military guy. She (and the rest of her family) had to literally eat their meals in such a way that they moved their arms (while holding their forks) to form a square as they brought their food from the plate to their mouths! (ie: fork on the plate, slide across to get the food, then lift arm straight up until it reached the height of their mouths, and then bring the fork directly across the plane to their mouth, eat, then straight back down to the plate - scary!) Could that be it???
This too, is a great answer. Permitting people to sit and pose at right angles while supping is a very good response... Yet, it too is incorrect. I will put the correct answer on the question when the actual answer has been found. Thank you for the response.
Ye Olde English Sayings
GETTING A SQUARE MEAL ... A square plate allowed a larger amount of foot on a relatively smaller plate. So a square meal was a larger meal than they would otherwise be having - a good square meal being a favourable thing.
I also found this reference, however, I found an even later, or coincidentally the same period of time for the answer I am using as correct. Most of the information from the place you found this is and has to do with how the Brits see things, but not where the expression began. I am anxious to reveal the answer so if I don't any more responses I will reveal my answer and its source. Thanks.
Perhaps it has something to do with a certain group of people. The people I'm referencing are often considered boring, dull and/or slightly out of touch with modern society. We know them as 'squares'.
As the story goes, a few of these dullards got together and opened a diner in a small town somewhere in the middle of God's country. This was, say, back in the mid 1800s. 1854(ish) to be exact. They served up some really good eats, and many people pulled up a chair in their small diner. While everyone raved about the food, it was hard to deny that the chef's were just a little, nay, a lot, on the 'square' side. And thus, the phrase, getting a square meal was born.
That is a good answer. My refence is a solid date. if yours is 1854 on the money, it beats my answer. I found a group of people who are given credit for the expression (circa your date, just a few years later), but not for the reasons you listed. Good effort, thank you.
OK. Today I spill the beans a bit earlier than expected... because I wish to hear from the respondents who have participated. The phrase that I found is from 1856, the mining camps of California and advertisements to that effect. Karen J. Beck came awfully close but from what I saw could not confirm the 1854 date she supplied... so unless she offers a foundation for the 1854 date, I must say my answer is the oldest use and the most period correct. Now, it could be that the phrase was just becoming a phrase and still under construction during the 1854 period.. to that I will accede to the date she provided. However, let's get on with the answer.
These are possibles also due to their period dating, yet no firm date justification for the phrase:
Your dinner plate was a square piece of wood with a "bowl"or “tencher” carved out to hold your serving of the perpetual stew that was always cooking over the fire. The kettle was never actually emptied and cleaned out. New ingredients were simply added to the muck. You always took your "square" with you when you went traveling. Trencher is thought to originate from the French language where 'trancher' meant to cut, you'd cut the meat on your board.
From Tommo, MIDN, RAN, Royal Australian Navy: Another Naval expression, correctly described by the second person as being to efficiently fit more plates on a sailors' table. A square plate allowed a larger amount of foot on a relatively smaller plate. So a square meal was a larger meal than they would otherwise be having - a good square meal being a favorable thing. In the early parts of the 1700’s the phrase might have been forming, yet nothing to say the phrase was at that time. Makes sense for the gallies of their day... no definitive date.
From BBC program about antiques: The British war ships of the time of Nelson and Trafalga had square plates to fit the tables slung between the cannons below decks. So many sailors were from such poor and under nourished backgrounds; they saw this as a "Square Meal" - meaning the only good one they had had. Yet there are few references to this saying with this set of ships and events. Moving right along...
From a mid-European friar we get this version: Food was cooked in the kitchen in a big kettle hanging over the fire, and things were added to the pot every day. People would eat the stew for dinner, leaving leftovers in the pot to get cold overnight and then start over the next day. Sometimes it had food in it that had been in there for over a week. Hence the rhyme: "Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old,” circa 1760. This is the origin of the events translated later into kiddie songs... once again, the dates are unconfirmed and still in flux for a positive origination.
In former times the US military required you to sit formally at meals, bolt upright with arms at right-angles, so forming a square shape. Therefore, a meal in the mess was always a square meal. It is interesting ; but then, lore and fairytales are always interesting and sometimes funny.
This is what I have and will stand by it:
I found that a square meal was originally American. Early examples seem to have come out of miners’ slang from the western side of the country. Mark Twain, in The Innocents Abroad, refers to it as a Californian expression and as the oldest example I know. Which example appeared in the Mountain Democrat of Placerville, California (a gold-mining town) of 8 November 1856: “We have secured the services of an excellent cook, and can promise all who patronize us that they can always get a hearty welcome and a ‘square meal,’ at the ‘Hope and Neptune.’” A slightly later one appeared in 1862 in the Morning Oregonian of Portland, Oregon, about a hotel that had opened in the town: “If you want a good square meal and a clean bed to sleep in, give Mr. Lee a call.” I found a further reference in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine of 1865, about the mining town of Virginia City in Nevada, created to serve the famous Comstock lode. “Says the proprietor of a small shanty, in letters that send a thrill of astonishment through your brain: ‘LOOK HERE! For fifty cents you CAN GET A GOOD SQUARE MEAL at the HOWLING WILDERNESS SALOON!’”
A square meal is not, as imagined, … not a meal placed upon the table in the form of a solid cubic block; it appears a substantial repast of pork and beans, onions, cabbage, and other articles of sustenance for a great price. Only in America.
I offer you, the members, this set of dates for your approval... and enjoyment when next you play trivial pursuit!