I'm not sure if this belongs here or in the English language stack exchange but here goes:

We have broad classifications like "Fruit" and "Vegetable" and "Meat"/"Protein". What do you collectively call bread, rice, pasta, cereal etc. My first guess was "Grains" but that feels like referring to the unprocessed thing rather than the food.

  • 13
    Are you looking for a term which includes potatoes or excludes them? Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 17:27
  • @TannerSwett You know what I'm confused on whether to include potatoes or not - Should it be considered a veggie?
    – ColonD
    Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 9:51
  • Cooked cereal, or cereal grains? It makes a difference.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 0:25
  • Also, "but that feels like referring to the unprocessed thing rather than the food*" ignores the fact that rice and wheat and oats exist in both the uncooked and cooked forms.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 0:27
  • 2
    "carbs" or carbohydrates
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 4:52

8 Answers 8


There are several terms which you can use, depending on the context of writing (or speaking).

A very simple one is "the starch". It is mostly used in the context of meal planning, such as "What starch are we going to serve tonight" or "When planning a vegetarian meal, it is best to first decide on the starch and then select sides that complement it".

"Grains" or, mostly interchangeably, "cereals" is what academic specialists for nutrition and diets use in their jargon. If you read a textbook on nutrition, that's where you will find breads, etc. There, the context makes it clear that the word doesn't mean simply uncooked kernels. The nonacademic literature on dieting is more likely to use "carbs" - see Chris H's answer for more detail on that usage.

In legal language, for example rules and regulations about food product labelling, or import and export regulations, you will frequently find phrases like "grain products".

Since none of these terms is unambiguous, outside of these genres of writing you will probably have to go for something more descriptive, for example "foods made from grains" in a colloquial conversation.

  • 14
    It also depends on why you mean to collectively refer to these foods in any specific instance. For example, we might also call such foods "staples", if we mean to talk about their role as a primary source of calories in the diet, for example. This might also include non-cereal foods like sago, plantain, cassava, potatoes, etc. What the speaker means to convey is important.
    – J...
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 17:29
  • @Carl - The OP has not clarified whether they want "grains" or "starches". That was the whole point of the "do you want to include potatoes" question in the comment, and the OP has replied "I don't know". Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 15:10
  • This is regionally specific - in Australia I don't think I've ever heard anyone use "starch" in a meal planning context. Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 2:44
  • @MartinBonner I was confused, but now thinking about it I do want to include those things. I think for my usage "Carbs" is the right one cause I wanted to classify it in terms of nutrition/meal-planning.
    – ColonD
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 6:07
  • 1
    I would say that I would find “grains” at least as likely in colloquial speech as “carbs”—“grains” is more likely if we’re talking about cooking or flavor, “carbs” more likely if we’re talking about dieting (within my circles, the former is a much more likely topic of conversation than the latter!).
    – KRyan
    Commented Nov 25, 2018 at 17:42

A broader category, including things like potatoes, would be carbs (carbohydrates). This is a common category when considering feeding for exercise, and tends to mean starchy foods. It's not a perfect term as "carbs" strictly includes sugars, but the carb component of a meal is the (usually fairly plain) bulk accompaniment to the tasty bits.

  • 2
    Good point - the term is part of the jargon of yet another group, I am not entirely sure how I would call them. Maybe "popular nutrition authors" as opposed to the "academic nutrition authors" who prefer to use "grains" and use the word "carbohydrates" for the macronutrient only, not for the food which delivers it.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 14:21
  • @rumtscho that's probably part of it but also carbs is broader, unless you can think of a better term for (grains + starchy vegetables). It pairs with the "protein" in the question, and as we're not exactly sure how the OP intends to use it, it's worth including the option. I have seen "choose your carb" (yes, singular) in a build your own menu at the gym cafe, but the don't use it any more, probably because plenty of people eating in a gym cafe would have a meal of protein + salad rather than filling up on carbs
    – Chris H
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 15:24
  • 2
    I think this is a very good answer. In a strictly culinary context however, I don't agree and "starches" would be better. The reason is, a culinary aspect considers meal parts rather than nutritional /dietary constituents. And "carbs" relates entirely to the dietary content, not to the meal or the culture of cooking or eating. Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 19:23

Since all of those, specifically (even the bread) are derived from cereal grains, they are generally referred to as "grains."

Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products.

Grains are divided into 2 subgroups, Whole Grains and Refined Grains. Whole grains contain the entire grain kernel ― the bran, germ, and endosperm. Examples of whole grains include whole-wheat flour, bulgur (cracked wheat), oatmeal, whole cornmeal, and brown rice. Refined grains have been milled, a process that removes the bran and germ. This is done to give grains a finer texture and improve their shelf life, but it also removes dietary fiber, iron, and many B vitamins. Some examples of refined grain products are white flour, de-germed cornmeal, white bread, and white rice.

US Department of Agriculture: What Foods Are In the Grains Group?

  • 1
    "Cereals" and "Grains" are common terms indeed, although I almost never hear "Bread" included - common food pyramids I'd see in school would have "Bread & Grain", breaking bread out on its own.
    – Darren
    Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 14:20


I've heard it called the Rule of Three - protein, starch, vegetable.

  • Doesn't this include potatoes?
    – Darren
    Commented Nov 21, 2018 at 14:20
  • 3
    @Darren Yes but I don't think that's a problem. The asker says "like bread, rice and cereal", suggesting that they're only examples of the phenomenon and the goal isn't to find a word that matches just those three things. Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 0:23
  • Where are you from? I've never heard this in Australia. Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 2:44
  • I'm UK. I can't remember whether I picked this up from my ex-partner [a chef] or actually from Gordon Ramsey on such as Hell's Kitchen]
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Nov 23, 2018 at 7:10

The first thing that came to my mind is that these are "staple foods." In other words, and especially for what you specifically mention, these foods constitute the basis of diet for a group of people.

Of course, they're also starches, carbs, sugars, etc.

  • 2
    I would argue that the fact that they are usually also staple foods is accidental. It just happens that ___ foods (where ___ is the term the OP is looking for) are simply economically and physiologically suited to be eaten frequently. There are cultures whose staple foods wouldn't fall in the category of ___ foods, for example the Inuit eat mostly meat.
    – rumtscho
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 15:18
  • 1
    Disagree. Staples are necessary foundations for meals, and I would say they vary by culture and by taste. In the USA, staples would likely be milk, butter, bread, maybe peanut butter. In another country staples may be a sack of beans, rice, cooking oil, etc. Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 19:19
  • @DouglasHeld yes, that's why I said "these foods constitute the basis of diet for a group of people," not for every group of people. But I do agree the term isn't the best for the OP's purposes.
    – joe_hill
    Commented Nov 22, 2018 at 0:34

The term "grains" is commonly used to referred to the 'processed' food as well as the 'unprocessed thing'. People often refer to 'eating grains', and they very rarely mean the unprocessed seeds.

I've also seen 'grain foods' used where there might be confusion.

  • +1 for this -- my doctor chides me to eat "whole grains," meaning whole wheat bread etc.
    – Erica
    Commented Nov 20, 2018 at 19:48

The term "farinaceous" might be appropriate, especially when used as "farinaceous dishes" that include other ingredients. The corresponding noun "farina" isn't quite equivalent.

"Farinaceous" seems to be rare now but was more common in the 1800s.


The examples you've given are all from the grass family and they're examples of cereals. But if you included peas and beans, those are legumes or pulses.

But if you also included say potatoes then these are often called carbs.

It's unclear which way you want to categorise. If you want to reference the main bulk of some meal which a previous answer has called the carbs, I often call this the filler of a meal.

The term carbs can't really legitimately be used e.g. if your filler is a pulse such as kidney beans which has a high protein content so isn't just carbs. Again, bread is a filler but contains protein, carbs and a bit of fat. Or you have say dumplings which are another filler, this time often with a relatively high fat content.

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