Fare translates as “to make” or “to do.” But we also use fare in contexts where English uses the verb “to have.”
Let's look at some ways fare is used when referring to food — the cooking of it and the eating of it. It can be straightforward and mean “to make”:
Fa il pane ogni venerdì (he makes bread every Friday).
But let’s look at some less predictable uses of fare and see where they lead.
In English, we say: “I’ll fix dinner” or “I’ll make dinner,” but in Italian, it’s common to say preparo la cena (I’ll prepare dinner) or, to be more generic and informal, faccio da mangiare (I’ll make something to eat). Note that the verb cucinare (to cook) is the actual proper Italian verb for this.
Dovrei fare da mangiare ma invece leggerò il giornale (I should fix something to eat, but instead, I'm going to read the paper).
“Eating breakfast” or "having breakfast" uses the verb fare in Italian: fare colazione (to have breakfast or “to eat breakfast”).
Non esco mai da casa senza aver fatto una buona colazione.
I never leave the house without having eaten a good breakfast.
Caption 15, Adriano - GiornataPlay Caption
In Italian, unlike English, having lunch or dinner is often referred to using the verb forms of pranzo (lunch) and cena (dinner): pranzare and cenare.
Ho pranzato a mezzogiorno e mezzo (I had lunch at half past twelve).
Aveva già cenato quando sono arrivata io (he had already eaten dinner when I got there).
A che ora pranzi di solito (what time do you usually have lunch)?
Oggi non pranzo. Ho mangiato un panino per strada (I’m not having lunch today. I ate a sandwich on the way).
Note that the verb avere (to have) can be used as an auxiliary verb, as in ho mangiato (I ate), or ho fatto colazione (I had breakfast), but is not used the way we use it in English as a kind of substitute for "to eat." Avere (to have) might be used as follows:
Ho un po' di pasta avanzata. La vuoi mangiare (I have some leftover pasta. Do you want to have it)?
In a nutshell:
For breakfast, we use fare colazione (to have breakfast), but for lunch and dinner, we use pranzare and cenare. Fare da mangiare is a general term meaning to prepare or make something to eat.
As you go through your day, think about your meals, answer these questions, and, if you can, make up new ones, changing the conjugations or other elements in the sentence.
Chi fa da mangiare in casa tua (who cooks the meals in your house)?
A che ora hai fatto colazione stamattina (what time did you have breakfast this morning)?
Con chi ha pranzato tuo fratello (with whom did your brother have lunch)? Cosa hanno mangiato (what did they eat)?
Note that when you get specific about the food you eat, then you can use the verb mangiare (to eat), but remember you don’t “eat lunch” in Italian, you eat something (such as pasta) at/for lunch:
A pranzo i miei genitori hanno mangiato dei fagioli col tonno (my parents had beans and tuna for lunch). Tu che cosa hai mangiato (what did you have)?
Ti va di cenare con solo verdura (do you feel like having just vegetables for dinner)?
Note that in Italian, we sometimes use per (for) pranzo /cena and we sometimes use a (at) pranzo/cena.
Cosa c’è per cena (what’s for dinner)?
Cosa mangiamo a cena (what shall we have for dinner?)
There’s always more to learn about verbs such as fare. Remember, it’s an irregular verb, and a very common one, so it’s a handy verb to know how to conjugate.