Gabrielle of DesignMom (whose blog I adore, mostly for her posts about her life in France) recently wrote about French food habits. If you’ve been reading here for more than 5 minutes, you know I’m mildly obsessed with French culture (food being a large part of that!). So, I read her post and every single comment with interest.
She mentioned two books that I’ve read and reviewed here: Bringing Up Bebe and French Kids Eat Everything. Since reading those, I began making small changes to our (already good) eating habits. Some of my favorite things about French eating habits are:
- No snacking. Mealtimes are when food is eaten, period.
- No eating on the run or in cars. Food and drink are consumed à la table.
- Kids eat what adults eat. Pickiness is not catered to. (Catering to pickiness frankly drives me nuts.) Children are encouraged to take “polite bites” and are expected to have good manners.
- Eating is a social event. Meals are taken en famille.
- Quality over quantity. Food is taken seriously, and care goes into selection, preparation and presentation.
- Moderation and variety. Nothing is forbidden, food is to be enjoyed, but excess is frowned upon. Variety means better nutrition without stressing over macro or micronutrients (which are constantly falling in and out of favor depending on the latest “study”. Another pet peeve!)
- Dejeuner (lunch) as the main meal. This makes total sense to me. Midday is when we are most active, so why not consume most of the day’s calories then? My 95 year old grandmother (her ancestors were Scottish) ate this way. “Dinner” aka lunch, was the biggest meal, and supper was light. I also notice, when I read about the eating habits of early American colonists, that they “earned” their calories before breakfast. For instance, it was common to rise early, do an hour or two of farm chores, and THEN sit down to a moderate sized breakfast.
These are all values I hold dear, although some of them are harder to implement than others, especially when the culture around you has no rules when it comes to eating.
And that’s the thing about America and food: we have no actual food culture. No rules. Anything goes.
People here are constantly snacking and eating junk, or going to the other extreme and doing crazy diets (that typically exclude entire food groups, most of which are totally unsustainable and end up costing our health in the long run – don’t get me started!) in the name of “health”.
The French have obviously figured something out, because without obsessing over diet, they manage to live longer than almost anyone in the world, enjoy their food more than we do, and stay slim. (Their kids even have less ADD.)
What I wish is that I had a friend who was French, or at least an American expat living in France who could answer a few questions for me about the things I find difficult about the changes I’ve tried to make to our eating habits. Such as:
How do you go several hours inbetween meals?
Eating lunch at 12 and then not again until 8 or so sounds impossibly long to me. I have a moderate sized breakfast, always sitting down at a table, and I’m still hungry again at 11. Even waiting until 12 seems hard some days (maybe because I’m still nursing?). French kids eat a gouter (snack) at around 4 to tide them over, but adults? Non.
Alors…. how do you stop your kids from grabbing snacks from the kitchen?
My children are expected to be obedient, but this is one area where I can’t seem to get compliance. My kids, even the baby, are always walking in the kitchen trying to raid the fridge. Even with frequent reminders, they’re always trying to grab a snack.
I suppose in France there is a stronger deterrent: for one, social stigma. And secondly, I imagine French kids would be punished for this, since there is a belief that adults are in control of food. (Although I believe this too!)
How do you get your family to slow down at the table and linger?
This one is tough. Even I struggle with it. My husband and I have come to the conclusion that things like public school and working in corporate America have trained us to wolf our food down in less than 30 minutes. Probably a lot of truth to it.
I’ve definitely been encouraging my kids and hubby to eat slowly – it’s discouraging to spend an hour cooking only to have the meal disappear in 10 minutes! Hubby has developed some digestive issues that I think are related to plain eating too fast.
And it boggles my mind to think of the French babies and toddlers I’ve read about, who are patient enough to sit for hours-long special family long dinners.
Is a light breakfast something your body adjusts to?
Many Americans eat a larger breakfast, courtesy of habits handed down to us from our British, German and Northern European ancestors, but the French (like other Latins) have smaller breakfasts. I would love to have a smaller breakfast, but can’t really get my family signed on. They like the proverbial sawmiller’s breakfast.
In recent years especially I’ve tired of cooking a long, involved breakfast. It can easily take me 45 minutes to an hour to cook breakfast for my crew, and I don’t enjoy that first thing in the morning. I even wrote an ebook with breakfast shortcuts.
Ever since I was a child, I’ve woken up so hungry! (Of course, eating dinner at 8 might mean I’m not as hungry in the AM). My kids seemed to have inherited this trait. (Interestingly, my ex-husband, who is the father of 4 of my kids, was never a breakfast eater. He’s from Canada, which is of course influenced by French culture. And I just now made that connection while I sat here typing this out!)
On eating meals in courses: do you really do that every day?
I’ve read that even babies in daycare in France eat 4-course meals (veggie starter, main dish, cheese, then dessert/fruit). Eating meals in courses sounds like a lot of work, and a lot of extra dishes. I do it occasionally. I understand that eating in courses makes you feel more full with less food, and also helps create a more festive atmosphere.
Since reading about the eating habits of the French, one of the bad habits I’ve mostly broken is eating in the car. Just yesterday, when I was unexpectedly out and about at lunchtime, I decided to take the kids into a restaurant for a quick bite, instead of going through a drive-thru. (I even ate my burger and fries with a fork! I also eat pizza with a fork. It really does help me slow down my eating, and I just ignore the funny looks!) This morning when hubby and I stopped for a coffee, I insisted that we get out of the car and go inside, and I ate my almond croissant on a plate with a fork. I think we enjoyed the experience far more.
Have you ever tried to make counter-cultural changes in your eating habits? Was it difficult? How did your family like the adjustment?