September 11, 2018
There is much mystery about what French people actually eat. I’ve read countless blogs about ways to eat that could not be further from the truth. French people do not eat croissants every day, but they also do not eat acai bowls and granola bars (not that there is anything wrong with that - in fact, they're yummy!). From my experience growing up in Paris, the emphasis has always been on enjoying delicious food in moderation, and balancing it with fresh fruits and vegetables the rest of the time.
It is also important to note that there is no snacking per se, in France. You can read more about that below in the afternoon snack section.
Wake-up sunshine, breakfast is here!
During the week: Breakfast during the week is quick and simple, but tasty! French people usually have a piece of toasted sourdough bread (in France, I have a baguette), with a little bit of butter and Bonne Maman jams. Yes, butter and jam! It may sound unnecessary but I promise you, it will change everything. The key is not to put too much of either, and instead barely layer the bread. When I feel like I’ve had a little too much to eat the night before, I replace the toasted bread with a plain yogurt and some berries or ½ a banana.
On weekends: My breakfast doesn’t actually change much on the weekend. Sometimes, I do stop by the bakery and enjoy a croissant as most French people would. Brunch is gaining tractions in the largest French cities, but still isn’t at a cult level like in the US. What definitely changes on the weekend is most French people eat a bit later, and take their time to enjoy breakfast. They usually have breakfast with their spouse or family, while during the week practicality means that they will sometimes enjoy breakfast on their own, right before work.
During the week: What French people eat for lunch is actually similar to what we eat stateside. Usually, people working in offices have simple salads or sandwiches; ham & cheese sandwiches being the most popular of all! The big difference is that they usually sit down for at least 45 minutes to enjoy their food. I have found that talking time to eat allows me to feel full with eating less, and having a real lunch break makes me feel refreshed and ready to get back to work. I know it may seem odd at first to step away from one’s computer and take time to sit somewhere and eat, but I was able to slowly implement this in a busy NYC sports league, so I am sure you can make small changes too.
On weekends: Like discussed above, brunch is not yet a French institution. While some restaurants do have a weekend brunch menu, they are not the norm, and most French people enjoy lunch at home. For this meal, the typical French meal will be served: a starter (entrée) consisting usually of charcuterie or vegetables, a main dish (plat) such as pasta, meat, seafood, side salads, etc. These are simple French dishes, but French people would take a lot longer to enjoy them than during the week. To finish, cheese and dessert would be served. A weekend lunch can easily take 1-2 hours, especially when inviting a few family members to share it.
On Sundays, many French families still hold a formal Sunday luncheon, where the meal can easily last most of the afternoon! The tradition is deeply rooted in the country’s culture, where many people used to attend Sunday mass and all shops used to be closed that day, making it the perfect time to catch up with extended family. For the traditional Sunday lunch, French people usually eat rich, traditional French food (usually from their regions), such as roast chicken or veal, grilled salmon, stuffed tomatoes, lasagna, etc. These savory dishes are usually accompanied with a sweet treat at the end, such as chocolate mousse, madeleines, or sea salt cookies.
During childhood: I want to preface this section by discussing “Le Goûter” – yes, the French gave a special name to the afternoon snack. In France, school usually ends around 4pm and snacks (no matter whether they are morning snacks, midnight snacks, etc.) are not part of the food culture. Because the French tend to eat dinner much later than in the US; around 7:30pm-8pm, it would be very long for children or teenagers to wait this long between lunch and dinner: hence the need for an afternoon snack! Most French children enjoy this meal with a few cookies accompanied by yogurt or a piece of fruit.
During the week: As grown-ups, most French adults tend to skip having an "official" afternoon snack. However, it’s not rare for French people to keep a few cookies at their desk to enjoy a sweet treat once in a while.
On weekends: On weekends, French people are more likely to enjoy a French-style afternoon snack. The choices are endless, but the most popular choices would be a few sea salt galettes or Bonne Maman cookies, or a sweet treat from a nearby bakery such as a chocolate éclair or a macaron.
During the week: Because French people working in offices usually get out of work later than in the US (6:30pm-7pm is the norm), they usually stick to simple dinners during the week. A typical weeknight dinner in France may look like a small starter such as shredded carrots, radishes, charcuterie, or olive tapenade, a simple main dish (grilled chicken, steak or salmon, served with potatoes, pasta or green beans), and a yogurt with a piece of fruit, and a cookie or piece of chocolate. During the winter, it is not uncommon for French women to only have soup as a meal. A lot of French people tend to skip the starter too and only have a main dish with a sweet treat.
On weekends: This is when most French people like to go out to eat! In France, going out to a restaurant is still seen as a special treat, and most people tend to keep this enjoyment for the weekends when they have the most time to enjoy the experience. Similarly to the US, French people usually tend to eat out on Friday and Saturday nights – it is in fact not rare to see restaurants close on Sunday nights as most people choose to eat at home and prepare for the week ahead.
Is that similar to your way of eating? What do you enjoy about the French eating style?
Let me know in the comments below!Noémie
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