12 Lessons About Eating We Can Learn From The French
The French diet is full of flavor and high in satisfaction. They don’t believe in low-fat, low-carb, low-taste, or low-calorie, but they do believe in enjoying their food, taking the time to eat at the table, knowing when to stop eating and educating their children about food. These are a just a few of the many lessons the French can teach us about a culture that truly thrives on savoring the flavor at mealtime.1. The French eat family meals together. No distractions. It’s a real bonding time where they get to talk discuss life. The French train their kids from the age of three to spend time eating at the table at lunch every day in school. They’re not inherently better behaved, but they’ve practiced for years. By the time you see an eight-year-old French kid in a restaurant they have sat at a table thousands of times. It’s just practice.
2. The French sit down and enjoy their meals.
Eating great food — no matter how simple or how elaborate — is one of life’s great pleasures. It’s rare to see people eating while walking or shopping in France. There are no cup holders on caddies, or even in most cars. You eat at the table, not in front of the TV or computer screen, then you leave the table and do something else. When eating at restaurants, the French are never asked by their servers “are you done with that?” because the meal is a pleasure, not a task.
3. They French don’t snack! They eat, but not all day long. It’s OK to feel hungry between meals.
The French don’t graze after dinner. That’s why when mealtimes roll around, they eat with real pleasure because they’re hungry. When the kitchen closes, it’s CLOSED and they have set mealtimes without cheating on the side. Portions are generous without going overboard. Although the French take in a lot of daily calories compared to most other countries (but nothing compared to yearly U.S. calorie intake), they don’t gain weight because of how they schedule their meals.
4. The French never say diet.
The French don’t get involved in the carbs versus protein debate, nor do they label food groups “bad.” They emphasize on eating a wide variety of foods without overdoing any one specific food group. Yo-yo dieting and extreme fluctuations in weight we see in America are completely absent in France. They are masters at stabilizing their metabolism. You’ll never see a French person on a restricted calorie diet to lose weight … it just doesn’t happen.
5. The French know their limit, then stop eating.
In France, you won’t find many all-you-can-eat feasts, such as buffets, tailgate parties and unlimited pasta and dessert bars, where it’s easy for the calories to add up quickly. The French realize that they will get to eat again in a few hours. They usually stop when they’re 80% full and don’t continue to gorge when they’re full if and when they ever get there.
6. Parents are in charge of food education, not schools!
This doesn’t just mean teaching your children to eat right. It means teaching them to appreciate and love food — all kinds of food. The French believe that teaching children to eat is just as important as, and just as time consuming as, teaching them to read. They have a long-term view. Kids eat what adults eat. No short-order cooking. There’s no mac & cheese special just for the boy. They also don’t get frustrated when there are bumps in the road. Some kids take longer to read than others, but they don’t give up and say “This kid is a picky eater, she just doesn’t like broccoli.” You don’t treat fear of foods as a personality trait, you treat it as a phase.
7. The French eat lighter at night.
Lunchtime is the main event. Dinner is usually light: soups, salads, an omelet, a simple pasta dish. Dessert might be a yogurt or fruit. And you sleep so much better.
8. The French don’t eat emotionally and restrict portion size.
You’re not going to see many French women on the couch crying with a bag of potato chips. They don’t emotionally attach themselves to food. The French diet is full of flavor and high in satisfaction. The women eat bread, chocolate, even rich sauces made from real butter and cream, yet they do not get fat. Pourquoi? Moderation. It’s all about portion control. They eat small portions of high-quality foods less often. Portion sizes in America are at least 40% or more than in France.
9. Eat your veggies. You don’t have to LIKE it, but you do have to TASTE it.
Even if children don’t like a specific food, the French are more neutral and will just shrug and say, “Oh well, you just haven’t tried it enough times.” However, they will still make them taste it. They learn to taste their food and guess the ingredients. They love to talk about their food. Discussing how something tastes, its ingredients and how it was made heightens awareness; children love to join the conversation. They learn about real food and where it comes from. Children get involved in cooking and preparation.
10. The French prefer water.
Generally speaking, the French do not drink their calories. At mealtimes, water (whether still or sparkling) is the drink of choice. Adults might opt for a glass or two of wine, but the glasses aren’t the size of fishbowls.
11. The French eat slowly.
Study after study shows that when you slow down and chew your food thoughtfully you eat less. But it also gives you the chance to be social and chat more, and the French have mastered this aspect within their dining experience. It takes an average of 15 minutes for your brain to get the message that your stomach is full, which means that eating slowly makes it more likely you’ll stop at a point where you’re “satisfied” as opposed to “stuffed.”
12. The French eat mostly real food. Quality not quantity. Treats are OK only for special occasions. By “real food” they mean whole foods and not processed foods. Not stuff from a box, can or a fast food joint. Of course the French will take pleasure in the occasional treat, but they usually do so in the company of another, on a special occasion or, if alone, with a good book or beautiful music. Again, it’s all about the experience.
April McCarthy is a community journalist playing an active role reporting and analyzing world events to advance our health and eco-friendly initiatives.