French Food Habits

French food habits featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Gabrielle of Design Mom

berries | French food habits featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Gabrielle of Design Mom

Image and text by Gabrielle.

We’ve been in Oakland for 8 months now, and it’s been interesting to see if any of the food habits we picked up in France would stick with us.

When we were in France, I can’t say that we ever completely adopted the French way of eating, but we got close! Partly, because living in such a rural area, we didn’t have much choice.

If you’re curious about French food habits, the two books I read that I found most helpful were Bringing Up Bébé and French Kids Eat Everything. As I spoke to French friends and neighbors about what I’d learned in the books, some people agreed completely with certain parts, but thought others were false stereotypes. So I wouldn’t consider the books as flawless, but I think they give a helpful description.

My observations of French food habits would include:

– The French enjoy minimal breakfasts — like a cup of coffee and a boiled egg, or hot cocoa and a croissant for the kids. Except on a leisurely weekend, I’ve always enjoyed minimal breakfasts myself, so this worked well for me.

– They enjoy long lunches with a complete menu. A salad to start, a main course with vegetables on the side, bread, cheese and dessert (though dessert might be a piece of fruit). This is the main meal of the day, and even at a school cafeteria it’s treated as important. We could never quite get used to this, and lunches were still a lighter meal for me and Ben Blair, with evening dinners as our main meal of the day.

– They enjoy smaller dinners, but eaten as a family. Since the vast majority of work places and stores close down by 6:00, evenings are family time.

– There are baguettes everywhere! This is one of those stereotypes I found to be accurate. You can see people walking down any village street with a baguette under their arm at any time. Even the Chinese Buffet in our little town served baguette.

– This may be different in Paris or other big cities, but in the countryside, people do not eat out very often, and there aren’t that many restaurant options. (Such a big contrast to my family’s life in the U.S.!)

– Speaking of restaurants, in our town they were open at very specific times. From 12:00 to 2:00 for lunch, and from 7:00 to 9:00 for dinner. That’s it. If you realize you’re hungry at 3:00 in the afternoon, restaurants aren’t an option. If it’s before 6:00 PM (when stores close), you could stop by a bakery and they may have a sandwich or quiche available, or you could stop at a grocery store and pick up yogurt and fruit.

– Another thing about restaurants in our town is that they don’t turn the tables over. Meaning, they don’t expect new customers to fill the tables after the first ones leave. Customers come around 7:00 and stay until 9:00 and then the restaurant closes. That means, if the restaurant is full, there is no “waiting till a table opens”. Once the restaurant is full, it’s full for the night. I found this to be true in non-touristy restaurants all over the country. That also means, it’s bad form to show up at 8:30 and hope to be served. Traditional French meals are long and don’t really offer “quick bite” options. And one more thing, in our little town, restaurants need reservations so they can know how much food to have on hand. A family of 8 dropping by without a reservation didn’t work.

– When we first arrived there, we had been in the habit of eating out quite a bit, and relying on last-minute restaurant meals on busy work days. I know it sounds silly, but it was hard for me to realize this simply wouldn’t be an option. We had to make dinner on most nights. And we had to think ahead. If we wanted to pick up last-minute dinner ingredients at 7:00 PM, we would be out of luck because the grocery store would be closed. We simply had to think harder about our food. This was tricky for me to get used to, but ultimately a good thing. I definitely think it’s important to put more consideration into what we eat.

– One exception to all of this was McDonald’s. Our town had a McDonald’s and it was the only restaurant open continuously from morning till late night. It was literally the only restaurant option for a hot meal between 2:00 PM and 7:00 PM. Not an exaggeration. And we definitely had our fair share of meals there! Despite all of our planning and efforts to adopt the French way of eating, on some nights, we just didn’t have our dinner act together. Maybe it was a longer than usual work day, maybe we hadn’t picked up proper ingredients, maybe it was too late to get a restaurant reservation — and we’d end up at McDonald’s.

– Another note about McDonald’s. Surprisingly, especially when you consider how much the French care about food, it seemed like McDonald’s is not viewed as evil-y there as it is in the U.S.. McDonald’s actually serves multiple purposes in small communities. For example, in our town there was literally no evening hangout options for teenagers beyond McDonald’s. The libraries are closed. The clothes stores are closed. Everything is closed. But McDonald’s is open late, it’s well lit and safe, it’s centrally located, it has good, reliable wifi and inexpensive food. No doubt hanging at McDonald’s keeps many kids out of trouble.

– I carried a fairly hostile view of McDonald’s in France, and was embarrassed when we ate there, until a conversation with our Dutch friends. They had lived in France for many years and they were very health conscious, growing much of their own food and always seeking out organic sources. But McDonald’s came up one day, and they matter-of-factly talked about how everyone ate at McDonald’s when they were on a roadtrip. It was the only offering for a late night or off-hour meal. They didn’t eat there regularly, but recognized that it offered an essential service to citizens.

– Speaking of eating on the road, the French don’t. Well, they don’t eat in their cars. I say that like it’s non-negotiable, but I honestly never saw anyone eating in their car. Seriously. They don’t eat casually (like a quick sandwich during errands) and they don’t snack. When it’s time for a meal — even a simple one — the food is laid out, everyone sits, and the meal is enjoyed slowly. It wasn’t unusual to see motorists setting out a meal on the side of the road, usually on designated picnic tables. Everyone gets out of the car, the meal is laid out and eaten properly, everything is cleaned up, then they get back in the car and continue on their way. The food is kept in the trunk and no even considers eating it while they drive. One benefit of this is that their cars are crumb free!

– I remember hearing that French people didn’t snack, and couldn’t really understand what that meant. I don’t think of myself as a snacker. What was the big deal? But it’s actually a hugely different way to approach food than we approach it in the U.S.. When you hear “French people don’t snack” what that means is French people — like the entire country! — eat at specific times and only at specific times. Breakfast around 8:00 AM. Lunch at noon. Dinner at 7:00 or 8:00 in the evening. Children have an afternoon snack (sweet not savory) at around 4:00 PM. Some adults enjoy an afternoon snack as well, but many do not. And that’s it. Really. There are specific times for food, and the rest of the time food is totally out of place. Like it would be weird to offer someone food at 5:30 PM, or any time that’s not a specific meal time. Another example, there is no such thing as picking up a cup of coffee and carrying it around with you. In our town, they didn’t even have to-go cups at all. If you want coffee, you sit at a café and enjoy your cup of coffee. Then get up and be on your way. Food is not multi-tasked ever.

This is the thing that I probably found most different about U.S. and French eating habits. In America, no matter how small the meeting or event, we include food. PTA committee meeting at 10:00 AM? We serve muffins and coffee. Kids at the playground at any time of day? We bring juice boxes and pretzels. Friend stops by your house at 2:30 PM? Pull out your cookie stash. Americans can eat as we walk down the street or commute to work or run errands and nobody even notices. There is no time of day where food would feel out of place in the U.S..

– In a French family, kids don’t open the fridge at any random time to grab an apple or a cheese stick. There’s no reason to even be in the kitchen unless it’s a proper meal time. And our family never quite adopted this. Our kids always felt free to snack throughout the day — thought we tried to be diligent about only having healthy options on hand.

– Food quality is better in France. Well, that’s probably not phrased right. Instead, I would say, it’s really easy to access quality foods in France. You can find them in the U.S. too, but often you have to hunt them down or go out of your way to find them.

– When I read both of the books referenced above, I remember thinking: Wow! The French have food figured out. We must adopt these methods pronto! But then, I would picture what our life would be like back in the U.S., and could see that many of the French food habits simply weren’t going to transfer. I would have to be anti-social to reject food at every PTA meeting, or tell my kids they couldn’t snack like the other children at the playground. The French way of eating works, because the entire country adheres to it. The restaurants adhere to it. The grocery stores adhere to it. Work places adhere to it. Families adhere to it. A family could attempt it in the U.S., but in my opinion, it seems like it would be difficult if not impossible.

So, what French food and eating habits have stuck with us since we moved back? There are a few things.

– We still seek out better quality food. Local eggs, local honey, local produce. And less processed food in general.

– We’re picky about things like yogurt and bread, and it took us awhile to find versions we really enjoyed.

– We still have simple breakfasts.

– We eat out more than we did in France, but we eat fast food far less than we did before we moved there.

– We shop in small batches. Before France, I would try to buy enough food for a week during one major shopping trip — sometimes filling two carts! But now, we don’t keep nearly as much stocked in the pantry, and we tend to buy our dinner ingredients the same day. I’d say this is probably the biggest change we’ve made.

– The French food thing we miss the most: Our kids long for the amazing lunches they enjoyed in their French school. They would have a two-hour break with a full course meal. No students would pack a lunch. You would either go home for a full, lengthy meal, or eat at the school. Here, they get just a few minutes and won’t touch the school lunch options, opting instead to pack a meal.

This post is getting very long, so I’ll wrap up now, but I’d love to hear:

How do you think your family would adjust to eating in France? Do you currently eat out frequently or depend on takeout? Are there any details I mentioned that appeal to you? What are your thoughts on the whole French food topic?

 P.S. — If you’re curious, this is how we shopped and ate in France, and here’s the follow-up post.

116 thoughts on “French Food Habits”

  1. I’m French and have lived in the U.S for almost four years now. My husband’s American but, luckily for me he’s always loved French food. Needless to say our food budget is quite significant, but we very rarely eat out and buying high quality ingredients is a priority to us. Once a month we stock up at Trader Joe’s, which is an hour away but totally worth it considering the deals we can get on wine, cheese, crème fraîche and produce. We typically don’t snack except for a goûter with our son once in a while and have dinner around 8:00 pm !
    Also, I’ve clearly noticed that over the last couple of years, American food manufacturers’ve come up with shorter/more natural ingredient products as the demand for less processed food gradually increased. More and more Americans have become aware that you are what you eat !

  2. This is such a timely post for me as we’re visiting the south of France this summer. We’ll be staying in my cousin’s house while he and his family are in the US. It’s definitely helpful to know about stores closing early and restaurants having a single seating per night.

    I think the French approach sounds a little more sane, if possibly over-compartmentalized for those of us in the US. I actually like the idea of food not being present at any given time but confined to meal times. As a nation we’d probably obssess about food less if there were structured times when it was available.

  3. Your paragraph about how the whole country (schools, grocery stores etc) adhere to the food “policy” really rung out to me. Our relationship with food here in the US is so intricately tied to our “way of life” and our “values.” It seems like we rush and try to cram a whole lot into a day and rarely stop to enjoy the little things, like a slow lunch, that really are big things. I do believe rural US is slower. I am from a small town and when I go back to visit I am often shocked at how long people will linger in the gas station chatting about the weather. I’ve never been to NYC, but my husband travels there for work and says that people don’t stop until their head hits the pillow which is waaaay past our normal bedtime.

    Of course, there are lots of wonderful things that the US culture does, but I crave slowness and a two hour lunch seems like something that would make me almost uncomfortable. I would be thinking “I could be getting things crossed off my list!”

  4. I am curious why it seems you like going shopping for food every day? I hate going once a week I can’t imagine going every day!

  5. I’ve read both of those books as well, and like you, I felt confident that the French had food “figured out”. But I also recognized that, perhaps unfortunately, we just do things too differently that it totally wouldn’t work. Not everyone is even close to being on the same page. I’ve tried to adopt many things, and sometimes other people make it SO hard- like all of the kids snacking at the playground, food and treats given as reward for everything, and nursery teachers that give like 2lbs of snack when it’s going to be lunch time in less than an hour. We manage to follow the “French Food Rules” from the book pretty well. Though my 3 yr old is still a very difficult eater sometimes. My only wish is that my husband would SLOW down and just enjoy a long meal instead of rushing through it.

  6. When spent my summers in a small town in Mexico, we had a similar meal style to the French. A light breakfast with coffee and the main meal was lunch. It was served later in the day and was pretty heavy, though usually just one course. A rest time followed and then evening activities followed by a late light dinner of either sweet bread and coffee or hot chocolate/warm milk or hot beans and home made cheese. Corn tortillas with EVERY meal.
    My husband grew up in Monterrey, MX and followed a similar schedule, although there is an abudnance of street food options nowawadays.
    My husband’s family continued their food schedule here in the US and it’s a difficult adjustment for us since I’m American and used to dinner being the heaviest meal. He doesn’t understand why I make lunch so light (so I have energy to keep working!) We have to compromise and sometimes he won’t eat what I make for dinner and will save it to have as his heavy lunch the next day.

  7. I really enjoyed this. Could you please share what US brand of yogurt you’ve found that you enjoy? I have always LOVED the yogurt I’ve had in Europe, but nothing in the US comes close to that natural, after-taste-free goodness! I’ve been searching for a good one for years.

  8. This post was fascinating; I wish you had gone on longer! Could you tell us something of the things that you found to be false stereotypes?

    I love the idea of lunch being the largest meal, and really wish we’d embrace that in the US. When I was in Spain, I loved their schedule of the long, leisurely meal during the day and just a small supper in the evening. That’s when you need your energy, during the day, not when you’re about to tuck in for a marathon of House of Cards (I bet the French don’t binge-watch TV either.)

    I’d also love to get in the habit of grocery shopping for fresh ingredients each day, but even in a large city with lots of shopping options, it’s so hard. You’re spot-on about how the system works because the whole country embraces it.

  9. How would you say portion sizes compare between the US and the French countryside? Also, do the French put an emphasis on exercise and being lean (we Americans like to hit the gym) or do they enjoy a more sedentary lifestyle? It’s always fascinating comparing cultures!

    1. I am a french mom living in Pennsylvania’s countryside… and we are amazed by the portion sizes here. My husband sometimes asks for the kids portion at the restaurant ! There is sometimes confusion between quantity and quality !
      For the emphasis on exercise… not that much. But we do prefer to walk or ride a bike to the car option for the everyday needs. And try to eat less, healthier and at specific times only (as explained in the post)… No need to burn extra calories we donnot eat :) ! And another thing : a lot less sugar.

      1. Thanks for responding. I agree that portion sizes are out of control. I remember a couple of years ago restaurants were advertising “under 300 calories meals.” Then it was “under 400 calories” and now it’s “under 550 calories.” Maybe if there was an emphasis on stopping eating when we are no longer hungry instead of when we are full, there wouldn’t be such an unhealthy relationship with food.

        I agree with you on the sugar…less is definitely more!!

  10. Love this post. this made me see that Australia seems to be a mix of both. We do foods at all functions, there are plenty of take away etc, but as a friend of a lot of American expats they comment on the stores not being open as long and as not as many take out options and not as many quick food options in grocery stores. It seems we do more cooking from scratch.
    We rarely eat out, as a large family (only four kids! but that is decent size here) it is cost prohibitive here with high wages. Probably once a month. All my friends have said living here has had to teach them to be more thoughtful about food as you mentioned. More planned and eat at home more often.
    Also most kids do bring lunch from home to school as we don’t have cafeteria’s (we do sell food at school, but it’s different) and most schools the kids eat outside. sitting on the ground or at picnic table type things.

  11. I’m glad to hear that French eating habits haven’t changed since the 1980s when I studied in France. Fast food places were beginning to pop up in the country, and I was afraid that eventually American eating habits would take over. The French really know how to enjoy their food! I loved the way meals, especially Sunday meals, were an all-afternoon event shared with family and friends.

  12. I am French and your article is really good. We like to take time for the meal. We like to be comfortable. Eat must be a moment of pleasure without stress. Unfortunately I have to say that the new generation is losing some of these good habits. Specially in big cities like Paris. Some young people eat junk food every day because it is cheap and fast. Hope France will not change to much ;-)

  13. Your experiences/observations are spot-on as far as I’m concerned. We’ve been living in small town France for 4 years now, also from Colorado, and have experienced and observed many of the same things you described without much deviation. Our larger supermarkets close at 7:30, so we have a little more time for a last minute run to the store. I once had a child tell me, “only children snack”, while I was sitting down to have something chocolaty with the kids we had playing at our house and I think we about gave my son’s friend a heart attack when we told him we’d be eating sandwiches in the car on a long drive home from the Pyrenees. I love seeing the families on the side of the road eating their picnics, but I also love taking advantage of light traffic. BTW – They do the same thing while skiing on a nice day, pull over (while skiing) on the side of the ski slope, and take out their packed lunches. I love what we’ve learned from our time here, everything from how to shop frequently and locally, to the (what seems like) relentless meal planning and preparation, to better table manners (the kids and parents), to copious amounts of family time at the table, to a greater appreciation of food and meal-times in general. I wouldn’t change any of it, well, maybe except for a Chipotle at the end of our street, and I hope that we continue what we’ve learned when we do return to Colorado. Thanks for sharing this!

  14. I love all of your French posts!! I had a friend in college who was from an old New Orleans family and she actually had similar ideas about food. You sit to eat or drink. She wouldn’t even walk around with a cigarette (this was the 90’s). If you were going to smoke, you sat down and did it. I wonder if there are fairly urban parts of the US where these things still persist?

  15. Thank you for sharing your lovely observations! I have been on a search for yogurt that is similar to French yogurt. Please share if you have found a good source!

    1. I love this brand: St Benoit http://www.stbenoit.com/ – it’s an american yogurt made with French cultures. It tastes just like French yogurt, the milk is higher in fat, which makes it all so delicious, and the cultures yield a sweet rather than sour taste.

  16. I am French and I live in California, raising two small kids. I have no problem not bringing snacks to the park and telling my son that we are waiting for our next meal to eat. It does go against the general culture. I sometimes have to stop moms and nannies from feeding my child. I just can’t stand the idea of spoiling my kid’s appetite and allowing them to run around with sticky hands and full mouths. Have you ever well digested a meal on the run, or while running around (literally)? I haven’t! It just seams to me like a superfluous way to get food in their tummy. They eat at set times and are not given a menu to choose from. We mostly eat at the same time and the same thing. I will say that it can get boring for us adults because I still have to somewhat cater my menu to their immature palate, but I see the benefits of having quality family time.

  17. France sounds similar to Argentina.
    We moved here in 2012 and my kids go to school here. My son who is six goes to school from 8 to 12 and comes home for lunch. He is at home for 2 hours (an all schools in argentina are this way, they come home for lunch) and has a hot lunch (that we the parents make) and then back to school.

    Breakfast here is small, some biscuits and tea, or mate and croissant or coffee. Sometimes on the weekend people lash out and have toasted cheese sandwiches with orange juice and a big cup of cafe con leche.
    Lunch is hot and bigger than breakfast and at 12 to 1pm. It can consist of meat and veges, chicken schnitzel and mash, vegetable soups, hamburgers etc
    Afternoon tea or merienda is popular, around 4 to 5 and for kids includes chocolate milk, biscuits, croissants (media lunas) and not really much fruit. When friends come to play we always have “merienda”, the kids sit at the table and have their afternoon tea. All kids have merienda, it makes up for the small breakfast? In Australia schools have morning and afternoon tea or recess. Yet breakfast is important meal, that is how we were brought up in Australia.
    Dinner can be anywhere from 10pm onwards. This includes meat and salads, or pastas and fruit for desert.

    This is very different from our life in Australia. We do not eat out and have not gone to dinner in our town here in Patagonia in the nearly 2 years we have been here.
    We have had coffee and sandwiches though at a local cafe.
    But as a family for four we have lunch and dinner together. We don;t eat breakfast with the kids as we feed them what we can before we are out the door at 8am every morning.

    We even have resorted to make our own food that we can not buy in shops, we make our feta cheese from scratch from raw milk and make our own yoghurt.

  18. I fell in love with McDonalds last time I was in Europe! It’s in almost every town, and the WiFi is free (except Portugal’s required a Portuguese phone to log on…weird). I really enjoyed the pastries – go figure! – and am so bummed the US lacks severely in quality of chocolates and pastries. It seems like we’re all over quantity instead of quality.

  19. Thank you for this very interesting post. As a french mom, I would add a few comments….
    The trouble here in Pennsylvania (sorry but I think there is trouble) is not just about eating at any time of the day… but what is eaten. There is sugar everywhere : in the bread, in the meat, in the veggies, in the dips, in the drinks… I was already trying to fight sugar in France… but it is a nightmare here.
    In France, you have to ask the mom first if you can offer candies or anything sweet to a kid. And you drink water. Juice is kept for breakfast or the 4:00 pm snack.
    And yes, the cafeteria menu at school is all about Junk food : pizza, hamburger, PB&J, nuggets… and as one of the day’s “5 fruits or veggies” : very sweet apple juice or milk with chocolate ! seriously ? no veggies ?
    Another very important thing is the cost of the food. It impacts a lot the habits. It is way cheaper in France to buy simple products a the store and to cook everything yourself. A restaurant meal or something already cooked is something you rarely do because it is expensive !
    But we are lucky where we now live, we are able to find many good fresh farm products easily…

  20. I would love the designated meal times. One of the “habits” daycare and school have instilled in my kids is the “I’m hungry I want to eat right NOW” mentality. Even if dinner is 15 minutes off. If one of my kids decides they’re hungry it’s a huge tantrum when I say “dinner is almost ready you’ll have to wait.” And of course the constant snacking means they then won’t eat a real meal…leading to more snacking. Arg! I know there are many who believe you should eat many small meals throughout the day, and I’d be okay with that, if they were well balanced meals. Not the “can I have a string cheese/cookie/apple/fruit snack/whatever” that my kids want.

    And yes – living a rural life means more planned meals at home. And I do most my grocery shopping once a week because living rural means a reasonably priced grocery store is 40 minutes away. And delivery? Hahahahahaha! Take-out pizza from the gas station (which is actually pretty good) is your only choice.

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  22. I enjoyed reading this post. I had to chuckle recalling as I read it a time a couple years ago when my family and I were in France and had not prepared well on a Sunday and found that not only were no restaurants open past 7pm but the grocery stores were closed as well. thankfully we had some fruit and bread. Everyone woke up with good appetites on monday! Thanks for conjuring up the memories.

  23. This is one of my very favorite topics on your blog Gabrielle! I read both of the books you mentioned, but I do have a few questions about French eating habits that have left me in a quandary.

    – How do they go several hours inbetween meals? From 12-8 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).

    – I’ve definitely tried encouraging my kids and hubby to eat slowly – it’s discouraging to spend an hour cooking only to have them wolf dinner down in 10 minutes! Hubby has developed some digestive issues that I think are related to plain eating too fast. Any tips on helping them slow down?

    – Is a light breakfast something your body adjusts to? 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)

    I don’t have weight troubles and am in good shape at 38 (and after 6 kids like yourself) so maybe if it ain’t broke don’t fix it? LOL

    If you decided to write a blog post with some French moms sharing their thoughts I would love to read that!

    1. We are a British family who lived in the Bay Area for ten years and have been living in France for the past three. The trick to lasting so long between meals we have found is not to skip dessert. If you take an hour to eat a proper French lunch which includes a starter, main course and a dessert you really don’t feel hungry until dinner time. It is a cultural shift to do that though as Gabrielle noted. Growing up in Britain, we always ate our evening meal at 8:00 and I’ve never been able to adjust to the earlier U.S. dinner time. We eat at the same time here in France and couldn’t eat earlier as one of my four children always has an after school activity that goes on until 7:30.

      My three year old goes to Maternelle (full time French pre-school) I drop her off at 8:30 and she does not eat again until 12:00 when she has the famous French lunch in the cantine. After lunch there is playtime, then she is expected to nap or rest quietly in the classroom until instruction begins again at 2:00. I pick her up at 4:30 and far from being exhausted as I initially feared she is always energized. It turns out I am the bad mommy for almost always forgetting to pack her gouter (snack) to eat right at the school gate. I was surprised to find the French parents doing that as otherwise eating ‘on the go’, in public is definitely frowned upon. Those gouters are definitely sweet treats though, chocolate, bread and sweet apple sauce but then no more eating until dinner at 7:30/8:00.

      French eating habits have their frustrations but the relationship surrounding food more than what is being eaten is definitely the key to the marked absence of obesity here.

      However, if you’re nursing that gives you license to be hungry all the time! I was always ravenous when I was nursing ;)

  24. Hi Gabrielle,
    I really enjoyed reading your post today. We are American expats living in Italy and it sounds like the Italians are very similar to the French when it come to eating their meals. They do eat their salads after the main entree! I still can’t get used to that. Our eating habits and the kinds of food we eat here have definately changed since we have lived in Italy. All for the better! Hopefully we can keep up our new eating habits when we head back across the pond this summer.

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  27. Loved this post- a lot of it seemed very similar to what I saw when teaching English in Summer camps in Italy with two exceptions. Children generally did have a morning snack (I was told because for smaller bodies it can be a long time with only that light breakfast in them) as well as the afternoon snack (at 5 as the camps released kids at 4:30). We had about an hour and half for a lunch and recess, which was eaten sitting down and with multiple courses. It was the same company that catered the school lunches (and many of the factories in the area too). However, I was also told during the school year, they only have a half hour for lunch. Interestingly, while at the beach the family I stayed with would eat only focaccia bread, something that drove their grandfather nuts. He preferred that longer, sat down meal. There was even a saying to describe it; translated it meant “eating with both legs under the table.”

    To me, the snacking and no eating food at events is a reality. I was diagnosed with Diabetes I (aka Juvenile Diabetes even though I was 27). And I can have to eat at certain times only. It wasn’t as odd or hard as one might think to just not eat snacks or not eat the food at a meeting. People don’t really notice someone not eating.

  28. What on earth do physicians do? I haven’t sat at a table to eat in years! By necessity, I always eat while doing something else (like while typing this!)

  29. I found this very interesting. I am English and mainly brought up in the UK where our national eating habits are not far behind the States. My mother however is French, and I did spend a year as a child in France (CM1 – 5th grade) as well as many summers with family, so I’m pretty familiar with the French way of eating. You’re mostly spot-on.

    The hardest thing for me as a child was the timing of dinner and switching between the two. In England, we tended to eat the evening meal at 5 or 5.30. In France, it was usually 7.30. That’s a big adjustment when you’re 9! I think that’s why the 4pm gouter is such a big deal for kids. I’d have been crawling up the walls otherwise.

    I remember thinking, aged 10 upon my return to the UK, that my packed lunch was pretty rubbish compared to the 3-4 course lunch I’d become accustomed to the previous school year. I think the lack of packed lunches contributes to the fact that there’s very little in the way of ‘kid’s food’ in France. We just ate what the adults ate, occasionally simplified but more often than not the same. This was a struggle for me as I’m a really fussy eater, so I can’t claim it works in producing great eaters 100% of the time, but I suspect if I’d been given ‘special’ food just for me all the time, I’d be even worse than I am now.

  30. I have enjoyed reading your post concerning the eating habits of the French. I’ve recently returned from Paris (my fifth visit in four years) and I, too, miss the yoghurt, it is so creamy! I live in Australia, and we have some very nice yoghurts available here, even the same brands as they stock in France, but they taste totally different, and the French have much more variety of flavours. As for the meal times, I find it difficult, as a ‘tourist’ to adhere to these mealtimes, as I am so busy sightseeing; however, my husband and I, and our three kids, spent a month in Paris in December/January, and we did manage to have some long, leisurely French lunches, with the deliciously obligatory baguette, and my kids love to try new foods – my seven year old son loves escargot! As for McDonald’s – this restaurant is as prolific here in Australia as it is in the U.S., but our family has a rule when we travel to foreign countries – no McDonald’s allowed! This is a hard and fast rule, and will only be broken if we are at an airport with no other (safe-looking) options. Our children understand that part of travel is learning about the way other cultures live, and that food is a large part of a culture, therefore, my children have eaten a variety of cuisines in South East Asia, and throughout our travels in Italy (where they did not even mention McDonald’s), Southern France, northern France, and in our time in Paris. Here at home, we have dinner together every evening, but we eat around 6pm, so when we were in France, we cooked most dinners in our apartment, and if we ate out, it was for the midday meal. We also took advantage of the many crepe stands in Paris!

  31. I am planning a trip to Paris and Normandy during the Christmas season and this post has given me an idea what to expect food wise. It does seem troublesome having to plan our 3 meals, taking into account the opening hours of grocers and restaurants. But I fully agree that we need to regard eating as a separate event of the day and set aside time to do so. I was entertaining the thought of eating on the go during our drive holiday but this article has made me consider some changes to my travel plans. Thank you.

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  34. I love this (old) post! I would point out that many other cultures eat similarly as well – Italians, Greeks, Spanish. Is this perhaps a Mediterranean way of eating? No doubt there are some variances across countries but I think it’s interesting to consider because Mediterranean diets are often thought of as the healthiest. Could it be that it is not simply what is eaten but how and when? Larger, less frequent meals seems to be the common thread.

  35. I’m French and I remember when I was a child (during hte 90s) and used to say “I’m hungry” in the middle of the afternoon, after diner or in the morning, my miother used to answer ” c’est pas l’heure” or “c’est pas encore l’heure” (It’s not the time”). And if I ate she said “t’auras plus faim au repas” (you won’t be hungry for lunch).

    And if I didn’t finish my plate she forced me to stay (sometimes for hours) at table until I finish. But it’s was more strict back in time, my oncle told me, his grand mother forced him to finish a plate, so he vomited. Then he had to eat the vomit.
    It can be explained: during ww2, the lack of food was important, no waste was accepted. Ours grand parents educated our parents like this.
    My grand mother still fear the lack of food… just like she steel fear the sound of boots (it remind her the german’s soldier boots).

  36. Melanie Novakovitch

    Hi! I’ve been searching for GOOD bread and yogurt myself! Can you share with me the favorites that you and your family found in the USA?

    Thank you!

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