You don’t have to go to France to know that the French take mealtime seriously. From seeking out quality ingredients to cooking from scratch to long, leisurely Sunday lunches, French eating habits are no joke. One aspect of French culture that I’ve adapted to and admire is the fact that the French make it a priority to sit down and enjoy their meal. Let me tell you why I’ve embraced French eating habits, especially this one.
French eating habits & food culture
I eat fast. It’s instinctive. I know that no one is going to steal my food, yet somehow I mimic my dog’s eating habits more than my French husband’s. I think I first started to pick up the pace while working in NYC. Rushed corporate lunches and tiny lunch breaks meant that eating was something I did on the fly and was more of a task and not a social occasion. I’d eat quickly before jetting off to the next thing.
After moving to France, I wanted to untrain myself of this bad habit and pick up the eating habits in France. What’s the rush? Why do we always have to be multitasking?
France has helped me slow down on all fronts. My life is simpler. I rarely have people to see or places to be. There’s no 6:02 a.m. Midtown Direct train to catch these days. At mealtime, I try to take time to enjoy my food. It’s the French food culture habit I love the most. Eat slowly. Eat simply. Enjoy.
Be present in the moment.
But before I get too into this post, let me point out that NOT all French people are star chefs who prepare their family’s daily meals from scratch. French people aren’t born with innate food knowledge and don’t know all about cheeses and wines like the back of their hand. Eating habits in France are learned.
I almost feel silly having to say that but sometimes people assume that France is some kind of utopia where its citizens do everything perfectly. No, that’s not the case. It depends on the person and their upbringing and interests.
French people DO eat McDonald’s and France’s frozen food store Picard is a favorite for a reason. Not everyone buys fresh produce at the marché for homemade French meals. Not all French people have long, drawn-out meals made from the healthiest ingredients. Check out what the French eat for breakfast.
To a degree, that idealistic mealtime notion from days past has faded from view in recent years. French food culture is changing.
Overall, the French prioritize mealtime and quality food which ties into the eating habits in France overall, but there are exceptions. Sometimes it’s necessary to eat on the go. I’m careful on my blog to not idealize French culture to the point of being ridiculous.
The French are not perfect — no one is, right? — so to put all French things up on a pedestal for the sole fact that it’s French would be bizarre. But when it comes to French meals and eating, I do feel the French get a lot right.
That’s not to say Americans get everything wrong. I’m not saying that at all and French food habits aren’t superior to all the rest. It’s not so black and white. Many Americans prepare healthy food and make mealtime a priority. It’s just that in France, I feel it’s more widespread and ingrained in the culture. It’s less about what the individual decides to cook and more about what the society does as a whole.
In France, the importance of a proper sit-down meal is still alive and well for the most part. The proof is in the culture.In France, the importance of a proper sit-down meal is still alive and well. The proof is in the culture and here's why I love it.Click To Tweet
Take, for example, the following points about French eating habits and French food culture
Facts that affect French eating habits:
- Stores close at lunchtime and tend to close earlier in the evening than stores in the USA. This allows employees to spend mealtime at home with their families, if they so choose.
- Many stores are closed on Sundays, especially in small towns. There’s no option to pick up overtime hours if the store isn’t even open! This allows for downtown with family or to just relax.
- School-age children have time to enjoy their lunch at school. At my high school, my lunch break was barely 30 minutes long. French kids get well over an hour (or even 2) for lunch. Schools have cafeterias that prepare wholesome food.
- Fewer fast food places and prepackaged food options in general (though this is changing)
- Employers often encourage a “true” lunch break for employees. That’s not to say that NO French people have a rushed lunch at their desk, but the overall mindset is that lunch is to be enjoyed.
- Dinnertime tends to be later in the evening, at least by American standards, and there aren’t as many extracurricular activities for kids after dinner and stores tend to be closed, so there’s time to unwind/not as much to do after dinner outside the home.
I think in our fast-paced American society, it’s been drilled into our heads that we need to be productive and constantly achieving. Achieving what? I don’t know. We’re made to think that we should be doing something and we shouldn’t waste time. Because of that, mealtime goes by the wayside and is often an afterthought as we move through our day, crossing tasks off our to-do lists.
Maybe mealtime should be more of a focus, even on days when we’re busy and our minds are racing a mile a minute. In France, mealtime is the main event. The act of sitting down to a meal forces us to take a mental time out and change gears. It forces us to focus on those around us. It makes us appreciate the simple things in life like the taste of the food before us.
From a health perspective, it’s proven that eating slower is better for digestion and to stave off weight gain. Also, when you eat a leisurely meal, your body has time to register when it’s full. It takes about 20 minutes for your mind to tell your stomach that you’re satiated. Eating more slowly prevents overeating.
So have French food habits rubbed off on me? Have I learned to slow down in France and enjoy my meals? Has French food culture caused me to change my ways?
I’ve definitely made progress and that’s a step in the right direction. I think it’s important to take stock of what’s important to you in life and then do your best to honor those things and live your life accordingly.
Not everyone is going to want to eat long/leisurely meals at the table all the time and that’s fine. Other times, if we aren’t in a rush, why not slow down and take the time to savor a moment with family and good food?
We’re all different and live unique lives. Learning how other cultures do mealtime might spark something within us and change our habits for the better. I’m on my way to nailing those French eating habits….
Have French eating habits and French food culture caused you to re-evaluate how you cook and/or eat?
P.S. No, you won’t get fat in France!
P.P.S. Are you craving French food in the U.S.? myPanier is your one-stop shop. Check out my review of this online French grocery store.
For more info on French culture topics, click over to this giant French culture roundup post!
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Taste of France says
Living in a French village definitely made me a better cook because I have zero takeout options and the nearest supermarket is 20 minutes’ drive away (and has French hours–9 a.m. to 7 p.m., closed Sundays). Also, for many years, both my husband and my kid came home for lunch. As you say, the entire culture elevates mealtimes and cooking and thus it’s easier to fall in line. And the same with taking time for meals. At least here in France profonde, your table at a restaurant is your table for the night. No turnover. Take your time. Stay as long as you want.
Oh man, the closest supermarket is that far? I don’t think I could ever get used to that. I’m spoiled and have a supermarket a short walk away.
I definitely kept my French eating habits, good and bad. Food was probably the main culture shock I had in Canada–not so much because it’s strange and exotic, but because people eat anywhere, anytime and they don’t seem to *care* about what they eat (or when they do, it’s extreme, like all these special diets).
Yes, there’s definitely a 24/7 food culture. The availability of food is both good and bad. France brings it back to basics, keeps it simple. I like that.
Jo-Anne the crazy lady says
A 1 or 2 hour lunch break for school children is awesome here in Aus it is usually 40 minutes for lunch in high school and 30 minutes in primary so rushing through a meal is often learnt early on. My eldest daughter is often nagging her girls to hurry up and eat.
Aww, seems like Australia is more like the US when it comes to mealtime!
Erica De Sousa says
I love this! And I love how you made a point that not all French people do mealtime the same way. The overall sentiment is different in France though, and that’s what I love about french culture. It’s hard to explain unless you’ve experienced it!
Thanks for reading, Erica! It’s so true about not all people doing things the same way and a misconception I put to rest all the time. It’s nuts to me that the media can portray the French a certain way and then people who haven’t experienced the culture think all French people are amazing cooks, knowledgeable about all types of cheese, etc. It’s both good and bad. Bon week-end !
Quite a few things changed when we moved to Rennes. My husband started eating dairy again was a big one. Now he LOVES the cheese here. I am not working, so I have the time to shop and to cook a nice meal on a daily basis. As someone else said, there are not a lot of take out options! I also love not being rushed at a restaurant. We tend to go out on Friday night and have found some real gems. One of the biggest things for me is the change in what I like. I got quite brave and tried some new foods when we got here. Some I liked and some I didn’t. I then started trying things I never liked in the US but love here. It’s become rather a joke between me and my husband.
Speaking of takeout, I was SO happy when I recently saw that Perpignan was serviced by UBEReats. When I was down there for work, it was a lifesaver to have great healthy food delivered right to the conference center. I also saw Deliveroo and others in Toulouse, so maybe more takeout options will come to Rennes soon. I like options. 😉
That’s awesome you’ve found some nice restaurants by you. It’s all about discovery.
You’re right in saying that not all French are “perfect” when it comes to mealtime. I’m French and I lived in Minnesota for a year, in two different host families. My first host mom made healthier, more balanced meals than my own parents!
However, we do take our time and love eating. In Minnesota, I was an intern in a middle school and I remember with pain having to eat lunch in 20 minutes – in very odd hours, too: my lunch was from 10:52 to 11:15 or something!
I teach English in a middle school in France now, and we all have an hour and twenty minutes to eat lunch. The kids have a little less time because they have to wait in line at the cantine, but it’s still way more than in the USA!
Hi Morgane, yes exactly. As I mentioned my reply to Erica above, it’s crazy that some people really do think all French people are experts on food and great cooks.
The short school lunch periods are horrible. I remember having 26 minutes in high school and if you were the first lunch period (there were 3), “lunch” was at like 10:30 or something silly like that.
How do you like teaching English in France? Do the kids enjoy themselves and take it seriously?
I am spending only 2 days in Caen with a UK friend in December, I am a real foodie & lovevgreat red wine & cheese with good hearty wholesome meals. Are there any restaurant, bistro, cafe chains that are particularly Good? unless someone is familiar with Caen restaraunts . Not too high a budget as my friend is not a foodie . Thank you so much xxxxxx
Hi there, I’ve never been there but I have to say that trip advisor recommendations are usually pretty good so have a look in case no one replies. Have a great trip! Enjoy!
One of my very favorite things about French culture. Once, when visiting about 15 years ago, my sister became ill. No option for tea where we were staying, so I began my quest. To Go was not a thing. I was told, “Sit. There is time.” I explained the problem and ended up bringing her a bowl of tea … no cups To Go … a complimentary pastry, and some sincere wishes for her swift recovery. My husband remains dubious, but this is one of my very favorite things about French Culture.
I love the “Sit. There is time”reply! which I can’t imagine hearing in the U.S.! A friend and I met up in London and took the train to Marseille and then back up to Paris. Every restaurant was such a wonderful experience, including when we showed up at 7pm without a dinner reservation–in the Marais! LOL! It was a very small restaurant but the owner and his wife were absolutely delightful and offered us an early seat (of course no one else was there!), including bringing us a bottle of wine to enjoy while we waited. We offered to come back later but they insisted we stay as it was no problem. We spoke no French at all and were so thankful they had no trouble understanding us. Also, we were amused as we sat there watching as the restaurant started to fill up around 8pm. I’m so anxious to go back!
I have not been to France but I loved dinner time in Argentina (BAs) … starts from 9.30pm and it is never rushed. While on holiday we ate late, walked for an hour or two, then stopped for a snack before walking home to bed. If only every food culture was so relaxed it would be such a happy world!!
Oh, and stopping for a snack means sitting in a cafe having coffee and empanada at 3-4am … just blissful!