The 10 Golden Rules of French Eating


France is known as the gastronomic capital of the world, and with good reason. With national delicacies including macarons, cheese and foie gras, not to mention the long list of delectable patisseries and vienoisseries on offer, a weekend in France is enough to send shivers down the spine of even the most relaxed of waistline-watchers. It therefore seems astounding that so few French people are overweight, and although obesity levels in France have seen a drastic rise in recent years, they remain markedly low in comparison to the UK and USA. So how do they do it? Surely they must all be fitness fanatics? Or perhaps they swear by a monthly detox diet? Certainement pas. The French rely on no such fancy fads to stay in shape: their recipe for success is simple.


1) Have a little patience

The French are extremely disciplined eaters. Daily mealtimes are to be respected and snacking is almost universally forbidden. The reasoning behind this is quite simple and has nothing to do with dieting or deprivation: a meal is much better appreciated when you're hungry and it tastes better to a clean palate.


2) Order! Order!

The same, simple logic determines the order in which a meal should be eaten, beginning with non-sweet dishes and ending with dessert. Eating sweet food beforehand desensitizes the taste buds and therefore prevents you from fully appreciating the main dish. The same rules apply for wine: white wine should always be served before red wine, which tends to linger longer on the palate. A typical French meal will normally consist of at least three courses: starter, main and dessert. Depending on the occasion, salad and/or cheeses may also be added. Again, the order of these is important. Salad should be eaten after the main dish (its main purpose being to provide a bit of roughage for digestion), and no, cheese and crackers should not be served as pre-dinner nibbles (see Golden Rule number 1)! 




3) Eat a fresh, varied diet

Albeit the most simple, this is perhaps the most widely ignored food rule throughout the developped West. In France, on the other hand, it is simply regarded as sacrosanct.


4) Everything in moderation

Wh in Britain and the States, a huge proportion of the population allow themselves to get trapped within the interminable cycle of dieting and inevitable relapse, the French solution is, once again, simple. Everything in moderation: a slither of foie gras, a single macaron. You don't have to deprive yourself of the foods you love, just be sensible!


5) À table!

As a general rule, meals are eaten at the table. It is incredibly rare to see French people eating whilst walking or shopping, there are no cupholders in cars, trains and buses, and it is still uncommon to eat in front of the television or computer. The benefits of eating in company and at the table are numerous: you take time to appreciate the food on your plate, you eat more slowly, aiding digestion and meaning you are likely to eat less, and – perhaps most importantly – it's a lot more enjoyable! 



DINING ETIQUETTE: the dos and don'ts of formal dining in France


6) Don't arrive empty-handed

If you are invited to a dinner party in France, be sure to arrive with an offering of some sort. Flowers, wine or a pre-arranged dessert or cheese course are common favourites. For pre-dinner apéros, no gift is necessary.


7) Bread

At any restaurant or dinner party, the main dish will almost certainly be accompanied by bread. This should be torn into bitesize pieces and placed on the tablecloth rather than on your plate. At very formal meals, bread will come served on a separate plate.


8) Follow the leader

This is without question the golden rule of French dinner party etiquette. If you can keep an eye on the host and follow his lead carefully, you are unlikely to go too far wrong. In most cases, the host will not begin until everyone has been served; it is polite for guests to do the same. Likewise, if an apéritif is served, wait for the host to raise his glass before you take a sip from yours!




CHILDREN: to what extent are children expected to follow these rules? 


9) You don't have to like it, but you do have to taste it!

From a very young age, French children are encouraged to eat the same food as their parents. In this way, healthy eating habits become second nature from early on.


10) Le goûter

On the whole, children are expected to respect the same discipline as adults (see Golden Rules 1-5). The one exception to this is the 'goûter'. This tends to be taken in the form of an after-school snack, and normally comprises of something small but satisfying such as a few biscuits, a piece of fruit or a nutella sandwich.


Author: Camilla Freeman







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