Healthy Eating: What I Learned in France

These eating habits can change your life.

Posted Sep 07, 2011

When I was in France, I noticed some food habits that really changed my perception "healthy eating".  (Note:  Yes, not all people in France may have these food habits. C'est la vie.)

1. People did not deprive themselves of the foods they loved...they just ate smaller portions of those foods. When we deprive ourselves of something, it can develop into an insatiable craving.  Inevitably, you wind up caving in and eating an entire box of cookies (by the way, I deem this practice perfectly acceptable if said cookies are Girl Scout Thin Mints).  By eating smaller portions of the foods you love, you still can enjoy your favorites.

2.  People eat the foods they enjoy.  They don't waste time eating things that are so-so.  If you are going to eat a meal, eat something where you really enjoy the taste and texture.

3.  The French spend time preparing their meals.  I never saw anyone eat directly from a cereal box, or any box of food for that matter.  There is an interest and joy in the process of making a meal.

4.  Meals are served in courses, even regular dinner meals.  When you break a meal into courses, you have more time to digest. 

5.  There is variety to the meals.  See the "courses" concept above.  When you have a different type of food for each course, the palate is more satisfied.  There's a nice pattern to it: apres-dinner course, the main meal accompanied by a grain (bread, etc.), salad, and then cheese and fruit. 

6.  The French eat when they are hungry.   There is a French saying, "Bon repas doit commencer par la faim" -  roughly interpreted as "A good meal must begin with hunger".  The French eat when they are hungry.  They stop eating before they get overly full.  A simple concept - but think how often we eat just for the sake of eating - not because we are hungry.

7.  Fruit is a natural dessert.  Eating fresh fruit can satisfy that sweet tooth in a healthy way. Which leads to #8...

8.  Fresh food is used as often as possible.  We always had fresh vegetables and fresh fruit.  When something is fresh, it just tastes so much better.

9.  The French use good-quality cookware.  It's a part of enjoying the food-making process.  You don't need a bunch of gadgets.  You just need the essentials - but make it good-quality essentials.   The quality of your cookware can change the taste of your meal.

10.  The television was never on during meals.  In fact, there was a noted lack of television in homes.  The time after dinner was spent talking about the events of the day and engaging in friendly debate, not watching television.  

11.  People take their time eating their meals.  Not once did I see someone "wolf down" their food.  Every bite was savored. 

12.  Families ate dinner together.  Everyone sat at the table together, helped prepare the meal together, and helped clean up the kitchen together.  Eating is an event. 

13.  Families took a walk together after dinner.  They didn't stuff themselves with food, so taking a nice stroll is not a difficulty at all.

14.  The French walk everywhere.  True, their cities are more compact than ours, and they have more modes of public transportation, but the point is - they move.  They are active.

Practice just a few of these tips and you will be on your way to healthier (and happier) eating. 

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