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The 5 most important French healthy eating habits

French ratatouille on a white dish

I’ve lived in France for more than two decades, and the French healthy eating habits I learned about back then continue to be relevant today.  As a family, we have adopted most of these habits (some of the time, but not all of the time). We enjoy delicious foods while maintaining a relatively high standard of wellbeing. 

French healthy eating habits (and their wellbeing habits in general) are uncomplicated and no foods are forbidden. In addition, everyday meals are not fancy, there are no “programs” and no extreme guidelines either. Today there is a rising trend in France toward reducing meat and dairy, but cutting out entire food groups is less common than I have seen elsewhere. 

French healthy eating habits are not exclusive to any one profile or specific demographic in France.  They are as relevant in big cities like Paris, as they are in smaller towns.  And the habits span all generations too.

If you would like to adopt some of these French healthy eating habits, keep reading below.  Increasing your wellbeing using inspiration from the French is just a matter of adding those habits that speak to you. If one seems to difficult, skip it. As with forming any new habit, consistency is key, but rigidity is unnecessary.

Look out for additional posts with a deep dive into each of these habits. I describe how these habits are applied in everyday life – just in case you might want to incorporate them too. 

Eating at meal times only

To me this is the holy grail of all French eating habits.  I believe it is the habit that allows the French to enjoy food while helping them maintain greater wellbeing.

When one eats breakfast, lunch and dinner only, there is natural hunger and an increase in appetite before each meal. The French truly appreciate their meals, eating sitting down at a table, in the company of others.  How can we truly appreciate food if we aren’t hungry to begin with?

In addition, the lack of snacking avoids unnecessary calories which, over time, can add on the pounds.  As a result, the French are amongst the healthiest population with low obesity rates in adults and children. 

Check out “What do French Women Eat in a Day?”

Lunch fit for a Queen

The French usually have a smallish breakfast (anything from a small slice of fresh baguette with a bit of butter and dollop of marmalade to plain yogurt and a small bowl of fruit for example) so that they can enjoy the main meal of the day at lunchtime.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the French taking two-hour lunch breaks?  Well, most of them don’t (unless it’s a weekend, special occasion or business-related meeting during mealtime).  It might be one-hour long instead of two, but it will almost always be sitting down at a table (not a desk) and involve a complete meal, not a quick, snack-type lunch.

Because the French normally eat only at meal times, this large lunch will get them through to dinner time without snacking in between.  And for their last meal of the day, the French tend to eat lighter than lunch.  Unless, of course, they are guests at a dinner party or going to a restaurant.

Whole foods mostly, cooked at home

Although this is a sweeping generalization (I reserve the right to generalize after 22+ years in France!), the French tend to opt for whole, real food ingredients cooked at home.  This may sound grand, but it is often extremely simple.  An omelet accompanied by some roast potatoes and a green salad, a simple fish baked together with vegetables, lentils with bacon and mache, the list goes on.  It’s simple, it’s real food, it’s mostly unprocessed and recognizable without a label.  Voila!

Even homemade desserts are simple and fuss free – for instance, chocolate mousse (literally, two ingredients – dark chocolate and eggs) or a fruit tart (seasonal fruit, pastry, and a sprinkling of butter and sugar on top). 

Awareness of how food feels

The French are experts at gauging how food makes them feel.  They know when their limit is reached and they are comfortably satisfied (as opposed to full or, goodness forbid, “stuffed”).  They know which foods will bloat them, and they will easily decline seconds to make way for cheese and dessert.  Or they will happily skip cheese and dessert and go straight to coffee if they’ve reached satiety.  

Eating slowly, observing their body’s signals and being mindful of eating quality, whole foods helps keep mealtime a pleasure-filled experience and not a food coma inducing episode.

Do not drink your calories

This is pretty self explanatory but the French take it to new heights.  The French basically drink one of two things with lunch or dinner – water or wine.  Water might be still or sparkling and wine is totally optional of course.  But you will be hard pressed to find any soft drinks or even fruit juices served with a meal in France.  Those are reserved outside of mealtimes and only as a treat. This habit starts in early childhood. Only water is served with school lunches in France (no milk, chocolate milk or even fruit juice, just plain water from the tap).  

If you are inspired to make some changes to your current wellbeing or eating routines, please sign up for my newsletter and I will send you some helpful tips, trends and links to keep you informed and motivated!

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