In a time of decreased social and outdoor activity, we often seek different ways to enjoy time with our loved ones. But the most accessible way for a family to bond together might be right around the dinner table. And in search of the perfect approach to enjoying our meals, you can’t do better than learning from the French.
Sociologists have noted remarkable differences between the way French eat and how the rest of the world approaches their meals. In America and much of the rest of Europe, people snack throughout the day and are highly conscious of nutritional content. By contrast, the French see mealtime as an almost ritual part of the day. And they focus on the pleasure of the meal, free from any sense of guilt.
You should probably do away with those cultural stereotypes. It’s not about pairing food with the right drink or serving up cheese plates and baguettes. You want to follow the practice of eating, not necessarily imitate their cuisine. Those things do matter, but they aren’t at the heart of the experience.
You can eat the French way while taking in the evening breeze on your patio, in a conservatory, or around the kitchen counter. What matters is the enjoyment of the experience.
Joy is the secret ingredient at the heart of French eating. Too often, Western society fixates on dieting, nutritional values and calorie content, and the implications on our health and fitness.
When you adopt the French mindset towards food, you realize that we’ve got it all backward. Food should bring joy. By constantly worrying about what we shouldn’t eat, we focus on limiting that joy.
That doesn’t mean that the French way is about selfish indulgence or letting yourself go. Instead, it involves educating yourself about food. Learn to appreciate the subtleties of flavor. Stick to home-cooked meals. The more intimately you acquaint yourself with the ingredients and preparation that go into your food, the easier it becomes to exercise restraint and discernment.
By doing these things, you’ll be able to perceive the difference between real and false pleasure. You can still eat an occasional candy bar or some deep-fried potatoes; you never go overboard. You’re in control of your diet without actually dieting because you understand that joy can be found in so many other ways than just fast food or junk food.
The other pillar of eating like the French involves time. In French society, the three mealtimes are well-defined and strictly observed. During meals, people don’t just proceed at their own pace. And they spend more time overall just eating; on average, nearly two and a half hours each day.
In a modern, fast-paced lifestyle, that sort of time devoted to meals might seem unthinkable. The expression ‘grab a bite’ is literal in most workplaces. And when you come home from the office, how much easier is it to stop by your go-to place for takeout or order pizza?
Making time for meals isn’t easy. And that’s the whole point. The French way is about giving yourself permission to enjoy and appreciate life daily. You can only do that if you ensure that every day has that sacred space for what matters: gathering around the table and sharing food with your loved ones.
Above all, adopting a French approach to your meals is about love. The same social studies indicate that the French view eating as a highly commensal activity. Meals are meant to be enjoyed with people whose company pleases you and elevates the experience.
When was the last time you had a great conversation at the table and kept it flowing for a long time? It might have been before the age of the smartphone. Many people are so obsessed with productivity and instant gratification that they can’t let go of their phones even during meals. And then they complain about feeling loneliness or anxiety.
Humans are social creatures by nature. Our ancestors gathered around fires to eat but lingered around much longer to share stories late into the night. It’s this primal need that we’re missing in our tech-centric, rushed lives. And in a way, the French have managed to retain that connection with the right approach to eating.
Everybody needs to eat, but you can elevate this from a basic necessity to a family experience. Instead of thinking up some fancy new activity to have fun and bond together, try to start by bringing back joy and sharing meaningful time at the table.