I don’t know about you but our evening meal has become more important than ever. Since restaurants are currently out of the picture it’s good to make our time around the table more special. I’m looking to the typical French dinner for inspiration.
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French Dinner At Home
The French are well-known for their food and if you’ve ever been to France you’ll know the reputation is well-deserved. We tend to think of French food in terms of haute cuisine in posh Parisian restaurants. Yet the typical French person eats most of their meals at home and that is our focus here today.
Time spent eating…
I’ve always been a slow eater and I can’t tell you how often I’m the last person to finish in a group (okay, always). Imagine my delight to discover that the French take their sweet time at the table, too. In fact, they top the chart at an average of 2 hours 11 minutes spent eating and drinking each day. The United States is dead last at 1 hour and 1 minute per day.
Food served in courses…
One of the reasons a typical French meal takes longer is that meals are served in courses. A weeknight dinner at home may not include all of these courses but there are usually at least three.
- Apéritif: Pre-dinner drink meant to stimulate the appetite
The Five Best French Apéritifs + Everything You Need to Know about the French Apéro!
- Starter/appetizer/ l’entrée: A first course or appetizer. It might be cold, such as a salmon mousse, or perhaps a hot soup.
Why Do Americans Call the Main Course an Entrée?
- Main course/Le Plat Principal: The main part of the meal
Usually some type of meat, fish or poultry served with a vegetable, potatoes, pasta or rice.
- Cheese/Le Fromage: A cheese board
Another reason to love the French. Cheese at the end of each dinner? I’m totally in favor of that. The cheese board may be accompanied by fruits and nuts but in my opinion, the best part is the baguette on the side. My last meal in Paris was a baguette and about half a bottle of wine at the little restaurant we made our home base.
- Le Dessert: Dessert
Desserts in France tend to be small and fairly light. And after that cheese and baguette, who needs much more?
- Le Café: Coffee
Coffee is likely served in the living room and may be accompanied by a small piece of dark chocolate.
- Le Digestif:
This course isn’t likely to be part of a regular meal but more commonly reserved for dinner parties. Guests are offered a small glass of brandy, cognac or whiskey.
You might encounter all of these courses at dinner party in the French home, or perhaps a holiday meal. It’s not likely to be part of the usual weeknight dinner “en famille”. Even a casual meal is likely to consist of three courses, though:
- Le Plat Principal
- Cheese plate or dessert
I have found that when I serve dinner in courses we actually eat less overall. The extra time it takes to eat this way allows your stomach to tell your brain that you are full. If you truly want to have room for several courses you’d better keep portions quite small. And that is likely part of the reason the French tend to be much slimmer than the average American.
You won’t see the typical French family huddled in front of the t.v. scarfing down their dinner. Non! They gather around the table and enjoy their meal together. And it’s not likely you would see paper plates on the French table, either. An ironed tablecloth, cloth napkins and “real dishes” are the norm, even for weeknight family meals.
We usually eat at the kitchen table as we don’t have a separate dining room. I do have a couple of vintage tablecloths which coordinate with my 1950s-style kitchen but more often I use placemats. We have several sets and I enjoy changing things up periodically. I enjoy setting the table with pretty dishes, flatware, cloth napkins and glassware. It’s casual but attractive.
We do have another table in our family room and that’s where we have small holiday meals. Or I set up a couple of long folding tables if we have guests. In those cases I use freshly pressed tablecloths and my good china, silver and crystal.
Create a Beautiful Life: Cloth Napkins and Real Dishes
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Advantages of the French dinner…
- Everyone in the household comes together to eat and share their day with one another.
- Eating in courses naturally slows down the meal for better digestion and a relaxed end to the day.
- Attention to detail in terms of the table settings and the quality of the food served provides a pleasant experience within the family.
- The typical French dishes served at home are usually homemade with a focus on fresh and seasonal foods.
If you’re used to eating hastily prepared meals on paper plates in front of the t.v., the French dinner no doubt seems like a huge amount of work and maybe not worth it. But I urge you to consider adding just one part of the “French way” to your evening meal and see what you think. Turn off the t.v. and try eating at the table as a start. You can then slowly begin adding other parts, evaluating as you go.
Cultures differ and each family’s preferences are unique. Still, it can be fun to try new ways of doing things. And you just might find that adding a cheese board to your meals is totally worth the effort.
The 7 Courses of a Formal French Meal
The Parts of a Traditional French Meal
You may also enjoy:
9 Reasons to Eat Like the French
Personally I think it’s a great way to have dinner – though I’d obviously need to make some changes because of being vegan, hating the taste of coffee, and not drinking alcahol – but I wouldn’t want to do all that much every day. Although, I do make it a rule that we have our main meal at the kitchen table, eaten off of real plates, every day. In fact, even when we order in we eat it at the table, and I don’t own paper plates, so anything that needs to be plated up goes on real plates. I don’t worry too much about where we eat breakfast or lunch, or even if we have it together, but we always time our dinners so they’re ready about the same time, even though we generally have totally different meals, because I like us to eat our main meal together.
Deanna Piercy says
I think that is the most important part of it – being together in an intentional way. I suppose it is so engrained in the French culture that they don’t even think of it as extra work. I’d like to do the whole thing once a week or so and I may start serving our salad as a first course regularly.
I think you’re right.
Deanna, I love this article and will return to read it again when I have more time to really take it in and think more about how to make our mealtime extra special. I usually serve meat, greens, side salad and homemade bread.
I always use a tablecloth when eating at the table along with a tablecover underneath so I’m not concerned about ruining the wood.
I like the idea of serving the salad first. Restaurants always do. I need to get back into the habit. Cheese board? I’ve done that when we have guests, but why not a small one for the two of us?! Great ideas!
Deanna Piercy says
We’ve gotten a bit slack in the dinner routine around here recently but I think I’ll serve salad first tonight. And I love the idea of a cheese board!
Mary Margaret says
I always do dinner at the table with a tablecloth and cloth napkins. When Daughter was in grammar school, some evenings were taken up with lessons and sports. I made the effort everyday to make a good breakfast and have us all sit down in the dining room before people left for school and work. If daughter was not in the mood for a traditional breakfast, I at least gave her apple slices and peanut butter.
Deanna Piercy says
I think it’s so important for kids to have at least one meal with the family each day as often as possible.
I’m lucky to be in France and have adapted my cooking by always using/including fresh veggies, being more aware of presentation on the plate & making new combinations regardless of cooking style. A few days ago I added sunflower seeds & pecans to an asian stirfry, made cornbread in canelé molds which works super because you get more crispy edges. Been making crepes more often because they contain mostly milk and egg so are lower carb than most bready things. Always experimenting.
Deanna Piercy says
I’d love to hear more about your life in France. You’re living my dream!