French Eating Habits I’m Taking Home With Me

One of my favorite things about the French is that they tend to be well-rounded: The French dress fashionably, travel, read a ton, keep abreast of politics and quite famously, eat well.

Collectively I’ve spent about a year and a half living with French families so I’d like to think I know a thing or two about French home-cooking. But returning to Paris this year reminded me of so many French eating habits I have yet to work into my daily life.

While there are many French food customs I’ll never get on board with- like oeufs en gelée (eggs in aspic – blergh) and small, sweet breakfasts, there are others, like a salad with every meal and good wine that I’m more than behind.

*Note- not every French person or family does these things, these are just food customs I’ve observed personally.

A salad with every meal

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Salad is truly an art form in France. In fact, I never liked salad until I lived there.

When I lived in France, I made a simple green salad every day to accompany the main dish at dinner. I loved how it wasn’t a question- at dinner, you always have a baguette, and you always have a salad.

You start with fresh, butter lettuce that you wash and dry with a salad spinner three times. It’s usually from the farmer’s market and speckled with dirt so it’s important to wash thoroughly!

Then you always, always, always make the vinaigrette from scratch. (I’ve never even seen bottled dressing in France!)

And voilà, you have a delicious salade verte!

Yogurt after every meal

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After dinner in France, we would bring out an assortment of yogurts: mousse au chocolat, lemon, and strawberry, among other flavors. In my opinion, yogurt is the perfect low-key, weekday dessert, and boasts plenty of health benefits as well.

Sadly, this is one French food tradition I sadly won’t be replicating in America as American yogurt is sugary, processed and terrible for you. You might as well just eat half a candy bar.

Also, if you’re ever in France, the above yogurt, Fjord, is the yogurt of dreams: thick, tangy, creamy, addictive. As in like worth smuggling through US customs.

Apéro dinatoire

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Interestingly enough, there’s actually no viable English translation for apéro dinatoire! Cocktail party with snacks? Drinks and finger food?

Essentially an apéritif dinatoîre is when you invite guests over to drink and snack on an assortment of hors d’oeuvres. You don’t “officially” serve a meal so it’s not a dinner party; it’s more of a casual, often weekday gathering that lasts late into the night.

(Fun fact- did you know no one says hors d’oeuvres in France? It’s an antiquated word.)

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Gougères, or cheese puffs, I made for an apéritif dinatoîre last year. They’re surprisingly super hard to make- this was my third batch!

Sparkling water

Pellegrino water bottles

Sparkling water always makes me feel kind of fancy. Plus, if you’re trying to cut out pop, it’s a healthy carbonated alternative.

Always using a tablecloth

Another thing that makes me feel a little more put-together? A tablecloth. The French never sit down to eat without one.

Epic, five-course dinner parties on the regular

Oh god. French dinner parties are so much work yet so worth it. Here’s the drill:

1. Decorate your house beautifully, with a fresh tablecloth, flowers, chic stemware, and your best china. Your best china isn’t just for holidays- it’s also for impressing your guests. And turn on some music!

2. Wait for your guests to arrive- they’re always a little late. Once they arrive, greet them with a kiss and serve them hors d’oeuvres and cocktails (kind of like an apéro dinatoire but with a lot less food).

And don’t forget to thank them for their gift, usually a bottle of wine or flowers. In France, it’s rude to show up empty-handed.

3. Sit down to the table for the first course (entrée in French. Yep, it’s backward from English!)

4. Serve the main course. It is imperative for everyone to rave about the food- in France people talk a lot about food. Points for serving more exotic dishes like tagine or goulash.

5. Serve the cheese course. Ideally, you will have at least 3-4 room-temperature cheeses on a plate- here’s my guide on how to serve a good cheese course.

5. Serve dessert. Also, this isn’t a throwaway course- it’s a lot of work. Ideas: financier with a berry coulis, omelet norvegienne (Baked Alaska), a poached pear in a salted butter caramel sauce.

6. Serve coffee.

7. Chat about politics/sex/family life until as late as three a.m., serving up plenty of wine.

 8. Wake up mildly hungover and wash about 8,000 dishes. Each of those courses had a fresh plate, remember?

Buying good wine

Once I grow up (ha) I vow to never buy Yellowtail again- good wine is worth paying extra for, in my book. Unfortunately, good wine in the states is pricey, but in France, you can pick up a decent bottle from 3-5 euros!

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Also, someday I will have a badass wine cellar like my host dad in France with a gravel floor and a million wine bottles. #seriously

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Farmers markets

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Ah, I love a good farmers market, especially in France. Most French farmers markets are open two-three days a week, and serve up all the good stuff: charcuterie, seafood, cheese and fresh produce.

More picnics

Um, I think if I mention one more picnic on my blog you are all going to kill me, but really- I never have them in the states. Picnics=the best.

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A cheese course before dessert

Because… cheese.

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Eating healthy on the weekdays and indulging on weekends

This is one healthful custom I’ve observed in France. The French often eat simple foods during the week, and on the weekends indulge in pastries for breakfast, barbecues for dinner and sinful desserts. It’s the perfect mix of abstinence and indulgence. And it’s partially why the French stay thin.

Omelets for dinner

I’ve actually never seen anyone in France eat an omelet for breakfast! But we did often eat them for dinner with chives and other fines herbes on top. Yum!

More cheese and butter in my life

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And especially more goat’s cheese.

Goat cheese is my favorite food in the world. Also, it kills me that this cost literally two euros.

More posts:

The 10 Most Crazy Delicious Foods You Must Eat in Paris

How to Order a Baguette Like a Parisian

The 7 Best Picnic Spots in Paris

15 Things I Learned About Wine After a Year in France

The 10 Best Books to Read Before Visiting Paris

French Cheese: How to Buy, Store and Serve French Cheese Properly

Which French eating habits would you like to adopt?

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About Ashley Fleckenstein

Ashley is a travel and lifestyle blogger who lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Since college she has au paired in Paris, backpacked the world solo, and lived in Uganda. Her work has been featured by Buzzfeed, Forbes, TripAdvisor, and Glamour Magazine.

63 thoughts on “French Eating Habits I’m Taking Home With Me”

  1. These are definitely all keepers. :) My mom is Norwegian so I grew up with a lot of these eating habits – especially the epic dinner parties! My parents would invite their (college) students over for late-night, wine-filled parties that in retrospect were probably a little overwhelming for the younger students!

  2. All of your food posts lately have been leaving me ready to get on a plane to Europe. Especially for the cheese. Oh how I miss cheese here in Korea! But I have definitely become a lover of farmer’s markets and try to buy as much as I can afford from them.

  3. I admire and appreciate the time the French take for their meals.
    They don’t just eat a meal, but dine, taking this time to enjoy the
    food and the company.

    Love,

    Gamma

    • I love that too! Dinner is definitely an event. I’d say that’s a habit I’ve already adopted- I never eat on the go, I never eat standing and I love to make dinner a long, luxurious event. Just like you and Pap! Love, Ashley

  4. Such a delicious post!!!!!!! This is all incredible – and I love the chevre in ash! A great read! Keep on! Cheers!!! (Just smoked frogs’ legs, speaking of food, that were terrific)! Again, great post!!!

  5. How do you say “nom” in French????

    I love the concept of “apéro dinatoire”–it sounds almost exactly like the Spanish concept of going out for tapas (read: appetizer platter-sized raciones to share) or where everyone brings a potluck dish to nibble on with everyone else. I think I spy a Spanish tortilla in there…or is that an omelette with fines herbes?

    That wine cellar though…unbelievably amazing

    • Good eye! Actually you spy two. The lady I used to work for in France lived in Spain so she always requests that I make tortilla. Because who doesn’t love tortilla? And that night I remember we also made melon cubes wrapped with pata negra- very Spanish too!

  6. The French have it down when it comes to eating well but still having a life. They generally don’t snack and it’s rare (although that’s changing) to see people eating on the go as well. Sit down, take your time, appreciate your food, appears to be the French mantra and it works. Definitely could do with incorporating more into my own habits but I get so hangry if I don’t have an afternoon snack!

    • Glad to hear it Alana! And you know what’s funny? All my French friends in Paris are obsessed with Thai food. Actually Picard, the French gourmet frozen food brand, makes pretty delicious Thai food :)

  7. I think I was supposed to be born in France. I would love to incorporate all of these habits into my lifestyle! Especially a cheese course! This post is a little torturous though. I am missing good wine and cheese like crazy…it’s just not around in Indonesia!

  8. I’d like to have that wine cellar too! I’ve noticed a lot of these types of food habits from Brits & Greeks that I’m friends with in Goa as well.. on a smaller scale and only on special days- can’t imagine having such great food every day!

  9. I love this post! I’ve thought about what things I want to bring back from French food culture when I move back one day, and one thing I definitely want to introduce to the US are those epic dinner parties! And just eating more fresh produce and “real” food. I feel like they don’t eat as much processed food or things loaded with chemicals and words I can’t pronounce. And you really can’t have enough picnics (or post too many picnic pics) – my favorite activity in Paris!

    • I couldn’t agree more on the real food. One time I went to the market for my host mom and brought back a huge amount of produce by French standards. She said, “Don’t you realize this will all go bad before we have time to eat it?” At that point I was used to grocery shopping in America, where the fresh produce has tons of preservatives, so I didn’t realize my mistake!

  10. I’m forcing my friends to get on board with apéro dinatoire. I love having drinks with lots of meats and cheeses. All of these are great. Love the food pics!

    • They’re so much fun! My French friends often do them with couples they don’t know well- it’s a great way to get to know people and chat without committing to something that will take 10 hours like a dinner party :)

  11. The French definitely know how to do food! I’ve definitely embraced the wine, farmers markets and picnic bits already but I think apéro dinatoire is going to be next!

  12. I wish, wish, WISH a cheese course was a thing in, like, EVERY country. The UK doesn’t really have many of these habits whatsoever, which is probably why, collectively, we’re a lot more unhealthy than our mainland European counterparts…I love the idea of a salad with each meal (and none of that horrible, fatty, salty, sugary store-bought dressing), ditto a baguette. And dinner parties. When I move in somewhere with an actual kitchen next year, I shall be hosting dinner parties galore and bringing a little bit of France to Taipei. I’ll also have to buy plates.

  13. Yesssssss. Italians actually do a lot of these (god, I hated putting out the table cloth and setting the table for BREAKFAST) and they are really good habits.

    And why is yogurt in this country so, so, so bad? I thought I hated yogurt until I went abroad. Also, I love when people think they are eating healthy and eat flavored yogurt with more sugar in it than a candy bar…

    • Ha so true! I forgot that one, the French also set the table for breakfast. I suspect the yogurt problem is because most Americans have never tried real yogurt so we’re left with the disgusting, cheaper to produce goo. Vom.

  14. I moved to Europe three months ago and have been incorporating more good wine and cheese into my life. I love that I can get a giant wedge of Grana Padano from the grocery store for three euros!

  15. Gah, all this cheese is killing me! Drowning in my own drool right now. I love throwing dinner parties and used to try to be all fancy and French back home. In Korea they just don’t do dinner parties, it’s sad.

    If I were to describe an expat dinner party in Korea it would go something like this: 1- Cook something basic, because you only have one pot and one pan and one square foot of counter space. 2- Greet guests with a slightly sour bottle of bad imported wine and drink from coffee mugs. 3- Serve food in a mixture of mismatched bowls, plates, and tupperware–whatever you can find in your cupboard. 4- Everyone sits on the floor and eats with disposable chopsticks or spoons, except that one lucky person who gets to use your only fork.

    Haha, anyway, lovely photos and post… ;)

  16. I love this post! It makes me miss home so much. Being from Belgium, we have pretty much the same eating habits as the French which dates from the times when we were one country. I try to keep these habits when I’m abroad, though the cheese part can be difficult in tropical countries. There is always a way though… Last year, living in Bali, we managed to fly over 3kg of stinky cheese to our house. Can you image what a fabulous “apéro dinatoire” that led to? :D

  17. Oh goodness, this is too wonderful! I love cheese a little too much. I’m hoping nice cheese is more affordable in Europe than it is in the states because I want to eat a whole lot of it!

    • It’s SO much better and more affordable in Europe- it honestly makes me want to cry. In the U.S. even the best cheese is mediocre compared to French cheese, and about 5x the price :)

  18. It was so funny reading this because I’m originally from France although I’m now living in the UK. I used to do most of these things but I never realised they were actually French. Nowadays, I still do some of them; Aperos in particular. It’s my favourite way to end the week and kick off the weekend! xx

  19. You should learn how to make your own yoghurt. You should be able to find plain, unsweetened, full fat yoghurt at a farmer’s market or somewhere. You only need two liters of milk, and two or three tablespoons of yoghurt to make 2 liters of yoghurt. It’s super easy to make.

    Boil the milk to around 85 degrees celcius. Put the pot in the kitchen sink that’s filled with water. This will cool the milk down. Let it cool down to around 45 degrees celcius and add the tablespoons of yoghurt. Pour milk/yoghurt mixture into sterilised glass jars. I normally let mine ferment in a cooler bag.

    I put a blanket underneath the glass jars and then I cover the glass jars with blankets. Let them sit for at least 6 to 8 hours, but preferably longer. And then you have yoghurt! Enjoy ;)

  20. I second the comment about making yogurt at home. Every week I buy 2 bottles of organic milk. I warm that to just under 200F, then let it cool to 112-115. I just take it off the heat and let it cool on its own. I add the starter and mix well. Then I put lid on (I use a dutch oven) and then put it in the oven overnight with the light on. By morning, you have yogurt. I skim off the whey and put it in containers in the fridge. When I get home from work, I like to strain it, just to make it a bit thicker. It is soooo tasty – I like it better than any of the store bought ones I’ve tried here. I don’t actually think it’s cheaper to make (because I go the organic route), but it’s like a fun science experiment!

    My in-laws are Italian, so they have a lot of the same eating habits. There is always a green salad at the end of the meal. They always sit at the table to eat. They always have good cheese and bread. And wine!

  21. We can’t argue about the French’s good eating habits! Salad with every meal is a must do, though I’m not sure it’s a French thing only, I’ve seen people from different cultures adopt that habit too.
    What I love most in your list are the local farmers makets, they make authentic and heavingly good products! A much better alternative to industrials.

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