OK, I'm not going to start out by bashing American eating habits, because that topic has been covered to death. You really don't need another article blasting the unhealthiness of fast food hamburgers, right? However, it is informative to look at the way other cultures approach food. With this in mind, there are some French eating habits all Americans should try to live a healthier and happier life.
Granted, the French have access to high quality ingredients, as well as a long history of otherworldly cuisine. (And, also worth noting, a generally more humane work-life balance than their American counterparts.) But even time-strapped Americans who have to juggle jobs, commutes, child care, and a thousand other concerns can occasionally make time for a more pleasant, leisurely approach to eating.
There is a middle ground between being so busy you try to replace food entirely, and spending hours a day lingering over a gourmet meal. By taking a little more time to enjoy your meals with family, or springing for quality ingredients now and then, you can elevate your eating routine significantly. Even if you can't venture to Paris for a vacation right now, eating well can make for a mini-vacation in its own right.
1. Embrace Flavorful Ingredients
French cuisine is a lot of things, but it is never bland. As noted in Real Simple, a key hallmark of French cooking is the layering of flavors, so it's helpful to start out with flavorful ingredients from the start. A simple sprinkling of fresh herbs could take your cooking to the next level.
2. Enjoy Meals Socially
Have you spent far too many meals gazing blankly at Netflix or your phone? It may be time to embrace the French custom of eating more socially. As noted by a 2014 piece in The Guardian, approximately 80 percent of meals are enjoyed in the company of others in France. There is something pleasant about the idea of keeping mealtimes social (and, likely, screen-free).
3. Savor Rich Foods
There is nothing half-assed about a French sweet. Have you tried a French-style hot chocolate? It's filling, decadent, and almost absurdly rich, more of a melted chocolate bar than a drink. But no one's guzzling gallons of the stuff, either. As noted in The Huffington Post, the French enjoy their rich foods in moderation. It makes sense: wouldn't you prefer a few bites of something intensely flavored, instead of a bowl of bland?
4. Choose Full Meals Over Snacks
This may be a difficult habit to give up, because snacking is pretty ingrained in American culture. (When was the last time you went a full day with no snacks? I honestly can't remember.) But because the French eat their rich, real meals and enjoy them, snacking is discouraged, as noted in Natural Blaze. It's OK to let yourself get a little hungry before dinner.
5. Eat Slowly And Deliberately
There's a tremendous difference between slowly enjoying the flavors of a meal and horking it down like a starving dog. As noted on Slate, the French are some of the slowest eaters in the world. And really, taking the time to enjoy your meal, as well as the company at your table, sounds more pleasant than any hastily consumed, half-tasted fare. So whatever you have tonight, try to eat it at a more leisurely pace, and see if that's more enjoyable.
6. Seek Out Quality Ingredients
In Paris, you'll come across little shops devoted to the specific foods and ingredients. For instance, a shop called La Pistacherie focuses on selling quality nuts, and you can get them raw, roasted, or covered in chocolate. And you can bet they're all delicious. This is a charming idea for France, but for most Americans, the prospect of driving to a dozen different shops to get ingredients for dinner is pretty unappetizing.
That said, you can still seek out quality ingredients as an American. Hitting up the farmer's market is a wonderful option for most Americans, as you can score loads of locally grown, in-season goods in one spot. Plus, there are ways to make your produce last longer to get the most of your farmer's market trip. And if you're really ambitious, start a container garden to have fresh herbs and other greens on hand.
7. Rethink The Cost Of Food
Granted, this may not be possible for all families, because sometimes those household budget cuts eat into your grocery money. But if you're at a place where you can afford to spend a little more on quality ingredients, then chances are you'll get a big payoff in terms of flavor. As noted in a 2012 Mother Jones article, Americans tend to spend less on food than persons in any other countries. Sometimes it pays to spend a little more for great taste.
8. Eat Less Artificial Colors
In high school, my French teacher noted that artificial coloring was one of the main differences in French and American cuisine. The typical child's birthday cake in the States, with its layers of neon frosting, kind of freaked her out. She did not tend to rely on a lot of artificial colors or flavors in her own cooking. On a more concerning note, many artificial dyes that are banned in France and the U.K. are still sold in the U.S., as noted by Buzzfeed. Sometimes food should be beige.
9. Try Crepes
Go to your closest French restaurant. Make them yourself if you have to. But everyone needs to experience the magic of fresh crepes at least once.