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The main meals in France: what do the French eat?

France is renowned for the refinement of its cuisine and the French are known for loving to eat. Cliché or truth? What are the main meals in France? What do the French eat during everyday?

Le petit-déjeuner (Breakfast)

Breakfast is a very important meal in France. It is often made up of sweet products: bread with spread (Nutella ®) or butter and jam, fruit or fruit juice, cereals such as muesli or "cereals" for children -- with chocolate or honey -- with milk. It is therefore rare to eat a salty dish such as eggs, cold meats, potatoes, etc. I see this when I go to the hotel but I can't eat this kind of thing when I wake up 🥲. Besides, we easily recognize French tourists: they are the ones who only eat sweet products!

We often accompany breakfast with coffee, tea or hot chocolate.

What about croissants? 🥐

Croissants are France's reputation throughout the world. They are part of the "viennoiseries": bakery products that are not bread. The word "viennoiseries" comes from the city of Vienna, Austria, where they originated. Yes, croissants are not French!

Most of the time, viennoiseries are made from puff pastry, like croissants, pains au chocolat, chaussons aux pommes, pains aux raisins... But not only. Brioches, chouquettes or Swiss bread ("le pain suisse") are also viennoiseries.

French pastries: pain au chocolat, croissants, pain aux raisins

"Viennoiseries" are very high in calories, so sorry to disappoint you... but we don't eat them every day! We reserve them for special moments, vacations, weekends or a birthday breakfast with colleagues, for example. A word of advice: if you want to be well seen by your French colleagues, remember to bring croissants to the office from time to time! 😁

Le déjeuner (lunch)

The French give a lot of importance to their meals and they spend a lot of time at the table. On average, they spend 2 hours 13 minutes at the table per day, compared to 1 hour 02 minutes for Americans. The majority of French people have at least an hour lunch break, so even when we work, we take the time to sit down and eat a "real" meal, prepared and cooked. If you watched Emily in Paris, you must have noticed that Emily's French colleagues have lunch at a restaurant every lunchtime. It exists but for financial reasons, this is not at all the case for the majority of people.

Many people prepare a meal at home the day before and take it to work to heat and eat at the office. Many companies also offer a catering service at very attractive prices. In these company restaurants, you eat complete, hot and often balanced meals. Of course this is not possible for everyone, so there is also the option of eating a sandwich (the famous "jambon-beurre": simply butter and a slice of ham in half a baguette), a salad or any other “on the go” meal ("sur le pouce").

Vocabulary | Manger sur le pouce (eat on the go) 👍🏻: Eat quickly, without going to the table.

💡If you go to France, you will quickly understand that you can't have lunch at any time. Restaurant kitchens are generally open from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m./2:30 p.m., if you arrive too late, you will no longer be served food. However, you will still have chain restaurants open at all hours. It's not worth a good homemade chef's dish, but it's better than nothing to wait until dinner!

Le goûter (snack)

In reality, before dinner, we often have a "goûter". This is a small snack that allows you to last until dinner without feeling too hungry. Originally, it's reserved for children after school around 4/4:30 p.m., but adults can eat something too. You can have a piece of fruit, some dried fruit, yogurt, biscuits... But THE typical French snack, the favorite of children (and adults), is a piece of baguette in which you spread a little of butter and add a bar of chocolate. Delicious!

baguette and chocolate bar for snack in France

Le dîner (dinner)

Around 7/8 p.m., the French return to the table. This time, they usually have dinner as a family and eat a full meal. We take the time to talk about the day and spend time with loved ones. At dinner, we eat more or less like lunch: a dish based on meat or fish, starchy foods (rice, pasta, potatoes, etc.) and vegetables.

The meal is very often accompanied by bread, one of the guilty pleasures of the French "un pêché mignon")!

Vocabulary | Un pêché mignon (a "cute sin"): any act of pleasure or weakness that's difficult to resist, but easily forgiven

The French eat on average 120g of bread per day. Against all expectations, they are not the biggest consumers of bread in the world since it is Turkey which holds first place in the ranking with 200kg per person per year (compared to 50 for France). We are famous for the baguette but we don't just eat that! 🥖

And the apéritif? 🍸

"L'apéro" is the diminutive of "l'apéritif". It is not a meal strictly speaking, but it is a moment of conviviality dear to the French. This is an institution in France! You can have apéritif with everyone: friends, family, neighbors... It's even an excellent way to get to know new people. If you move into a new building or a new neighborhood in France, it is very possible that you will be invited to have an aperitif with your neighbors! It consists of having a drink and snacking on small things before dinner.

To learn more, listen to the podcast episode on this topic:

Is it too difficult to understand? The transcription is available here.

We can therefore say that food is important in France. French meals are complete, varied and often home cooked.

And at home? What are the different meals? What do you eat every day?

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