You would think with the vast number of bakeries, candy shops and specialty foods that the average Parisian would be hefty, but the typical Parisian is trim. Want to know some of their secrets?
If you guessed ‘stress and cigarettes’, then I know you’re a Parisian! But the main reason is good eating habits.
When I first came to Paris, I studied at the Sorbonne and had the good luck to be hired as an ‘au paire’ for a French professor. During that time I learned that day-to-day meals don’t resemble in any way the meals you might have in restaurants or even the meal you may have at a French friend’s home when you’ve been invited over for dinner.
Here’s a typical example of the day’s meals:
Fresh or toasted baguette with butter and jam. Coffee with milk and sugar, tea or hot chocolate.
(you notice – no orange juice, no doughnuts, no Danish,no bacon and eggs, no cereal – although cereals have made big inroads in the last decade).
Lunch or ‘dejeuner’ is the major meal of the day. Whether you eat at home or at the workplace, this is typically a sit-down hot lunch, not a sandwich eaten on the run.
Lunch will normally include a starter such as ‘crudite’ which can be diced carrots, beets, or other raw vegetables, a main course including meat or fish (chicken, beef, white fish) accompanied by rice/potatoes and a vegetable, a green salad with a simple vinaigrette dressing, a small square of cheese and a yoghurt or fresh fruit for dessert.
Between 3 and 4 pm, if there are kids in the family, snacktime might be a croissant, a slice of brioche with jam or a few squares of a chocolate bar.
Dinner at 8 pm consists of soup, slices of boiled ham or other cold cuts like a country pate, bread and cheese followed by yogurt and fruit. On special occasions, dessert could be mousse au chocolat. Tarts, cakes and assorted pastries are reserved for Sunday dinners.
After dinner, an infusion is served (tisane or verveine).
Wine is served with both lunch and dinner. Bottled water is always available. People normally have a bottle of water by their bed.
Butter is only on the table for breakfast. The rest of the day, bread is served without butter. Much of the cooking is done on the top burners or in a pressure cooker. The broiler is rarely used. I noted that pots and pans were usually pretty easy to clean up after a meal because French cooking is done with so little butter or oil.
After the 8 pm dinner or supper, there is NO SNACKING. The concept of couch potato does not exist. Any food that goes into your mouth is consumed at a dining table.
Needless to say, the Parisian lifestyle is in constant flux. You’ll still catch the occasional person wolfing down a sandwich as he walks down the street – but this is unusual – and definitely not the norm.
Although some diets like Slim Fast have gained in popularity in France, the typical advice suggests that the traditional daily meals with no snacking is the best way to stay trim. People trying to lose additional weight will continue to eat three meals a day, but they may:
1. Make a soup the primary plate for their evening meal.
2. Dilute wine with water or cut out alcohol altogether.
3. Limit their bread to two slices per day.
4. Reduce their meal portions.