French women seem to have mealtime all figured out: They freely nosh on flaky chocolate croissants and thick-cut, brie-slathered bread without worrying about the sugar content or if that little bit of dairy is going to make their skin break out later. (And, in general, it’s safe to say they’re no less healthy than anyone else.)
Meanwhile, eating Stateside can be somewhat stressful. Unlike in Paris, where it’s normal to uncork a bottle of wine during an hourlong lunch break, leaving the office midday can seem like a luxury. And while it’s de rigeur for an American to eat a Seamless dinner while watching Netflix, the restaurant delivery app doesn’t even exist in France—takeout in front of the TV just isn’t a thing there.
How is it, exactly, that French women can be so laissez-faire, yet also so mindful when it comes to their meals? Do they just have less to do? To find out, I called Elizabeth Bard, the author of the new book Dinner Chez Moi, which is full of insight into how the French not only eat intentionally, but joyfully.
As an American who has been living in France for 15 years (she fell for a Frenchman and moved there to live happily ever after—sigh), she’s experienced the difference between French and US eating firsthand. Here, Bard shares what she’s learned, plus three habits that are easy to adopt—even if your schedule doesn’t permit midday Merlot.
Scroll down to find out how French women eat mindfully—and how you can, too.
1. They reserve mealtime for eating and socializing—not multitasking
“In France, eating isn’t something you do alone to satisfy your own desire or hunger,” Bard says. “It’s the primary social activity of French life.” She believes this is indicative of a much bigger cultural difference between the two nations: Americans are very individualistic, while the French are more collective in their thinking.
Bard explains that French women aren’t eating breakfast while scrolling Instagram or scarfing down lunch over their keyboards; instead, meals are a time to catch up with friends and family, and it’s important to savor the food you’re eating. “You’ll never see a French person walking around while eating a croissant,” she notes.
But that doesn’t mean productivity’s any lower across the Atlantic. Bard explains that, often, colleagues will go to lunch together and spend 45 minutes to an hour tossing around ideas while they eat—it’s an informal way to continue a conversation happening in the office. But unlike American lunch meetings, laptops aren’t invited.
2. They don’t snack
Sit-down breakfasts, lunches, and dinners are totally ingrained in French culture—skipping or skimping on meals is practically unheard of. Because of this, Bard says snacking just isn’t something people feel the need to do.
“They don’t eat in the car or out of a bag of chips in front of the TV. First of all, no one would ever eat out of a bag of anything!” she says. “If you want something, you take it out of the [packaging], put it on a plate, and eat it at the table.” Et voilà—instant portion control.
3. They eat high-quality ingredients, not processed ones
When a French girl sits down for a meal, you know she’s not microwaving a 300-calorie TV dinner that’ll leave her hungry an hour later. And when she’s having dessert, really good chocolate is involved—she’s not eating a sugar-laden candy bar from the grocery store checkout aisle. And because of this, Bard says, she’s content with less.
“The French call it ‘a little treat,'” she says of eating rich foods. “I’m going to have a little, not too much.” Having small amounts of high-quality cheese, sweets, and meat will keep you feeling full longer than processed ingredients will, and you’ll never feel like you’re depriving yourself of the things you love. Just make sure you supplement them with plenty of organic veggies—a Gallic diet staple that translates on any continent.
Find out what happened when one Well+Good editor attempted to eat like a French woman for a week. Or if the Italian way of life is more your style, here’s how to stick to a Mediterranean Diet.