Everyday Eating, French Women Style

Healthy eating habits for all seasons

Le menu que je préfère (My favorite menu) / c’est la chair de votre cou (is the flesh of your neck),” sings Georges Brassens in “J’ai rendez-vous avec vous” (“I Have a Date with You”). Now that’s a French menu. All about pleasure. Alas, the menus on this site, pure and simple, are not erotic. There’s a place for that in healthy, balanced living, but I leave it to you to find it.

It goes without saying (or at least it should) that every day, every season, every menu for living should begin with the essence of life: a glass of water. If your tap water is unpalatable, as many are, find a bottled one you like and cultivate a taste that banishes those dubious drinks sweetened artificially or naturally. When starting her day, a French woman would no more neglect to have her glass of water than to dab a little perfume or eau de toilette on her neck.

Trois par jours

Beyond water, bear in mind it is essential to have three meals. Your morning bread should be toasted (more digestible, and in France, yesterday’s bread never goes to waste when there is always breakfast tomorrow). A sliver of butter is pure pleasure and much better for you than pseudo-fat substitutes like margarine, which should be tossed in the trash together with Crisco. Eating is sensory, so eat with all five senses, and appreciate little experiences (of small portions and three bites) which produce through association and memory a gamut of emotions. Focus on the pleasurable ones and evade the destructive ones.

As they are subject to individual adjustments, my menu templates are equally suitable for maintaining a healthy weight and losing a few pounds following the principles of French Women Don’t Get Fat, especially the article on short-term recasting. You’ll need to tailor the menus somewhat to your own life.

The portions on in my books and on this website are designed to help you take off weight, gently and slowly. Remember to experiment with the 50 Percent Solution to see what satisfies you without causing weight gain. If that’s not enough, you can incorporate a snack, yogurt being my first choice. (French women are the European champions, consuming on average 48.28 pounds of yogurt per year . . . on the way to not getting fat.)

As your sense of proportion evolves, feel free to make substitutions. I present a range of what I like, but you should suit yourself. If you prefer red wine with fish, go for it. If you don’t like wine, you are missing one of the greatest foods on earth, but so be it. When I suggest non-caloric beverages I mean water or herbal tea (including green tea) or coffee. Try to limit other tea or coffee to no more than two servings a day, as the caffeine can make you hungry, especially on certain days of the month. It also dehydrates you, and the water in highly caffeinated beverages does not meet the requirement of drinking lots of plain water. If you don’t care for dried apricots have cranberries or whatever you like. Remember you can eat any good food in moderation . . . in three bites (so to speak). Small portions and variety are what matters. Learn to reduce at your pace by eating slowly and chewing well.

With soups especially, don’t feel you have to follow the recipes to the letter. The same soup never tastes the same twice anyway. So don’t panic if you are missing an ingredient: replace it with what you have on hand or prefer. (That goes for all dishes: you may, for instance, find that you prefer almonds over cashews with your spring asparagus. Nothing wrong with that.) I often throw in whatever I have in the fridge or find at the market. Be creative, bearing in mind the pleasures of mixing colors, though sometimes a delicious green soup needs no adornment.

For salads, I firmly believe the best dressing is a top-quality olive oil and vinegar (1 tablespoon vinegar for 3 tablespoons olive oil, an amount for 2 cups salad). If you need “spice” in your salad, add a bit of mustard to the dressing, and, of course, always plenty of fresh herbs. There is no such thing as a good bottled salad dressing.