Sitting Down to Eat: The One Big Thing We Can Learn From the French

sitting down to eat

Eating is a time to enjoy yourself, and sitting down to eat makes it truly enjoyable. All French people grow up with this belief.

Eating is a gift we get to enjoy three times a day. Creating rituals around eating is one of the most powerful healthy habits you can create.

Meals are sacred, and should be treated as such.

In many cultures, meals are considered sacred times. Although French workers will often eat by themselves, the meal will never be rushed. When I had a desk job in Paris, I had a full hour for lunch. I would never eat at my desk, but go to the park and enjoy my salad outdoors in fresh air. This is a big cultural difference from typical American habits.

When meals are structured, you grow up with less anxiety around them. You don’t obsess about the food itself, and you focus on the ritual of eating instead. Rituals are very powerful, and every parent knows this. When your children have a very structured bedtime ritual, they will more likely go to bed without fuss because they understand the routine. Mealtime rituals work the same way. 

We connect with routines, so healthy mealtime rituals are important!

Our brains instinctively desire routine because they make our lives easier. When we have an established routine, we don’t need to consider the same questions each day. We can complete regular tasks without extra thought or energy. While Americans have fallen into routines of working through lunch, the French take their full break. It is normal for French workers leave the office and relax with colleagues. Rather than feeling stressed, the French are likely to return to work happier than someone trying to shovel down a sandwich between phone calls or meetings. 

Sitting down to eat will give you numerous health benefits, such as:

Creating a connection with loved ones.

When I was a child, gathering the family around the table for a meal was often the only time I would spend with my father. He was a very busy working man who needed to relax when he came home. Since we are French, we always shared dinner together at the table. It was one of the few times the family connected as a unit. One study showed that teenagers who gather with their families at dinner time have significantly lower stress levels. The teenagers in the study also had less likelihood of high-risk behaviors, such as substance use, sexual activity, depression/suicide, antisocial behaviors, violence, school problems, and/or eating disorders.

Eating less by eating mindfully, and more slowly.

Mindful eating has become very popular in the US, but there is nothing new about this practice. Sitting down and consciously slowing down while eating will help you enjoy the present moment. Taking longer to chew each bite will release more saliva, which contains digestive enzymes that will help your stomach break down and metabolize food. Eating slower can also help you feel full much sooner. So take your time!

Making healthier food choices.

Home-cooked meals are much healthier than take-out meals. Foods eaten outside the home generally have higher fat, salt, and calorie content. The quality of the ingredients used in restaurants might not be as good as the ingredients you would choose to build healthy meals at home. Animal products and cooking oils especially tend to be low quality.

In addition to implementing the ritual of sitting down to eat, there are plenty of other healthy habits that can be learned from eating like the French. French people also choose quality over quantity, limit their snacking between mealtimes, and are aware of their portion sizes. 

There are a few simple ways to change the way you enjoy meals.

Some like to take a moment to pause before eating to be thankful for having nutritious food available. After cooking your French dinner recipes, acknowledge the effort you put into the preparation and honor yourself for choosing to eat healthy. Then sit down to eat with your favorite people, and enjoy. 

The dinner table is a place of community, and the ritual of eating together gives us a sense of belonging. It’s a place to catch up, talk, laugh with one another, and connect as human beings.