Much has been written about how French women eat splendidly yet stay thin. In my mind, the top two reasons French women don’t gain weight is as simple as this: They walk everywhere, and they don’t overeat.
In short, exercise and eat well, but don’t eat too much.
Fortunately, one of the most enjoyable ways to eat is also one of the most enjoyable ways to not overeat: Eat in courses, preferably a starter, a main course, and either cheese or dessert.
When you spread a meal out over three or more courses—rather than pile all the food on one plate to eat all at once—you slow down and savor every bite. And when you eat more slowly, you notice and appreciate your food more. Hence, you feel satisfied, without overeating.
So, who has time to cook three courses every night? That’s the beauty of this way of eating: You don’t eat more, you don’t cook more; you simply spread it out over an extended, enjoyable time at the table.
Here’s how dine like the French—which is to say, eat well, without overeating.
1. Keep the pre-dinner nibbles to a minimum. Go ahead: Enjoy a few nuts or olives with that ease-into-the-evening aperitif. But don’t eat them from the bag or jar—put them into your prettiest bowl—your prettiest small bowl, that is.
2. Enjoy a first course of something straightforward but splendid. Maybe it’s a composed salad—not just a tossed lettuce salad, but something that stars the week’s freshest, most in-season vegetables—from the best heirloom carrots to roasted beets. Or, how about roasted asparagus with a few shavings of cheese? Or a few slices of prosciutto with some cornichons? Maybe it’s a thin slice of quiche you have leftover from a brunch, served with a small puff of salad.
3. Move onto your main course: The trick is to “sane-size” (rather than super-size) your meal. Cut a rib-eye in half, butterfly a huge boneless pork chop or chicken breast to make two servings from one big cut of meat. If you sauce it well (see my article on deglazing a pan for a great sauce) and serve it with one of these simple sides, you’ll be plenty satisfied with less.
4. Enjoy a cheese course or dessert. Yes, a cheese course may sound indulgent, but in French homes, it’s often as simple as a couple slices of cheese and perhaps (though not always) some preserved fruit (sheeps-milk cheese with cherry confiture is a classic). Again—satisfaction without overindulgence (and without extra work).
Or, have dessert—just don’t overdo it. Fromage blanc (or a good Greek yogurt) with honey and toasted pine nuts; a small scoop of sorbet with a small scoop of ice cream (creating a Creamsicle effect); perhaps crêpes you have on hand in the freezer, simply sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar.
Photographs by Richard Swearinger.