20 ways to eat like a French woman

Posted by
Stylist Team
backgroundLayer 1
Add this article to your list of favourites

Our French neighbours have a truly stellar attitude towards food, embracing it as a way of life: something to savour and to spend hours revelling in alongside good company and even better wine. Not only that, but the national diet is delicious - who doesn't love creamy cheeses, fresh bread, chocolate and steak?

From studies extolling the virtues of red wine and blue cheese to foodie advice from glamorous screen icons, here's how and why to eat like a French woman... bon appétit!

Images: Getty Images, Rex Features and iStock

  • Au naturale

    French cinematic legend Catherine Deneuve is a big fan of fresh, natural ingredients.

    "I live very much outside, you know?" she says. "I'm not a country girl, but almost. I'm quite healthy. I don't diet, but I try to eat natural foods and not what you'd call junk food."

  • Pursuit of pleasure

    "For France, a meal is a very particular moment, in which you share pleasure, the food as well as the conversation," says Paris-based nutritionist Dr Francoise L'Hermite.

    "From an Anglo-Saxon point of view, food is just fuel to give energy to your muscles. If you have no pleasure in it, you are breaking all the rules of eating."

  • Let loose

    "The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit."

    Honarary Grand Dame of French cuisine Julia Child opened America's eyes to the delights of French food with her legendary tome Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

    A lot can be learnt from her wonderfully haphazard and joyous approach to food; in true French style, she embraced it to the hilt.

  • Food of love

    "Mangez bien, riez souvent, aimez beaucoup" meaning "eat well, laugh often, love much" is a common saying in France that sums up the nation's rapturous approach to food.

    Note the "eat well" rather than "live well" - eating is to be savoured as a central part of life itself.

  • Work of art

    "The French approach to food is characteristic," Alice B. Toklas, the American writer who lived with Gertrude Stein in Paris during the Roaring Twenties, once famously declared.

    "They bring to their consideration of the table the same appreciation, respect, intelligence and lively interest that they have for the other arts, for painting, for literature, and for the theatre."

  • Chocolat, je t'aime

    In France, chocolate is not something to binge on at random when you're feeling hungover. It's an art form - something to seduce and delight; to admire and to be taken seriously.

    As actress Juliette Binoche says, "I was so happy when they cast me in Chocolat, because it's one of my vices."

  • Quality equality

    Rachel Khoo has become something of an authority on French cuisine after hopping across the channel to set up her own restaurant, La Petite Cuisine à Paris, in her tiny Paris home.

    "Even though I was on a budget, I could afford to go to the fresh food market and get baguette and cheese," she recalls. "That kind of food is not really accessible to you in London. I really love that in Paris, there is no division (in terms of food) by social class."

  • Diet downer

    Some believe the idea that French women don't diet is a bit of an urban myth, but it certainly rings true with French Bond star Eva Green.

    "Before my first film, the casting director asked me to lose some weight, saying, 'On screen you're going to look much fatter,'" the actress once said. "I started drinking soups and then I was like, 'I can't do it, I can't go on a diet'. It's hell, it makes you very depressed - food is so important to me. I couldn't go on."

  • Freshen up

    French movie star Leslie Caron knows a thing or two about French food, having run a restaurant near Paris for nearly 20 years.

    "I eat sensibly – every day at lunch I have a steak with a big salad and I eat fruit, vegetables, yogurt and muesli," she says. "I seldom eat pastry – maybe once a year. I never eat desserts and I don't drink. That makes a big difference."

  • Less is more

    A landmark study by the University of Pennsylvania concluded that France suffers far lower obesity levels than the US because of smaller portion sizes. It found a supermarket soft drink in France was 52% smaller than in the US, a hotdog 63% smaller, and a carton of yoghurt 82% smaller.

    The same disparity (confirmed anecdotally by our holidays across the channel) may explain why obesity levels among adults in the UK stand at around 22%, compared to 11% in France. Food for thought...

  • Balancing act

    It seems moderation really is the key to a French woman's diet.

    "I eat everything, just not too much," says actress Sophie Marceau. "Not junk food, but I love wine and chocolate." Sounds good to us.

  • Act of unity

    "I think the French approach (food) with love and lust sometimes," says Laura Calder, host of award-winning Canadian series French Food at Home.

    "In France, when you go in to someone’s house, it’s very much home cooking and they’re not trying to impress you. What’s important is bringing people together and making something delicious and hearty and homey."

  • Say cheese

  • Variety show

    France is bursting with different ingredients, flavours and foodie variations so regionality is key to the French attitude to food: it's all about seasonality, locality and diversity.

    "Every region has its own specialities and cultural identity, and I am continually learning new things," says Anika Patel, owner of French experience holiday Flavours of France. "It was important for me to work with regional chefs who use local ingredients and make dishes based on what they have eaten whilst growing up."

  • Red, red wine

    It's long been acknowledged that the staple presence of red wine in the French diet is linked to the nation's comparatively low incidence of heart attacks.

    Numerous studies have indicated that red wine, and French red wine in particular, contains high level of antioxidants. So French women can rest assured that one or two glasses a day are not only pleasurable but beneficial to their health as well. Santé!

  • Full stop

    "What amazes me is that French women are content to leave a dish half-finished in a restaurant," Anika Steinecke, a German 28-year-old graphic designer who has been living in Paris for eight years, told Stylist magazine in an article about French lifestyle.

    "In Germany, I was brought up to finish what’s on my plate, and feel guilty leaving a chip. In France, they’ll eat half of a portion, then stop. It’s a very simple mindset, one I wish I had."

  • Lost in emotion

    Food is just as much about the emotion as the flavour according to Anne-Sophie Pic, the first female chef to win three Michelin stars in over 50 years for her restaurant, La Maison Pic, in south east France.

    "There is a very modest side to cooking because we already have fabulous produce and we just try to put it together in a way that brings out its magic," Anne-Sophie says. "It's fantastic to be able to write one's emotions into a dish and it's magnificent to give a happiness to people, and feel that same emotion oneself."

  • Four seasons

    "You are what you eat, I deeply believe in this," says French Mission Impossible actress Emmanuelle Béart. "I only consume fruits and vegetables that are in season and I drink enormous quantities of green tea.

    "On the other hand, my diet contains absolutely no meat, sugar, pills or alcohol… except for very good bottles of wine!"

  • Snack out

    "French women never eat while they're walking or standing, like you do here (in London)," says London-based Parisian Sandrine Janet. "We have no culture of snacking, and especially not on fast food. This habit is ingrained in us from a young age."

  • The holy trinity

    Mireille Guiliano revealed "the holy trinity of the French lifestyle" in her 2004 best-selling food bible French Women Don't Get Fat.

    Her advice is simple: each meal should include carbs, proteins and fat and everyone should eat three times a day to avoid snacking.