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Do you love to cook French food? French food aficionados around the world like Stefan Masuhr are always looking for ways to learn more about France’s excellent cuisine. However, aside from ingredient lists, preparation guidelines and recipes, did you know that the French do one thing at every meal that sets them apart? If you truly want to have a French eating experience, you need to eat in company.

Eating Together

The French make time for eating together whether they’re at home, work or elsewhere.  There is even a fairly strict timetable that the French follow for meals. Over half the population in the country stops for lunch at 1pm. The majority of the population follows a three-meal a day pattern, eating breakfast between 7.00am and 8:30am, lunch between 12:30pm and 1:30pm and dinner between 7.00pm and 8:30pm. This suggests that people seek a time to stop and eat together rather than all eating at individual times.

In addition, the French are known for taking a longer time to eat, which can also be explained by conversation and the time spent in company while eating. According to data from 2010, the French spend two hours and 22 minutes a day eating. This is also because the French tend to eat at the table. Eating is not an activity to multitask. It’s rare for the French to have a “working lunch” or watch TV during meals.

Finally, data does confirm that a majority of French people eat meals with others. In fact, 80% of meals are taken with others according to the French consumer studies and research institute, Crédoc. These and other unique traits of French eating have led this aspect of their culture to be selected as a “world intangible heritage.” Learn more by watching the embedded video.

France vs. Other Western Countries

Research shows that meal frequencies are still quite regular in France, where people follow the three meals a day rule. However, in other European and North American countries, meal frequency is more of a flat line, indicating that people eat meals and snacks throughout the day. Learn some interesting facts about eating via the attached infographic.

Cultural differences may explain different eating patterns that can be seen between France and other countries around the world. For example, researchers report that the French view food in terms of flavour and pleasure. On the other hand, Americans view food as nutrition (or lack thereof). This was emphasised in a survey done among French and Americans about what they associate with different food words. When given the word “chocolate cake” Americans were quick to think “guilt”, while the French associated it with a social situation: “birthdays”.

Benefits of Eating with Others

Eating with others has many health benefits. For starters, it helps people eat better. In a group setting, people tend to pay more attention to nutrition. People may also limit their portion size, try a bit of everything and avoid over-drinking. This is in part because, when we dine with others, we know we’re being watched.

Eating with others can also help combat chronic stress. It forces us to take a breather from our daily occupations and worries and gives us a time to share with others. This can go a long way in boosting your mental health and as a result your physical health too.

For children and teenagers, a family mealtime is associated with higher grades and self-esteem and lower rates of drinking, smoking and drug use.

Finally, social interaction is a key player in fighting cognitive decline. Social interaction may help strengthen our memory and cognitive abilities, especially as we age.

Of course, eating with others isn’t the only positive French eating habit. Check out the attached PDF to learn more.

The good news is that eating with others is an easy habit to start. Organise a lunchtime group with co-workers or invite neighbours over for supper. Set a standard mealtime, at least for the evening meal, with your family members. This way, you can gain the many benefits of eating together, just like the French.