Meals of the Day in France: from Breakfast to Dinner

Toulouse is a city filled with culture and opportunities to have fun and make the most of our time here, but the daily life of a Toulousain is what interests me the most. In particular, the habits around meals and eating are one of the aspects of French culture that I find the most different from American culture.

Every day, I wake up ad go into the kitchen to make my breakfast. I don’t like breakfast much, at home in Boston I usually eat a bagel or have a glass of juice and a granola bar before I leave for the day. But here, breakfast is a real meal. The daughters of my host family eat a big bowl of hot milk, which they mix with a chocolate powder supplement called Banania and pour Chocopic cereal over it. At the beginning of my time in Toulouse, the amount of food that they ate for the first meal of the day stunned me, but after a few months here, I understand why they eat so much. The amount of time between breakfast and lunch is at least four hours! For a twenty-one year old girl like me that’s a long time, but for a seven-year-old, like the youngest child of my host family, it’s incomprehensible for me to think that she can wait four hours between meals, especially when there isn’t a snack break in the morning. In fact, adults are supposed to avoid snacking in general in France. I was a little bit horrified when I discovered that this was the case because I am used to eating something every two or three hours when I’m at Dickinson. I should also mention that at Dickinson, classes don’t stop in the middle of the day for lunch break, so it is entirely possible to only have 10 minutes to grab a sandwich at the Quarry or Grab-N-Go for lunch.

After lunch, which is very similar to what we have for lunch in America, except for the likelier presence of alcohol, we don’t eat again until 7:00 pm or later when we eat dinner. Luckily, children have a reprieve where in French culture, they get to eat a snack when they get home after school, called a “goûter.” The kids in my host family like to make sandwiches made with a bar of chocolate between two slices of bread. YUM. The adults, I’ve observed, will have a glass of beer or a cocktail if they are in town with their friends. This happens between 5:00 pm and dinner time (which is usually between 7:00 and 10:00 pm), and is a moment of relaxation at the end of the day. This aspect of French culture is pretty cool to me. It is a lot like “Happy Hour” in America, but a little bit more sophisticated for the lack of food to accompany the drinks. Dinner time in France also seems to follow the pattern of eating and then resting right afterwards because dinner is a relaxed meal and we usually go to sleep right after finishing eating.

I appreciate that in France the day is structured around meal times. In the United States, we do not respect meals and I’ve found that there aren’t many times where my family at home eats all together like my hosts do in Toulouse. I like the familial and congregational side of eating a meal together in France, and I’m going to miss it when I leave.

-Hannah Matlack

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