Salad can be as simple as sliced tomato, fresh basil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
Before I began reading about the French approach to food compared to the American way of eating, I always thought a three course meal was hotsy totsy and kind of silly. Why all the formality of breaking a meal down into “courses?” But now I understand. There are three reasons why a three course meal is beneficial. Well, actually four!
One: Presenting a three course meal sets the tone for relaxing, quality time.
When the table is set nicely with only the first course on the table, you may notice a subtle spark of expectation. As Mireille Guiliano explains in French Women Don’t Get Fat, ” …setting one’s table can be nearly as important as preparing the food. It focuses the mind on what lies ahead and whets the appetite, opening it to a fuller experience.” Here at home, our first course is usually some type of salad which I have plated and ready at each place setting. This first course has been an eye opening experience: Starting the meal off with fresh, individual salads has changed the dynamics of our whole dinner experience. (Read about it in my Eat Salad First post.)
Two: Eating three separate courses slows down the meal.
As busy as we all are, I’ve found that we can still set aside at least half an hour to actually eat dinner together. When the meal is served in separate courses, with plates removed as each course is finished, there is a natural slowing down of the process. When salad is served at our dinner table, we wait until each family member is finished before we move on to the second (main) course. I wasn’t sure how this would go at first, because my little ones had previously balked at salad. But something magical happened when I began offering it alone, as a first course. They ate it without reservation and continue to do so to this day!
Baby artichoke and rainbow carrots is a nice change for the first course.
When everyone has finished each course, we proceed to the next, removing used plates and starting each course with a new, clean dish. Delightful!
“Changing plates not only compels you to concentrate on what you are enjoying at the moment, it slows the meal down, improving digestion and promoting contentment.”
~Mireille Guiliano, French Women Don’t Get Fat
Three: When each course is served separately, food is appreciated and enjoyed.
The standard approach to American meals is to pile all of the food onto one plate, all at once. This is how I grew up and how I served dinner, up until my “enlightenment.” Following the French approach, we start with small offerings of each food arranged simply in the center of each plate. With each course standing on its own, I’ve found that we notice and enjoy the flavors more than when it was all served at one time. My younger children are more successful at finishing their meals this way because they are not overwhelmed with a huge dish of food. And, as the chef, I really enjoy being able to “showcase” my creations – even if it is just baked chicken or spaghetti. I go to considerable effort to plan and prepare food, so it is nice to be able to present it in an attractive way which is more likely to be appreciated.
See my post for this easy Chicken Parmesan with Spaghetti Squash recipe.
Four: When meals are served in courses, one is likely to eat less.
In a culture where “super sized” is admired, many of us are realizing it is taking a toll on our health and appearance! Cutting down on calories is usually not a pleasant task. But I have found that having meals served in courses makes it easy to consume less food. Once we finish our salad and then move on to the main dish it seems that conversation becomes as intriguing as the food itself and not everyone is chowing down as voraciously as before. You may have noticed that the faster you eat, the more food you’ll need. Slowing down the consumption leads to eating less. And even once the third course is completed, everyone can leave the table feeling comfortably satisfied without feeling stuffed.
Second helpings are available to those who wish for it, so there is no shortage or restriction of food. But I often plate the food and bring each person’s serving individually to the table. Without a display of all of the food in front of us, many times seconds aren’t even desired.
A simple main course of sweet potato and mushroom meatballs is an easy second course.
One simple plate of ice cream bits and fresh strawberries to be shared by the family provides a satisfying third course.
Dessert, by the way, has also taken on a new meaning. Previously, dessert was served….actually, scavenged for!….well after dinnertime and without much supervision. This led to children eating too many cookies or adults indulging in copious amounts of ice cream. Now, however, since dessert is the third course, smaller offerings can take the spotlight. The other night, I set a plate of Dove ice cream bon bons and strawberries on the table. I also happened to have hot coffee on hand. Having one or two portions of bon bons along with a strawberry was the perfect sweet finish for the meal and I honestly did not wish for anything further! Satisfaction without guilt.
Gotta love that!
Just a final note, just in case you think I must be a together person with a fastidious home, glorious meals and extra time on my hands, relinquish that thought! Believe me, a description of yours truly would not include any of those items. But three course meals are not just for the highly organized members of high society. It should be noted that in France, everyone eats the same way. It is common to be raised on three course meals with a built in education of and appreciation for a wholesome variety of foods and good manners. In fact, a person of low estate would feel just as comfortable with food in a five star restaurant as anyone, because they all learn the same things. (Don’t think we can say that about the USA.) Anyway, as patriotic and all-American as I might be, endeavoring to follow the French example when it comes to food appeals to me. Want to join me?
I’ve enjoyed sharing this with:
Six Sisters’ Stuff