Raise your hand if you’ve ever imagined yourself strolling down a cobbled street with a baguette under your arm and not a care in the world. It sounds like a dream, but there is practicality in the details of day-to-day French living—especially the way they shop for food.
The French method is built around principles mostly uncommon to the American way of grocery shopping and pantry keeping. French citizens typically have small refrigerators that they stock on a meal-by-meal basis. What the French keep in their fridge and cupboards will most likely cover only a few days’ worth of meals at a time. They walk to a local in- or outdoor market, bakery, or butcher for provisions. Furthermore, the French love to savor their food—each meal is its own delightful culinary adventure.
Sound intriguing? Go totally authentic in your Bastille Day prep with these tips to grocery shop like the French.
01. The French shop daily and intentionally.
In his new book Grocery: The Buying and Selling of Food in America, bestselling food author Michael Ruhlman offers insights on our changing relationship with how we buy and eat food. In a recent interview for NPR’s All Things Considered, Ruhlman says there are about 40,000 options of packaged items in the center of grocery stores. “In the past couple of decades it’s gone up from about 7,000. Food manufacturers have found that they can increase demand and sell more products if they give you more variety.”
Because American grocery stores are packed with countless options, it’s easy to fall into the hypnotizing trap set for us (Why yes! I will try those new sun-dried tomato crackers!). Focusing on only a few meals at a time can snap you out of this spell. You’ll save money by only buying what you need, and you’ll focus on meals, not on having reserves of gimmicky snacks.
02. The French choose quality over quantity where their budget allows.
Consider how much of your grocery run ends up in the trash because it has been spoiling in the back of your fridge for weeks. When you buy for each meal, you have less options so you end up forced to get creative with cooking and eating what you already have on hand. If you get hungry, you aren’t hounded with options; it has to be the leftover quiche.
Ruhlman tells NPR of the modern American grocery store: “It represents the extraordinary luxury that Americans have at our fingertips, seven days a week.” But by only stocking up on basic ingredients (flour, eggs, produce, etc.), you’re also more likely to try making your own sauces, pasta, pizza dough, etc. At the end of the day, the money you’ll have saved on convenience can go toward sampling more luxurious items like high-end chocolates, exotic cheeses, or a good bottle of wine.
03. The French know fresh is best.
The French are known to love fresh, local, and unprocessed foods. Studies increasingly show how access to fresh, healthy food is better for our bodies. The French manage this by visiting farmers markets or specialty shops—like cheesemongers and patisseries—where food is prepared daily. If you don’t have access to these options, you can still be intentional about which foods you buy and when. Ask your local grocery store for its shipment-receiving schedule, when the freshest bread is baked and brought out, and which produce are in season. Then plan your shopping list and time it accordingly.
04. French women know that creativity isn’t just reserved for artists.
In France, meals are part of a two- to three-hour ritual where each morsel is meant to be enjoyed. They also prefer to eat smaller portions of foods that they truly love. Yet when Americans buy in bulk, we aren’t thinking of all the delightful meals that we can prepare and share but rather foods that might easily be nuked in a microwave and eaten on the go. By taking just fifteen minutes each Sunday to plan out which meals truly excite you, “we sit down and eat for pleasure, using all of our senses,” says Mireille Guiliano, author of the best-selling book French Women Don’t Get Fat.
05. The French way of grocery shopping promotes a healthier lifestyle.
Ruhlman notes in his NPR interview, “I think the grocery store is sort of a nostalgic place. We want to think the people who care about our food care about us. It goes back to that corner grocery store. But I don’t think they do anymore.” In contrast, French shopping and eating includes a daily ritual that involves walking, eating smaller portions of beloved foods, and slowly savoring meals that truly nourish their bodies. All of these practices are conducive to healthy weight maintenance and nutrition.
When we cease to view shopping for and eating food as tiresome chores, we rid ourselves of an unhealthy mindset toward our daily bread. By reevaluating how we’re shopping and being intentional with what we buy, food will become less of a constant battle and more of a joie de vivre.
Photo Credit: Zoe Deal