Gouter, The French Snack

gouter the french snack
Gouter critical French snack
What is the importance of snacking around 4:00 in France

Follow your dreams, work hard, practice and preserve. Make sure you eat a variety of foods, get plenty of exercise and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Sasha Cohen

Look around. The French are not overweight. Ok some are. But on a whole, they are generally; on the slim side, healthy, and happy people. Despite the fact that many are still smoking and casually drinking 2-4 glasses of wine each day; most southern French who take part in the Mediterranean diet live up to 15 years longer for women and 8 years long for men.

How is that even possible when they are constantly eating!

I have to wonder if it has something to do with the traditional French gouter; their sacred snack before dinner that might keep them from gaining weight.

We invite our children’s friends over after school for play dates, and the first thing they expect when they walk in the door, is to eat their gouter. It is usually waiting for them between 4:00 and 4:30 on our table for them to select and eat before play. I used to serve organic yogurts, pretzels and cut up fruit, but I noticed that the French kids were not that keen.

So I asked my kids to take note when they go over to their friend’s house. Sure enough, just in stereotypical fashion, the beautiful French moms were serving up nutella filled crepes for snacks! I had to immediately step up my gouter menu or completely lose the children’s affections!! Ok maybe not. But I did want to make the kids happy when they came over, without sacrificing our no processed food and very little sugar house rules.

When I know they have friends coming over, I bake a cake with fresh fruit on top, cherries in the middle or roasted pumpkin mixed in place of the fluid, so they think they are eating junk food, but it in actuality, it is chalked full of goodness. This way I can control the sugar content of the cake itself and it is naturally sweetened from the fruit instead of processed white sugar. Voila! It has always been a big hit!

The drink of choice is water with a little bit of fruit syrup, like the Italian sodas back home. Sometimes I make it with carbonated water that I make with my sodastream (no salt soda). The health food store sells a bio variety without processed sugar, but watch out for sugar substitute variety, even though it is organic fruit inside, many use sucrose,  nutrasweet, splenda etc. If we have the choice, I would much rather give them sugar than chemical replacements.

We have managed to accept this snack as part of our daily life. It has become such a part of our existence that we miss it when it is gone.

Is has something to do with keeping blood sugar levels balanced throughout the day to stop us from overeating later. Around 16:00 our tummies start to growl for a bite, not much, just enough to take the edge off before dinner.

If parents come to pick up their kids, we do serve an apero, which is normally a glass of wine, and bit of bread served with foie gras or tapanes. It is a gouter before dinner for the parents.

And the French sacred practice seems to be working too.

It also might explain why the French eat so late. By having a snack at 4 in the afternoon, you can easily go until 8:00 without eating dinner.

The other factor is that the French eat their biggest meal at lunchtime. Dinner is usually a small version of lunch or a soup or salad. Very few carbs at night, which could also be the secret to the Mediterranean diet.

Loads of nuts, olive and olive oils drizzled on everything, local wines, fresh fish and seafood, many different types of cheese, vegetables, and fruit… You are never craving more; the colours, the variety and the flavours are divine.

Typical French meal plan for kids:

In the morning French kids usually eat something sweet. Either toast with nutella, pain du chocolat or a croissant, or sugary cereals, with hot chocolate or tea.

In our family the kids have started doing the same except we regulate their morning meal to oatmeal or toast and chocolate milk or tea with honey and lemon. Nutella is a treat, not a condiment in our home. 

Lunch is usually a three course meal served in the canteen (school cafeteria), consisting of a salad or cut up veggies, a hot main course with bread and cheese, and a dessert.

We have moved away from cold sandwiches for lunch ourselves to hot soup with a warm second course, although we still don’t eat dessert. I find all kids love pizza, so what we do is make the crust and let them choose their toppings. 

Dinner is a lighter meal than lunch. For our family this means hot vegetable soup to start, or salad and meat. (low on carbs) We now eat between 19:00-19:40.

It was a hard change that took years, when dinner back home in Canada was anytime between 17:30-18:30. When we first arrived in France, when we would be invited over for dinner at friend’s, but had to eat before hand and then go over. Sometimes we didn’t eat until midnight! 

At our home, if it were the weekend meal with friends we would eat closer to 21:00-22:00, After the starter and main dish, we would also serve a variety of cheese with bread, and salad, then icecream for dessert, and end with a coffee around midnight. It wasn’t a dinner, but more of a social intimate experience. It is also my favourite part of French culture. 

With all this eating going on, you would think France would be obese.

Why aren’t the French fat?

Maybe it’s the lack of McDonald’s processed foods readily available in traditional French villages and towns that can account for the biggest difference between North America and the Mediterranean diet. Also processed ready-made foods are rarely served in anyone’s home as a meal, but more a treat once in awhile after a busy day or during travels. If you go out for lunch or dinner in a restaurant, the portion sizes are much smaller than the American standards. They also drink wine with lunch and dinner. They say it helps digest your food. It is even recommended by their doctors to have 2-3 glasses of wine per day.

They enjoy a seasonal diet full of variety and everything being local means no need to package in plastic and ship. Produce is picked at its peak, and not ripened off the vine. Milk and cheese are also local and it is against the law to add growth hormones or sugar additives, which is very bad for our system and in turn packs on the pounds. So even though we are eating much more in France, the quality of food is more beneficial to our bodies, leaving us digesting and metabolizing our food properly and receiving the proper nutrients from it.

What we put into our bodies is the most important thing. If we eat well, our bodies are supposed to naturally fight off disease and keep us healthy.

I wonder if the French are on to something with this little gouter at 4:00pm?

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