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Differences Between France and America: Main Meal At Lunch

The Main Meal Served At Midday. Lunch In France

Is having the main meal at lunchtime typically French?

This is the fourth part of my summer series on cultural differences between France and America and how this difference can potentially affect our health.  In France, the main meal is served at lunchtime and a lighter supper is served later, even later than the normal American dinnertime. A hot three course main meal is served around noon and lasts for about one hour (although the lunch “break” is usually two hours long).  This French midday meal is a filling meal, combining a protein source such as meat or fish, along with a vegetable and some starch. Dessert at lunch could be a fruit or yogurt.  A French breakfast is small so typically the French are quite hungry once lunchtime comes.

A lighter and quicker American lunch

This is in contrast to the lighter American lunches of a sandwich or soup and salad, or perhaps just a light bowl of pasta or a hamburger and fries. In the States, lunch is quicker. Normally within a half hour the American lunch has started and finished.  Dinner is the main meal in typical American households. It is the time for the sit down dinner, filled with the same things the French lunch has:  meat, starch and vegetables.

Why This Difference in main meal at lunch between France and America?

This difference in timing of the main meals has to do with the long-time history of the two-hour lunches in Old Country France compared with the New Country of America with the industrial revolution movement, business trends with lunch on the run, plus busy people and two working families.  The two-hour lunch is quite sacred in France. Although now the trend is progressing towards what is seen in America; which is a shorter lunch and then back to work.  In large companies in France there is usually a large cafeteria with good food, this is to encourage spending time at work and not drifting home.  Lunchtime at these big companies is usually 45 minutes.  In the school system the children still covet the two-hour break.  For working parents with young school age children, you are obligated to either find someone to pick up the children at school to return home for lunch or have the kids eat in the cantine (school cafeteria).  The cantine offers schoolchildren a three course hot meal but home packed lunches are not allowed.

Is the French option of main meal at lunch a healthier one?

Is it healthier to eat the main meal at lunch? Actually your body just takes what you give it, meaning it doesn’t distinguish what time of day you eat.  Thus, as far as vitamins and minerals are concerned, whether you eat the main meal at lunch or dinner, there is no difference.  However, for weight control my personal belief is that it is better to eat the main meal at lunch. Eating that heavy meal earlier on in the day rather than at night means that you have all day to work off what you are eating.  Also, I find it difficult to sleep well on a full stomach.  We eat supper late in France, (like the Frenchies), by eating a big meal at 8 or 9 PM, I find it hard to digest this heavy meal late through the night.

So what is the ideal solution? Main meal at lunch?

What is a better solution, main meal at lunch or dinner?  Try out the main meal at lunch and see how you feel. Try out the lighter meal at dinnertime. Can you fit this into your lifestyle?  If you work, this means either good planning to find a way to eat your 3 course meal at lunch (some jobs this seems virtually impossible) or why not at home?
How to make that family dinner a light one?  Small portions of meat and protein and load up on the veggies. Eat carbohydrates in  moderation.  American adults and children are currently eating more protein needed for their daily requirements so this is why I mentioned eating small meat and protein portions.

Do you already eat your main meal at lunch or made a recent switch? Let me know how this eating plan is going for you by commenting in the “Leave a Reply” section below.

If you are interested in knowing more on how the French eat or learning about health with an international twist, why not subscribe to BrightonYourHealth and download your free E-report on “10 Simple Ways to Eat Like the French Without Having A Food Snob Attitude” ? Or pass this article onwards using your favorite social media method.

Merci and Bon Appetit!

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14 Responses to Differences Between France and America: Main Meal At Lunch

  1. Talia September 19, 2012 at 07:45 #

    Same situation in Mexico. The larger meal is served at 2-3pm and then people usually have a light dinner around 8-9 pm. I personally find it interesting that people in the United States will actually eat lunch earlier than noon, for me that’s still breakfast.

    • mbrighton September 20, 2012 at 09:36 #

      Hi Talia,
      Thanks for your comment. It is always interesting to understand and discover how other cultures from around the globe eat and enjoy their food. I didn’t realize that in Mexico the larger meal is at 2-3 pm, a bit later than I would think. What time is breakfast? Is breakfast a large meal?

  2. Dana May 31, 2012 at 04:07 #

    I’m considering doing this with my daughter, who is 1. Do you think it would benefit a child?

    • mbrighton May 31, 2012 at 09:00 #

      Absolutely! Keeping in mind that at one years old your daughter needs snacks too. Lunch is a great time to give the big meal. Meat or other protein source, vegetable, and carbohydrate like whole wheat bread, pasta or rice. (In France one year olds are eating baguettes with their lunch as a carbohydrate source) Fresh fruit for dessert. She would benefit from an afternoon snack (why not a yogurt or healthy biscuit). Dinner is lighter: soup, pasta, rice…you could add vegetables and/or fruit again here. Any questions? Here to answer…

  3. Candace May 18, 2012 at 17:19 #

    That’s exactly what I have for breakfast except I put a little organic strawberry preserves on my baguette! Sometimes, to mix it up, I toast up a little croissant with butter and jam. I’ve even quit sugary creamers in my coffee, worked my way down to no added sugar, too, so its only coffee and some warmed whole milk. But I drink a whole glass of water before my coffee so I start out in the green with my water intake ;).

    This morning I was able to bake my own baguette for breakfast. Heavenly!

    • mbrighton May 19, 2012 at 09:41 #

      Candace, very impressed! You seem like a real francophile…si vous plait (please)…keep us updated on how things are going and how you are feeling!

  4. Candace May 18, 2012 at 04:48 #

    Before I start, I want to thank you for all the incredible information you’ve provided here! Thank you!

    I was inspired to immerse myself in French culture and their relationship with food after reading “French Kids Eat Everything” I’ve started to adopt the “French way” of eating meals. I used to have a filling breakfast and lunch would be a few hours later so I was never really hungry but I’d scarf down something easy to get, feel hungry about 4-4:30-ish, eat something and then dinner was whatever we felt like making.

    I’ve found that eating a larger lunch (such as some eggplant parmesan followed by a veggie heavy salad with blue cheese and a touch of olive oil, a bite size cherry tart and espresso to finish), I have no problems with hunger later on. The biggest issue is eating slowly. I have an hour lunch and I’ve worked up to 30-35 minutes to complete my lunch. Before, I would throw back a chicken sandwich, fries and beverage in 10 minutes! But in the process, I find it so relaxing. Like waking up early before work and being able to relax in bed before getting up. So nice!

    When 4 rolls around, if I do feel hungry, I just remind myself not to freak out and that it’s okay to feel hunger (just like the french mothers tell their children). Or if I wasn’t able to have a fulfilling lunch, I allow an orange or a tiny piece of dark chocolate and I savor it.

    Also, having a diverse healthy menu is helpful too. I’ve become so sick of the same burger and fries, tacos and pizza that I could scream. I’ve never had many vegetables that French children usually have had by age 2! It’s exciting. I love food and despite the stigma of it in the US, I want to ENJOY food. That’s really what we can learn from the French – mindful eating and the pleasure of the eating experience.

    • mbrighton May 18, 2012 at 09:05 #

      Bonjour Candace! Merci for your comment. Yes, you are really moving into the French way of living. Continue :)! Over time I believe you will even find more benefits, like better digestion, more satiety, better appreciation for real food and wanting to eat well. Please keep in touch and let us know how you are doing. Just curious, what do you eat for breakfast? Here breakfast is light: slice of baguette, butter and a coffee. Thanks for liking our Facebook page also. Bon Appetit!


  1. Ika Irawati - July 4, 2012

    Ini lho buktinya sayang @ngepeeto di Amerika lunchnya dikit tapi dinnernya banyak :* dibilangin gak percaya ;p

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