So when I read recently that Spanish health care experts are recommending five meals a day to stay thin, I went to the kitchen, got a snack, and settled down to give the article proper attention. MujerHoy magazine explained that you need breakfast, mid-morning snack, lunch, mid-afternoon snack, and dinner to avoid overeating at any one meal. “To lose this traditional schedule,” the article warned, “is to throw open the doors to indiscriminate nibbling.” Yikes!
I was shocked to discover that Americans aren’t the worst offenders. According to the Daily Mail, in the UK mealtimes account for just 39 minutes and 9 seconds of the average day. Breakfast is a brisk 7 minutes and 20 seconds, “lunch hour” has now been whittled down to a measly 12 minutes and 49 seconds at your desk, and dinner is gulped in just 19 minutes. Not surprisingly, 78% of participants said they wished they could sit down and savor meals longer, and 90% said (rather wistfully, it seemed to me) that on the rare occasions they managed a proper dinner with the family, they enjoyed themselves and wished they could do it more often.
The Spanish aren’t the only ones who have developed the fine art of leisurely meals. The Huffington Post reported that the French spend two hours a day at the table. And according to Mireille Guiliano's bestseller French Women Don’t Get Fat, they're eating all the good stuff we're told to deny ourselves when trying to slim down: chocolate, cheese, meat, bread, even (gasp!) butter. So why don’t they get fat? In large part because les Français take pleasure in three full, leisurely meals every day plus snacks. And they treat food as a friend, rather than an enemy. “French women,” says Guiliano, “think about good things to eat; American women typically worry about bad things to eat.”
When I asked a French friend about this over coffee today, she said, “It’s true. We look forward to eating with the same pleasure that we look forward to meeting a good friend.” And that, my friends, seems like something worth doing as often as possible. Bon appétit!