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Eating "sensibly" in Paris

I have a couple of medical problems being monitored. My DRS and various coaches want me to consider "sensible eating while we are in France" (is that an oxymoron as my helpers suggest?) for nearly eight weeks this May/June. 31 days will be in Paris.

I have to wonder as many faithful on this thread must be my age or older...approaching 70... how can you eat the food regularly discussed and stay healthy?

How does one do a four hour meal with regularity?

Do French restaurants provide specific info on their menu's content in terms of sodium, fats, calories, etc for my chief coach, my wife, to ponder before she let's me order?

I need to know your strategies for staying at a healthy weight given the tremendous temptations available on any block in the city.

Of course we could eat home meals prepared from fresh air markets in our apartment, and will on some days; but, I don't get the feeling you regulars do that.

So what are your secrets?

Or are you all obese? (Don't take offense as I am, sadly, obese.)

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  1. there are lots of Mediterranean, African and Arabic places in Paris that are lower in fat than your 'stereotypical' French food.

    1. "Do French restaurants provide specific info on their menu's content in terms of sodium, fats, calories, etc"

      Not that I have seen - I assume the expectation is most people know what goes into the food. I tend to find with good fresh ingredients its not what goes onto the plate but more about how many plates you eat. Thus I think the best advice is to eat small and varied. Lots of the modern degustation menus are quite small portions with simple fresh produce so probably lower risk.

      Probably the best approach in Paris (and everywhere) is to reduce carbs as I think breads and pastries will be your downfall - cutting out fats and calorie counting is fairly soulless (and there is more and more evidence its a poor weight control strategy). So include a little cheese every now and resist dessert. .

      1 Reply
      1. re: PhilD

        <<I tend to find with good fresh ingredients it's not what goes onto the plate but more about how many plates you eat. Thus I think the best advice is to eat small and varied. >>

        Better words could not be written and holds true in all walks of life, not just for a wonderful trip to Paris.

      2. Actually, obesity is far lower in France than in the US (although it's on the rise...)

        I found it far, far easier to eat sensibly in France -- loads more veggies, less processed food. Cleaner eating all round, with lots of healthiER options.

        And you'll be walking a lot -- my guess is that you'll actually come home a kilo or two lighter.

        1. great suggestions.

          For me, when I go to Paris I rarely actually frequent traditional french restaurants.

          There is a great supply of ethnic restaurants (especially vietnamese) where you can eat much healthier. These restaurant also tend to be much more open minded (if you aren't causasian, you will much less likely to run into racism there as well).

          Agree about avoiding bread and pastries as much as possible. The biggest challenge is that it is nearly impossible to get a high protein, healthy breakfast in France. If you are staying in a place with a kitchen, fix yourself an omelette for breakfast every day and it will reduce your hunger through the day.

          Also don't be afraid to order a la carte instead of the prix fixe menus. For me, the menus usually have way too much food and encourage you to eat more than you should

          1. Actually, the French do eat sensibly. No between meal snacks. No or little sugary drinks. Breadstuffs at breakfast or as a sandwich at lunch. Seasonal vegetables. Reasonably sized portions of meat.

            We usually gain no weight while visiting France up to a month at a time, and usually even drop a pound or two because of reasonable portion sizes and lots of walking.

            Sample what is important to you during your stay, but remember that sample is the operative word. We most often buy one piece of something and split it. That way we can try more things. You can also split an entree or dessert at a restaurant but not a plat or main course.

            15 Replies
            1. re: mangeur

              we do that a *lot* -- order two of a two-course menu -- one of us orders the entrée/plat, the other orders the plat/dessert -- then we split the entrée and dessert. (and not so much as a raised eyebrow from the serveur -- they'll usually wordlessly bring two sets of flatware for each course, just in case anybody wonders)

              Works well for us -- that and a pichet de 25cl and we're good.

              1. re: sunshine842

                I agree with this strategy. We also do this at lunch. I find that eating the larger meal at lunch prevents weight gain because you have the rest of the day to walk it off. At dinner, we usually have some poached fish & salad that we buy for a picnic or to bring back to the apartment. With all the walking, we usually do not gain any weight. Also, before leaving, we usually do the 17 day diet (book title) & lose as much weight as we can to give us a little room "to grow."

                1. re: sunshine842

                  That's such a smart strategy. That would totally satisfy me too.

                  1. re: sunshine842

                    This is our first trip to Paris, May 5-13. We're planning something similar. I'm 50; Hubby is 54. We're both a bit heavy but plan to do a lot of walking (as on previous vacations to DC and NYC).

                    Last few months, our serving sizes have greatly reduced, we literally cannot eat big American servings anymore without feeling uncomfortable. The idea of a larger lunch and lighter dinner follows what we've been doing. I like the 2-course split idea.

                    I asked Husband about fancy places or reservations. He says we'll play it by ear. Is that possible?

                    1. re: propita

                      Someone on this board suggested that I ask my hotels to make reservations for me, which they did quite happily. I corresponded with the hotels by email. You really do need reservations at most places I've found.

                      1. re: propita

                        Getting into many "fancy" places without prior reservations may not be a problem. Or a reservation may possibly be made same day or day before. Problem rooms will be those that are small and trendy. Pay attention to Sundays and Mondays.

                        Lunch may be less of a problem also.

                        1. re: propita

                          Agree with mangeur that small and of-the-moment being the problematic reservations. But also keep an eye out for the public holidays - May has a few of them occurring on a Thursday when some smaller/ owner-operated places will take the Friday as well.

                          1. re: shakti2

                            Indeed. Last year, several of our target dining rooms closed for the entire week surrounding May 1.

                            1. re: shakti2

                              yes! I realized that we'll be in Paris for VE Day, a Thursday. While we like that idea of being in Paris on that day, I realize this could skew the long weekend, both sightseeing and foodwise.

                              We're not for "trendy" places. Simple food is more our style. And no wine, it doesn't mix with our meds. I was never a big fan anyway, as I seem to be sensitive to the taste of alcohol to the point that it tastes bad to me. Odd, huh?

                              Husband is diabetic, but has the all clear from his doctor to have baguettes pretty much all he wants, provided he's walking a lot. "It's only three weeks and you'll be walking."

                              Any advice for low-price food and snacks is appreciated.

                              1. re: propita

                                there are always tons of sandwich stands for a pret-a-manger bite on the go (and all the ones I've had were really good). While Mrs. Ephigenia Fussybottom of Croakford-on-Leeds would sooner die on her toilet than be seen eating while walking in the street, you won't be the only ones.

                                1. re: hill food

                                  You realise "Pret-a-manger" is a chain of UK (now international) sandwich shops

                                  1. re: PhilD

                                    yeah, I know they're in the US as well and they kinda suck IMHO, I was just trying to be clever and use a bit of Frenchified nonsense.

                                2. re: propita

                                  France has all kinds of great foods but is in general not a snack culture. You can always go into a boulangerie and get a viennoiserie, but it would be regrettable to come to France and target snack.
                                  "Low-priced food"
                                  Do you have a kitchen ? That would be the best option to keep your price down and to find things to eat on a big holiday day.
                                  Otherwise, see if Jeanne B on rue Lepic is open. Its week-day poulet de Challan lunch menu, at 15 euro for 2 courses, can hardly be beat for quality and price. Otherwise, try the excellent Turkish places like Urfa Durum and Ozlem, but they ten always to close for holidays and even closed for dinner sometimes.

                              2. re: propita

                                Tourists play it by ear, people serious about food put a plan together and reserve.

                                You don't need to reserve every meal but the ones you really want to try it makes sense to reserve. And its polite to reserve even if its on the day if its a last minute decision - walk-ins can be hit or miss, giving them a call and reserving is just polite (and Parisians respect good manners).

                                Do remember Paris is a big business city and the hungry workers go out to lunch. When I worked there we always booked our lunches and often needed to try a few places to get a seat. So its not just the trendy that get booked, lots of good simple places do as well.

                                Do remember French portions are far smaller than the US so you may need to adapt accordingly. Sharing is good, but don't order just one dish between two - sunshine orders two set meals and shares dishes.

                                1. re: propita

                                  "fancy places or reservations. He says we'll play it by ear. Is that possible?"
                                  Which fancy places? Fancy places well known for good food would be more difficult to book than non-fancy places. Fancy places famous for having a beautiful room and mediocre food, like the famous touristy brasserie chains, may be easier to book, but I would not recommend them.
                                  As Mangeur says, you can reserve in many places just one to 3 days in advance, especially if not for a weekend, especially if not for a weekend night.