Why Not . . . Eat in Courses?
Wednesday July 20, 2016

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“People who love to eat are always the best people.” – Julia Child

To love food, is to love flavor, to love quality and to allow ourselves to be fully present in the moment we are tasting what has been made for us. One of the habits I have begun to incorporate into my eating regimen more and more frequently especially when I invite people over for dinner or make my family dinner when visiting them is the idea of eating in courses.

While courses can be organized in a variety of ways, and I am still tweaking my approach to include the third course which is the cheese course (an excuse to eat cheese? Yes please!), typically a four course meal is de rigeur; however, even three course can have valuable benefits to not only our health, but our relationships with others and especially with food.

Since many TSLL readers, as well as myself, are intrigued by the French approach to eating, I wanted to share briefly what exactly their approach to the four course meal looked like. To begin, four courses take place at lunch and at dinner, with lunch being the larger, often more decadent meal. Second, the courses go in the order of:

  1. Starter (raw vegetables, salad with a vinaigrette, cold cuts, or pâté)
  2. Entree (typically red meat or poultry, paired with a starch and vegetable)
  3. The cheese course (which acts as a digestive and fights acid erosion, as well as being a great conversation starter or focal point)
  4. Dessert (something sweet, usually fruit)

Again, after researching for this post, I discovered, there are as many ways to organize your courses as there are number of courses from 3-8, but never was the cheese course served after the dessert course. That was the only consistency I discovered. (See how to build your own cheese platter here.)

While family style eating has become more common place in America and offers a casual approach to eating, curiosity and excitement (although kept quietly reserved) is often the response I observe in my guests, family and friends when they notice that the meal will be served in courses. After all, it shows a conscientious choice and reveals the thoughtfulness of the host or cook who wants to sit down and enjoy the company that has gathered for an extended period of time. To feel wanted, to feel that others want to enjoy your company, is a priceless gift you can give anyone. As well, there are many other benefits. Let’s take a look at them.

1. Savor the flavor

When a single item is place in front of you to enjoy, you are able to discern the individual flavors much more easily. Because of this, the cook has often paid careful attention to the individual dish itself because it will be the only thing each of the guests will be eating at that moment. At the same time, as you eat you are not bombarded with choices of which food to eat and can take your time and savor the flavors. In fact, if you are the cook or host, be prepared to answer questions about your dish: the ingredients, etc., as your guests will most likely be curious.

2. Eat exactly as much as your body is asking for

Our stomach takes time to communicate with our brains letting its human know it’s full or satiated. When we eat in courses, we are able to respect this time delay. As well, we are better able to know what our bodies are craving: protein, starches, fats, etc. It is much more difficult to eat too much and feel stuffed and miserable hours after the meal has been enjoyed when a meal of courses has been enjoyed. I can honestly say after the occasions in which I sat down and enjoyed at least three courses, I felt just right regarding how much I had consumed which makes the memory of the evening all the sweeter.

3. Enhance the conversation

Without a question, the conversations that are encouraged while sitting around the table for multiple courses are plentiful, rich and memorable to say the least. The key, of course (no pun intended), is to invite people who can communicate, enjoy communicating and have something to share. But even if you are sitting down with your family every night, as this ritual becomes routine of enjoying courses, engaging and participating in discussion becomes a skill that can be implemented in many other occasions throughout one’s life. (Read the 19 Ways to Master the Art of Conversation)

4. Lose track of time

Just last weekend, upon sitting down for dinner al fresco with friends at a local restaurant, as the conversation flowed, the time zoomed by as well. Before we knew it, over three hours had passed, and a couple of courses had been thoroughly enjoyed. What better way to spend our days than participating in scenarios so enjoyable we forget to look at our watches?

5. Reduce the need for snacking

As the blogger of French Foodie Baby points out, if we are to truly enjoy and appreciate a full course dinner or lunch, we must come hungry to the table. Which means . . . little or no snacking prior to the meal. If our minds and bodies know that when we sit down for a meal they will be satiated and completely satisfied, the motivation for refraining from snacking is heightened and made far simpler. I have always found that it is when I am uncertain of what I will be sitting down for, that I typically will nibble on items I absolutely love prior to the meal and sometimes ruin my dinner.

And the additional benefit of no or little snacking and rather enjoying a meal with courses is that we don’t eat mindlessly. Instead we eat exactly what our body needs and no more.

6. Enjoy a well-balanced meal

Organizing, cooking and baking for a three or four or eight course meal takes practice and is not simple initially. However, with practice and careful planning it is absolutely possible. With that said, when planning a multi-course meal, the balance is paid particular attention to. Whether you look at the plate and see thirds or quarters, the ingredients are the same: 1/4 or 1/3 protein or legumes, 1/2 or 2/3 low-starch vegetables and potentially 1/3 high-starch or whole-grain options. As well, the combination of flavors and textures will enhance the experience and help to fully satiate the palette.

Click here to discover tips, tricks and concepts to keep in mind to plan a successful, well-balanced multi-course meal.

7. Be reminded that it really is the simple pleasures every day that make life sweet

Sitting down for this daily ritual is a lovely reminder that it truly is the simple everyday tasks that can bring the most pleasure. Yes, we all have to eat, and we should be mindful of what we eat, so why not make this have-to a truly rewarding and much-anticipated experience? It truly can be and delicious food and flavors can be savored along the way without affecting our health negatively.

“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.” —George Bernard Shaw

The gift of eating in courses is that it does indeed enhance our health, it heightens the pleasure we get to experience and it slows life down. When we slow life down, we let go of the habits and tasks that no longer serve us and begin to enhance those that do which ultimately heightens the quality and contentment in our lives.


~My most recent four course menu: Why Not . . . Dine Al Fresco?

~Why Not . . . Sit Down for Dinner?

~Why Not . . . Create a Cheese Platter?

~Why Not . . . Have a Dinner Party?

Image: source


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15 thoughts on “Why Not . . . Eat in Courses?

  1. Actually, in French the starter is called the “entrée”–makes sense, it means entry. And the main course is called “le plat principal”–main plate.
    A starter often is a soup. It also can be a light vegetable tart or quiche. It can be a salad, but sometimes a salad is served after the main course and before the cheese. Flexibility!
    I am used to buffet-style in the U.S. but almost never see that in France. Having courses means everyone eats together (which doesn’t happen as well with a buffet) and you have a small break between courses. This means dinner lasts for 2-3 hours, but you actually eat less.
    Dinner may be served family-style, with serving dishes passed to the left, or the host/hostess may plate them in the kitchen and bring them to the table together.
    We cooked a French meal for my family in the U.S., and plated. It was a huge hit–not just the food but the fact that conversation flowed better when people weren’t getting up all the time to serve themselves.
    Also: even school lunches are served in courses–starter, main, cheese, dessert.

  2. I love this idea, as I tend to only eat in courses when I go out to eat. I would definitely like to try to incorporate it more into my home life, even just once per week. Maybe it could be a Sunday tradition (Sunday because that’s when I have most time).

    Something a little related to this which I’ve been really interested in recently is the concept of Aperitifs and Digestifs, you can find out more on the Debretts website, but essentially, a little tipple before a meal to prepare yourself for the feast ahead, and a different tipple afterwards to help with digestion. I like your note about the cheese too. I didn’t realize that it prevented acid and aided digestion.

  3. Shannon, what a wonderful post, giving us all this information. I completely agree, as this is always the way we are served when dining out. Also, makes perfect sense to do so at home. xx’s

  4. I am surprised that eating in courses at home is a revelation to others as that is the way we eat in Europe – it is not just a French thing. I have lived in the UK, Ireland and France and that is just the way food is served. There is a whole ritual around the serving of a Stilton cheese and with port in the UK which is wonderful.

    1. Thank you for your comment! The gift of such seemingly rituals brings a heightened appreciation and an overall improvement of the quality of our lives. I would love to learn more of the specific ritual around Stilton cheese. 🙂

  5. Lovely table! Great tips. I’m using French Eating to return to my true physical size, weight and shape. Love your blog.

  6. This is perfect, as this very day I am serving boeuf bourguignon for my son’s soon-to-be in-laws, and it will be so much easier to serve in courses as the stew will be in a bowl. Thanks for the inspiration and reminder of this wonderful tradition! I love it.


  7. Shannon, thanks so much for this post!! I have spent considerable time trying to find info. on how to construct meals–breakfast, lunch, and dinner—by the French model. We had the pleasure of spending time in France last summer and I’ve since been trying to recall all of the nuances of the mealtimes. Some meals were in restaurants and many were with families we were visiting. There were distinct patterns to the meal times. I would very much appreciate more posts on this subject! Any books or websites you could refer me to would be great, also. Thanks so much! I love your posts!!!

  8. I love this idea, and how does one host manage the logistics of serving in courses and still serving and eating hot food? I always end up eating a cold plate, and sadly, so do my guests on occasion.

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