A Mom of One on What It’s Like Feeding Her Family in Paris

updated May 24, 2019
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(Image credit: Courtesy of Ann Mah)

Ann Mah, a D.C.-based writer and author of the novel The Lost Vintage, tends to move around a lot because of her husband’s job as a diplomat. They spent four years in Paris, and bought a small apartment there to have as a home base —which means that now she spends each summer there with her 4-year-old daughter. She also happens to be a friend of Kitchn (and you should check her work out here).

We asked Ann how her eating habits differ in Paris, and whether (with all that delicious wine and cheese) there’s anything she actually misses from American grocery stores.

French people are known for shopping every day. How do you shop there?

French people have small kitchens and even smaller refrigerators, and they like to grocery shop every day. I used to shop this way before kids, but as a working parent, I realized this takes a lot of time. These days, I shop two or three times a week, and I try to avoid going to the store on the other days.

Where do you do your grocery shopping?

The open markets in Paris are beautiful and I love shopping in them — but they can also be quite expensive. These days, I only buy special produce at the market, like the first gariguette strawberries in spring, fresh summer shell beans, or melons, peaches, and other stone fruits. For everyday vegetables, like cauliflower and potatoes, I head to my local greengrocer, or supermarket.

What snack foods do you feed your daughter?

The French have a specific snack time — it’s in the afternoon around 3 to 4 p.m., and it’s called goûter. This is pretty much the only acceptable time for kids to snack, and it’s kind of considered a “fourth meal.” Sweet treats are often eaten at goûter — pain au chocolat, pain aux raisins, cookies, or chouquettes, which are puffs of choux pastry studded with sugar. Aside from goûter, I don’t offer snacks. If my daughter tells me she’s hungry, we move up the next meal. The French have very rigid social expectations and snacking is frowned upon. I once got criticized for feeding my daughter a croissant in the stroller at 2 p.m. — and she had jet lag.

What does a typical dinner look like in your house there?

A lot of French families eat meals in four courses: entrée, plat, fromage, dessert. I’m not that rigid, but I do offer a first course of vegetables — like cherry tomatoes, broccoli, or a puréed vegetable soup — because she’s hungrier then and more likely to eat it. Then comes meat and starch, and if she doesn’t like it, there’s yogurt or cheese in the next course. Dessert is a cardinal part of the French meal, and I’ve realized that it’s often just another opportunity to fatten up your kid. A lot of beloved French desserts — like crème brulée, riz au lait, or flan — are made of nutritious milk and eggs. Fruit desserts are another way to eat fruit, too.

Do you go out to eat as a family more or less in Paris?

In Paris, we definitely eat out less as a family. Restaurants are expensive and considered a special treat, even for adults, but especially for kids. Also, those rigid French social rules mean that restaurants usually don’t start dinner service until 7:30 — at the very earliest — which is bedtime for my daughter. We sometimes go out for lunch together, for something simple like pizza, or to the café for salad or a sandwich. But I don’t think my daughter has ever been out to dinner in Paris!

Is there anything you miss from American grocery stores?

Ziploc bags.