Tuesday, 26 May 2015

In Praise of the Goûter : The Answer to all your Snacking Woes

So, Dwija wrote this post a few days ago, as an answer to another post. Now I feel it needs a post to answer it in its turn, in a beautiful chain of blogging chatter. (It's the ciiiiiiiircle of Liiiiiiiiife!)

What Dwija says is this: she chooses to offer snacks to children who come to her house, because it is a very important gesture of hospitality for her, even though she knows (now!) that some parents object to it.

Well, I've got a solution to the problem: don't give the kids snacks, give them a goûter.

We like it so much, we named a mountain after it.

You see, people don't generally snack much in France, and it is certainly not encouraged. My mother, for example, would offer me a glass of water if I said I was hungry between meal times when I was little. My grandmother is actually horrified people carry food around and have sandwiches on the go rather than sit-down lunches, so let's not even go into her opinion on snacking.

This attitude is due partly to the fact that it is considered unhealthy, but mostly because it is EXTREMELY important children should eat what is set in front of them for each meal. Picky eating is not considered quirky, but bad manners, and it is easier to overlook personal preferences if you've worked up a nice appetite before the meal is served. (Mealtimes in France are an international treasure, so there. Gotta respect that.)

But I see you are now worried that life as a French child is a vale of sorrow, where no fun food is ever offered, and kindly people like Dwija are condemned as destroyers of UNESCO Intangible Heritage. 

Not so, not so.

Because we have the goûter.

Patapon is very sad goûter is over.

The goûter is a special mini-meal children eat in the afternoon, generally immediately after school, which then enables them to wait happily until dinner is served (which is typically between 7-8 pm). During this special mini-meal of bliss, no-one expects to eat healthy food. In fact, chocolate (or even better, pain au chocolat) and treats  are the norm. All the snacky food is available. All the breakfast food is available. There is no rule of eating what is set in front of you, but a free-for-all of daily indulgence. It's fantastic.

All the treats

If my Mum didn't feel equal to making dinner, wanted an early night, or had nothing left to make a proper meal, she would proclaim "Goûter-Dîner" night, and the delight would spread through the house in an instant, as each sibling announced to the next that TONIGHT, we were having all the treats for DINNER!

I also remember the sense of panicked grief I felt when, age 17, as I was having my goûter at a friend's house, her father said: "You're really getting too old for goûter now, aren't you?" (No we weren't, Hervé. Still aren't. We just have it with tea now, and pretend it's not the same thing).

Having goût... erm, "afternoon tea" in Berlin

It was expected, that if I was going to a friend's house, of course they would give me my goûter. And it ticked all the boxes Dwija needed : it doesn't require cooking, so it isn't a problem for the host family to provide it, it is a sharing of food, which humans have always associated with deep fraternizing since time immemorial, plus it has the advantage of not encouraging snacking between meals, which just ruins people's appetites. 

So here you go world. If you learn just one thing from the French, make it the goûter.

You won't regret it.


  1. Oh j'adoooore ce billet avec les références au Roi Lion et la jubilation encore bien présente à l'évocation du "goûter-dîner" ! Je suis une fan inconditionnelle du goûter à la française et je ne peux pas m'en passer (oui, j'assume !!) :) il va falloir que je teste le goûter-dîner avec mes enfants !!

    1. Haha! Merci! Et je suis sure qu'ils adoreront (en plus, c'est bien pratique quand on rentre de voyage et qu'il y a vraiment rien a manger ;-) )

  2. Encore des traditions familiales culinaires ( très françaises donc!) puisque instituées par ta Maminou et ton Papinou tous les dimanches soirs...

    1. Et moi qui pensais que c'est toi qui l'avais inventé!!!

  3. Hi Isabelle--I found your blog through another Catholic blogger--I can't remember who now! I've been reading your older posts, and love your style! Just wanted to say keep up the writing, you're a great storyteller!
    -Margaret, California mama to two boys

    1. Thank you! And i am really glad you stopped by! :-)

  4. Awesome post Isa! The next best thing to goûter is of course l'apéro. It follows the same rules (no cooking, unhealthy food recommended, sharing it is better) but for the salty food. Armelle is the one with the sweet tooth, but I love my chips and saucisson before dinner. The bonus is that you never grow too old for it, quite the opposite actually as at one point you get to add some alcohol. We ought to try a "Goûter-Apéro" with the kids. I'm sure my nutritionist father would approve.

    1. Haha! I was explaining it all to a friend who was worried she would have to only give food to kids and parents at 4: between apéro de midi, café, gouter, apéro du soir, you're basically covered! (it's alright, if we don't do it all the time, Denis won't mind :-) )