Life in France: The Healthy Eating Challenge

Since moving to France we’ve fallen into some pretty bad habits food-wise. Think white bread, full-fat cheese, yoghurts, charcuterie, pasta, and so on. On top of that we also had, for a while, an intense relationship with multipacks of chocolatines which, thankfully, we’ve managed to break. Although I’ve not been gaining weight (okay, maybe a little) I had started to feel a bit sluggish – lack of exercise and lack of sleep were also contributing to this feeling of course – but a recent trip to the doctors with a higher than usual blood pressure reading gave me the kick up the bum I needed to take a closer look at our diet.

Another reason to make the change is to save money. Food here is expensive! Whether its because of the crappy exchange rate and because we do generally still think in pounds rather than euros, we’re spending much more than we thought we would on food each week and with two small but growing and occasionally ravenous small people to accommodate, those bills aren’t going to go down unless we change the way we eat.

Before we moved we ate pretty well, combing limited red meat and pork-products with chicken, fish, and meat-free options. Here, possibly due to laziness or two-child-related time-challenges, we were suddenly eating a lot of meat, especially pork, in part because DD can always be persuaded to eat sausages and pasta and sometimes it’s easier just to cook what I know she’ll eat. For one the sausages here are high in fat, low in actual pork, and also pretty salty. Pasta, on the other hand, is cheap as long as you’re buying white pasta. Wholemeal is hard to come by in the supermarkets which means making a trip to one of the specialist Bio (organic) shops and paying through the nose.

So, how to reduce our bills while also improving our diet? Well, there are few different ways. First, I’m reducing our meat intake, totally eliminating our charcuterie intake (except for now and again) and adding more pulses and grains into our diet. This is more akin to the way we used to eat pre child #2 and our house move. I don’t think these things take any more time to prepare but they do need a little more organisation because beans and pulses need to be soaked and also sometimes precooked. Plus to make tasty veggie food you need to have a nice selection of herbs and spices handy. We’re buying in bulk again too – just like we used to – but swapping Sheffield-based Lembas who delivered to Manchester for Internet-based Buy Wholefoods Online* who deliver anywhere within the EU free for orders over £100, which makes them excellent value.  So what’s on the menu?

To make sure we’re getting plenty of protein but also cutting back on salt and cash, I’ve replaced ham and pork with chicken so instead of buying anything sliced or processed each week I buy two whole chickens which I roast. We eat hot roast chicken on the day of cooking then save the rest for lunches and dinner through the rest of the week. Then I make bone broth with the carcasses, which usually makes enough for two hearty soups. This week we tried Cock-a-Leekie (made with rice instead of barley), which went down a storm. Other weeks I’ve thrown some carrots, ginger, and peas with pasta or noodles (to soak up the broth to make sure the kids get some of it into them) which is really lovely and gives us an excuse to eat some bread. The chicken gets used through the week as sandwiches or wraps (chicken, avocado and basil is our favourite at the moment) or thrown into stir fries or a curry of some description (green thai is our current favourite.)

I’m still buying and cooking beef, which we cook either cook into a simple bolognese, adding extra vegetables to pad it out into two meals-worth, or I skip the tomatoes and mix it up with carrots, brown lentils and cumin. This is my favourite way to eat it. Adding the lentils works really well, making the meat go further, adding healthy protein, and also soaking up the flavours. James didn’t even know they were there the last time I made it.

As for the grains and pulses, so far we’ve had Aduki Bean Burgers, using a variation of the recipe on Veganuary, which went down well with James but were totally overlooked by the two small people; On-the-Fly Hummus (made from a recipe in my head) served with carrot and cucumber crudites, which is lovely; and – a regular on the scene now – Sweet Potato and Lentil Red Thai Curry, yum!

I’m not organised enough to do any meal planning yet. That tends to happen on a day-by-day basis. I’m sure we’d save a bit more money if I could do that but we rarely waste any food so I think I’m doing okay at meal planning on the fly. The main reason to get on top of this would be to reduce my mental load, as I do spend a fair amount of time staring into cupboards wondering what I can rustle up with the contents.

Of course the other way to save money is by growing your own. From the garden we’ve had tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuces, and radishes, with more to come.

And then there’s foraging; with so much wild, free food around here it would be rude not too. Both of these activities are also way more fun and interesting (for us and the kids) than a trip to the supermarket! I currently have a huge stash of hazelnuts begging to be turned into cocaonut spread and a similar quantity of walnuts, which I plan to make into pesto. Then there’s fruit – we’ve had damsons, grapes, apples and pears so far this year – and currently it’s mushroom season and foraging is no effort at all as there are field, parasol and even chanterelle mushrooms within 10 minutes walk from here so no excuse and what could be better than a freshly-picked mushroom! Yesterday we ate garlic mushroom and leek risotto (again, swapping the rice for barley) for lunch then used to the walnuts to make walnut, basil and feta pesto for dinner. Yummy! I’ll add the recipes for all these things in future posts.

I doubt it’s possible to live off the land without making that a focus and devoting a good amount of time to making it work, but with the right knowledge plus some outdoor space and access to plenty of water (plus the time to work on it) there’s plenty of opportunity for growing all and foraging year-round and reducing our costs while also ensuring we eat good quality organic produce. Since you pay through the nose for that here (I’ve no idea why it’s so expensive!) growing and finding food is undoubtedly the way to go. Lucky for us that’s one of the reasons we wanted to move here!

Despite not having our own land yet, I’m happy that we’re doing the best we can and it’s nice to be eating better again. Already, only a couple of weeks into the healthier eating regime, I feel better: less bloated and more energised. Hopefully that will translate into a lower blood pressure reading the next time I go to the docs rather than a symptom of the peri menopause, as she suggested. Thanks for that, doc!


Do you have any cost-saving tips for feeding a family? Maybe you’ve relocated from the UK to France or elsewhere in Europe and are surprised by the cost of food and have found clever ways to reduce your bills while also eating healthily. I’d love to hear your tips and ideas!


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No furniture, thank you

I’m sitting here on the rug, fidgeting around to try and get comfy. My back aches (we had a marathon feeding session at bed time), my legs ache (we walked to the park and back yesterday and I carried DS on my back and the rucksack on my front), and I’m shattered. We have this great big space and no furniture to fill it – but I like it this way. It’s great to have the space for the littlies to run about in, to spray their toys everywhere, to not feel cluttered or taken over by giant lumps of furniture that break up the room and create pockets and places for things to hide or become hidden in. This reminded me of some posts I’d read a while ago on the Nutritious Movement blog, so I headed over there for moral support and ideas about how to justify this a “thing” rather than it being because we just don’t have any furniture.

It really makes sense to me that creating a space that enables us all to move around is generally better for us. Coming up the stairs just before starting to write this post I was struck by how the wide open floor reveals so much of our day, and also how much easier it is to tidy it up! We don’t have places to make or hide piles. The ends of sofas were terrible for that in our last house. Then I think of all the running around that takes place – how there’s room for puzzles, paints, stories, and ride-ons (like DS’s new car toy, which he loves!)

As well as suggestions for ways to live closer to the floor – so you’re standing or floor-sitting, not slouched in a couch or chair – I found some great posts about how and why to get us lazy humans moving. Katy advocates that walking is the most important activity we humans can do – and I agree with her. Never mind gym time or workout time, just incorporating walking into your day and doing it deliberately, as well as working on walking with your kids so they build stamina for walking too, is great for your health and theirs. I’m aware that we’re not walking as much as we used to but because DD has a great base she still has great stamina and often surprises us with just how far she can and will walk when she’s in the mood. Even though she’s 3 1/2 we always take a sling so she can have a rest, if needed. She usually walks until she’s tired then hops in the sling when she’s truly beaten. Respecting her rhythms mean letting her decide when she’s had enough and it seems giving her the option to rest when she needs to often gives her the freedom to carry on just that little bit further. On our short walk to and from the lake yesterday we stopped for rocks, bugs, snail shells – you name it! – then she ran around for an hour before walking 1/4 of the way back before finally throwing in the towel. I know, from hanging our with friends’ kids, that her stamina levels are pretty unusual for her age, except for when we walk with other kids from homes who have a similar mentality to us and who have been walking with their kids from a very young age, giving them the freedom to literally find their feet. Buggies are the devil’s own work! DS will be walking soon too, so that’ll make our outside adventures more fun for him – and less carrying for me.

If you’re wanting to get walking and moving more with your kids – or are ready to consider chucking out your furniture and buying some pretty rugs instead (I do feel the need for more rugs) – I recommend checking out the 10 posts on this page of the blog. Given it’s the holidays and we have long days to fill I’ll be using some of Katy’s ideas for getting us all moving as much as I can. And in between I have some cushions to sow up so that we can get comfy in the absence of comfy chairs. Then I just have to figure out how to accommodate my parents when they come to visit in May. They think it’s bonkers not to have any furniture and because they’re not used to floor-sitting they’ll find it quite difficult. I can hear the whinging already so will have to get something “normal” for them to sit on. And maybe concede to meal times sitting properly at the table that’s buried under a mountain of boxes downstairs.

Measles and the Anti-Vac Mood in France

Something I hadn’t considered at all when moving was that there might be different attitudes to health outside of the UK. A different language and culture I expected, or course, but as far as health goes I’d generally heard that the French have an excellent (albeit not free) healthcare system and as such had no concerns. We’re all Europeans, right? A rude awakening came my way just last Saturday when one of the women I’ve become friends with took me aside after an event to let me know that her children had been in contact with some other local children (the cousins of several boys living in our hameau) who had rougeole (measles) and were contagious the last time they all played together. Whaaaaattt!!?!?

For one, this event was one where babies were present. There were one-month-old babies there and a heavily pregnant mum-to-be, due any day, all of whom have fragile immune systems. And, of course, my unvaccinated baby. How could anyone be so foolish? Once back home and having let the news sink in, James and I started on some internet research, trying to understand the situation in France so we could decide how best to protect our children. DD had been given the MMR vaccine in the UK at 12 months, as per the schedule there, and could have a second does at any time – recommended for more thorough protection. DS, only 9 months, would usually have three months to wait before being given his routine jabs but in cases where younger babies were known to have been in contact with infected children GPs in the UK offer the vaccine earlier to babies from 9-months-old onwards.

But where to start in France? We are here on our EHIC cards and haven’t signed up to the Carte Vitale or any private medical insurance yet since until we’ve bought somewhere this whole trip may turn out to be temporary. Luckily, I remembered a conversation I’d had with someone we considered renting a house from. We’d had a nice chat on the phone and I remembered her mentioning the English-speaking doctor in Esperaza. I found the lady’s e-mail so sent her a quick message. She replied quickly with the details we needed, then it was easy enough to find the doctor’s address. James and I would be there with bells on first thing on Monday morning.

Of course, this being France there was no way to find out what time the doctor was open so we just had to turn up and see. We were met by a receptionist who was very friendly and helpful, taking us into an office and quickly booking us an appointment with the doctor, who would be in tomorrow morning. Job done. The next day we went along and explained the situation, taking along DS’s red book so we could refer to the British schedule. The doctor was very sympathetic but explained it would be best to wait two weeks to give the virus chance to come out in case he had already caught it because, if that were the case, giving a vaccine would be pointless. Hmmmm, not ideal (what if he hadn’t caught it but picked it up from someone else in the hameau during the next two weeks?) but that timing would fit with the French schedule, as they usually give the MMR at 10 months. Okay, well that would have to be okay. We handed over our EHIC cards and were given a facture (invoice) for 26 euros – the cost of a consultation – and a prescription for us to take to the chemist (and pay for) along with some really helpful advice on how to treat the symptoms of measles (primarily, high fever) if either DS or DD became ill with it. It wasn’t quite the outcome we were hoping for but we respected the doctor’s advice and that was all we could do.

A week on, the children we were originally told about still haven’t shown any symptoms. That’s 17 days after contact with the symptomatic children but we’re still on lockdown here – at least until I return from the UK in a few weeks; if anything causes me to have to cancel that trip I fear the consequences! – so why all the fuss?

I’d say that for most Brits it’s just not something we come into contact with any more, depending on the circles you move amongst, and most of the people are know are on the side of modern medicine when it comes to vaccination. Measles has all but been wiped out in countries where vaccination is the norm and, from a quick read of the data, outbreaks tend to occur within closed communities or as a result of an unvaccinated person travelling to another country where vaccination is not the norm. So why is it here in France? Well, it would seem that there are certain areas of France where the residents are particularly sceptical of vaccination to the point that even those attending the public schools will often only give the mandatory list vaccines. Since MMR is on the optional list, parents often opt not to have it administered; consequently, there are areas of France (just as in other countries) where anti-vac attitudes prevail. And it turns out we’re in one of those areas. Oh joy.

What has had me hopping madly about over this though is that I genuinely had no idea that we were living amidst this kind of mindset. The friend in question (who I know is into homeopathy) seemed to be fairly pleased at the prospect of her two children contracting measles. It beggars belief really that anyone could justify such an attitude given all we know now about immunisation and the dangers of this particular illness. The big issue for me is herd immunity: it’s fine for someone to make a decision about their own child informed by their own beliefs, that’s parenting, right? Who am I to tell you your way is wrong and mine is right? But decisions about health are bigger than that, in my mind. What about people who can’t be immunised? One of the kids in this village has a health issue that doctors are currently trying to get to the bottom of. What if he caught measles and it didn’t turn out so well for him? I’ve had a good rant and rave about this offline and really could fly into one here, so I’ll rein myself in and keep a lid on it. By coincidence, at this exact time an article on this very subject was bumped on one of the parenting groups I belong to, so I’ll share it here along with a bunch of other interesting links.

http://www.iflscience.com/health-and-medicine/dear-parents-you-are-being-lied/

Other Links
International Measles Outbreaks – https://www.verywell.com/international-measles-outbreaks-2633844
ECDC Vaccination Schedule Comparison Table – http://vaccine-schedule.ecdc.europa.eu/Pages/Scheduler.aspx
Info Rougeole – Sante publique France – http://www.info-rougeole.fr/rougeole.html
The Guardian (UK Newspaper) – https://www.theguardian.com/society/2013/apr/15/homeopathy-measles-mp
Quackometer (results of articles for the search term “measles”) – http://www.quackometer.net/blog/?s=measles

What do you think about this? Is it something you thought about when relocating or travelling to another country? Share your stories!