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French Cuisine: Cooking Light Without All the Butter, Cream & Fat

How to Make the Right Choices

You might remember the media blitz a few years ago examining why French women never seem to be fat. It was all thanks to a book that came out making the absurd claim in its title, “French Women Don’t Get Fat” by Mireille Guiliano.

I’m sure there are one or two overweight French women out there. They just aren’t photographed or taken out into the daylight, but we can’t deny the research. It is absolutely true that on average, French women do have the lowest body mass index in Western Europe. (Predictably, the study also found that French women worry more about their weight.)

French-Cuisine 1

Don’t get any funny ideas though. You are not going to lose weight by eating French cuisine in American portions. The French are famous for their high-fat content dishes loaded with cream, butter, and cheese. So why on earth do they weigh so much less than everybody else? It all relates back to eating habits, cultural differences at the dinner table, and focusing on food quality instead of food quantity. As with any other type of cuisine, there are healthier choices to go with when throwing that five-course French dinner party for your friends. Here are just a few healthy suggestions for you to peruse before you make your next reservation at The French Laundry.

L’Apéritif (Party Munchies)

Crudités and Cornichons

You are actually already familiar with this party mainstay.

Who doesn’t love to munch on veggies, pickles, and dip?

Seven miniature gherkins or cornichons will add only five calories to your daily intake!

Veggies and vinaigrette dip will set you back 50-100 calories per serving.

French-Cuisine tapanade


I can remember my Mom making her own tapenade when I was a kid.

She was in love with the stuff and still is.

It’s a very flavorful spread made from pureed olives, capers, anchovies, and olive oil.

Spread it on some crackers or bread, and enjoy at only 40 calories per tablespoon.

L’Entrée (Appetizers, Soups, and Salads)

Chicken Liver Pâté

The French are famous for their goose liver pâté or pâté de Foie gras, but a great alternative is chicken liver pâté.

It has half the calories and fat of Foie gras, but it still tastes like you are eating a decadent spread at 26 calories and 1.7 grams of fat per tablespoon.


At 150-200 calories per half-cup, this salted cod, onion, olive oil, milk, and potato purée is a great cracker dip or crostini spread.

Just make sure it was made with milk and not heavy cream.

Traditionally it should be made with milk.

Soupe Au Pistou

The French version of minestrone, Soupe Au Pistou is a soup made with seasonal fresh summer vegetables.

This 250 calorie soup is made with pistou or French pesto, broth, beans, tomatoes, potatoes, squash, and any other summer vegetable you have to throw in.

Niçoise Salad

This traditional 300-400 calorie French salad is a mainstay on restaurant menus.

You could describe it as the French version of Cobb salad.

Niçoise ingredients include tomatoes, hard-boiled eggs, green beans, olives, potatoes, tuna, and anchovies all arranged on a bed of romaine lettuce tossed in Dijon vinaigrette.

Le Plat Principal (Main Course)

Poule Au Pot

What could be easier than putting chicken, vegetables, and herbs in a slow cooker to roast in their own juices?

Poule Au Pot is just that, a simple and flavorful main course at 300-500 calories per plate.


Ratatouille is not just the name of a Disney movie about a French mouse that can cook.

It’s also a classic French vegetable stew.

Tomatoes are always the main ingredient accompanied by eggplant, zucchini, garlic, onions, bell peppers, carrots, and herbs.

It can be served all by itself at 150 calories per cup or with toasted bread, pasta, rice, or couscous.

Just be aware of the extra calories those starches will add.

Fish en Papillote

No, Red Lobster did not come up with the whole fish cooked in a bag idea.

The French did it first.

Fish en Papillote is a fish fillet baked with herbs and mixed vegetables on parchment paper.

That just sounds incredibly healthy, and it is at 200-300 calories per serving.

Le Fromage (Cheese)

French-Cuisine brie and grapes

Brie & Grapes

Ok, so maybe French Brie is packed with calories and fat, but Laughing Cow Cheese is a great alternative.

I was blown away when I tried their Babybell Light Original cheese wedges.

They tasted a lot like Brie with half the calories and fat.

Only 50 calories and 3 grams of fat per wedge!

An additional serving of grapes will add a modest 45 calories.

Le Dessert (Dessert)

French-Cuisine-Without-the-Cream sorbet


While Sorbet is not a French invention, it is commonly offered as a desert or palette cleanser at French restaurants.

It usually consists of sugar, water, and frozen fruit puree, but additional flavorings can be added to each 100-200 calorie scoop.

Petite Madeleine with Berries &Yogurt

Madeleine is not just a popular storybook character.

A Petite Madeleine is also a small French sponge cake made from flour, sugar, eggs, and butter.

Dress it up a little with some berries and yogurt for a light dessert at 200-300 calories per serving.

The impossible is very possible when it comes to French cuisine.

It is easy to eat healthy and French when you make the right choices.

Whether you are dining out or staying in, there is always a low-calorie option to go with.

About the Author

Jane Becker writes for Dream Kitchen Solutions, a ready-made collection of the best appliances and labor-saving gizmos for busy people who don’t have time to read dozens of reviews.

About Julee: Julee Morrison is an experienced author with 35 years of expertise in parenting and recipes. She is the author of four cookbooks: The Instant Pot College Cookbook, The How-To Cookbook for Teens, The Complete Cookbook for Teens, and The Complete College Cookbook. Julee is passionate about baking, crystals, reading, and family. Her writing has appeared in The LA Times (Bon Jovi Obsession Goes Global), Disney's Family Fun Magazine (August 2010, July 2009, September 2008), and My Family Gave Up Television (page 92, Disney Family Fun August 2010). Her great ideas have been featured in Disney's Family Fun (Page 80, September 2008) and the Write for Charity book From the Heart (May 2010). Julee's work has also been published in Weight Watchers Magazine, All You Magazine (Jan. 2011, February 2011, June 2013), Scholastic Parent and Child Magazine (Oct. 2011), Red River Family Magazine (Jan. 2011),, and more. Notably, her article "My Toddler Stood on Elvis' Grave and Scaled Over Boulders to Get to a Dinosaur" made AP News, and "The Sly Way I Cured My Child's Lying Habit" was featured on PopSugar. When she's not writing, Julee enjoys spending time with her family and exploring new baking recipes.
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