One of my favorite things about being in France is sitting around the dinner table and enjoying a home-cooked meal. Lucky for me, my roommates take dinner very seriously, and sit around the table every evening. The meals may not be elaborate, but the set up is exactly as I have experienced during my home stays with French families. The "procedure" of how to eat dinner is as important as the "substance" of what you are eating. First course (Entree): soup or salad.
Close attention is paid to the season. In the summer, the first course will be a salad. In the winter, it will be soup. The salad my roommate made was inspiringly simple. Some greens (mache--i don't know the equivalent), topped with a bit of camembert, and a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Second course (plat principal):
The plates are cleared. New plates are issued. Again, this part of the "procedure" of dinner is important. I think it helps tell our brains that though we have had only a simple salad or light soup, we have eaten a significant amount of food--so much that we need a new plate.
This course can be pretty much anything--from a panini or grilled sandwich, to a slice of quiche, coq au vin, or some pasta.
Cheese Course! (Le Fromage):
My personal favorite. Pull out all of the cheese, and enjoy a small quantity with bread (baguette).
The dessert is rarely elaborate for a regular dinner with the family--no extravagant pastries or cake (gateaux). Most people will enjoy a small container of plain yogurt with jam or fruit swirled in, or even a piece of fresh fruit.
The tables are then cleared again and everything is put away.
But you're not done yet... last, but certainly not least, is tea, cafe, or a digestif (liquor).
From start to finish, this entire process takes quite some time. But, maybe the French are on to something, as it takes our minds quite some time to register that we are full. Also, warm beverages at the end of a meal aid in digestion.