This Couple, Living in France, Thinks More About Cheese Than Meal Planning

©. Sarah Jane

In part four of our new series, "How to feed a family," we travel to a small French village, where a food-loving pair cooks according to what's available at the market.

Welcome to the fourth instalment of TreeHugger's new series, "How to feed a family." Every week we talk to a different person about how they approach the never-ending challenge of feeding themselves and other household members. We get the inside scoop on how they grocery shop, meal plan, and food prep to make it go more smoothly.

Families come in many different forms, which is why this week features a departure from the two-parent, kid-filled households we've shown so far. Today you will meet a young couple living in the south of France, whose culinary concerns revolve more around deciding what to eat from a variety of gourmet options than having to top up a tableful of ravenous offspring in a limited time period. This interview is the next best thing to taking an actual trip to France. Sit back and prepare for your mouth to water. (Responses are written by Sarah Jane and edited for clarity.)

Name: Sarah Jane (29) and partner Daniel (28)

Location: Bourg-en-Bresse, France

Employment: My partner Daniel and I are co-managers of a wood-fired pizzeria that is only open during the summers in Muskoka, Canada. This winter, we are spending the off-season in a French town near the Swiss and Italian borders. Daniel currently has a job as a bartender at his second cousin’s brasserie, and although I have done a few temporary jobs as bakery saleslady and line cook, I am currently unemployed and living off of last summer’s pizza profits while I plunge myself into the language and the gastronomy.

Weekly food budget: 100EUR (US$114)

3 favorite or commonly prepared meals: Omelettes stuffed with vegetables and cheese for brunch; various pureed or minestrone-type soups paired with an interesting salad (either lettuce, grain, or bean salad); and either Asian, Indian, or Mexican-style stir-fries served over rice. We usually eat only two meals a day, brunch and dinner.

Sarah Jane and Daniel

© Sarah Jane – Enjoying a French meal with Daniel

1. How would you describe your diet?

I would describe our diet as gourmet, partly because it’s so easy to eat like that in a country like France, where everything is local and seasonal. Beautiful fresh leafy greens are available all winter long, and even the fanciest goat cheese you can imagine is made in the next village over. Our town, Bourg-en-Bresse, is famous for its blue-footed chickens, each of which are corn-fed and given at least 35 sq. ft. of outdoor space. Our diet is mostly vegetal, with a considerable amount of dairy (this is France after all... did you know there’s a special cheese course in-between the main and the dessert?). We buy meat about twice a week, and always have a loaf of bread on the go.

2. How often do you shop for groceries and what are your staple purchases?

I go to the village market every Wednesday and Saturday morning to get all my fresh produce, cheese, eggs and meat. I go to the supermarket once or twice in addition to fill in the gaps. My staples are fresh vegetables, eggs, milk (organic milk is the only option here!), some sort of fat (butter, olive oil, sesame oil), some sort of acid (lemons, vinegar), legumes or grains (bulgur, French lentils, rice), and fresh herbs (cilantro, sage, dill, or mint), and of course.... a different cheese every week, just because I have to try them all before I leave.

Sarah Jane's fridge

© Sarah Jane – The inside of my fridge

3. What does your grocery shopping routine look like?

I make a list, and then I get so excited at the market that I come home with much more than what’s on the paper. I look for sales and labels that say “grown in France”, and I buy things out of fascination and a desire to experiment, too. For instance, this morning I bought a purple cauliflower (I’ve never eaten one before), and a little patty of crottin de chauvignol because I’m intrigued by the name of this cheese, which literally means “goat poop”.

4. Do you meal plan? If so, how often and how strictly do you stick to it?

Nope! I dream up things I want to make in the nearish future, and then usually improvise based on what’s in my fridge. I don’t have any children (yet), so there’s no time crunch. My current wish list is looking like roasted purple carrots with a tahini sauce, Moroccan tagine, and Japanese maki rolls.

5. How much time do you spend cooking each day?

Cooking is my passion. I usually spend at least an hour or two a day in the kitchen.

6. How do you handle leftovers?

We either eat them as is, or incorporate them into something else.

7. How many dinners per week do you cook at home vs. eat out or take out?

I cook all our dinners at home, unless it’s a special occasion with family and friends, in which case we usually faithfully go to Second Cousin’s brasserie. I'm usually the one who does the cooking, except for the omelettes, which are Daniel’s expertise. (Being half-French, I think it’s coded in his genetics.)

SJ dinner shot

© Sarah Jane – This was a Daube de Boeuf aux Carottes that I made for dinner one night (and there's always cheese on the table too).

8. What are the biggest challenges in feeding yourself and/or your family?

Deciding what to make for dinner. I have so many ideas floating around in my head, that I don’t always know what to attack first. Also, it’s hard to get Asian ingredients here! I can’t find lemongrass nor miso anywhere.

9. Any other thoughts you’d like to add?

We consciously make an effort not to eat many desserts. I have a sweeter tooth than Daniel, so for that reason I’ve made myself a rule. If we eat dessert, I have to make it from scratch! Sometimes this rule doesn’t do much to stop me... I have a tub of homemade mint-lime ice cream in the freezer at the moment.

mint-lime ice cream

© Sarah Jane – Homemade mint-lime ice cream