Before my semester in Germany, my knowledge of the “European diet” came from movies like Julie and Julia. I basically thought that Europeans spent every meal eating fine cheeses and sampling wines from their local vineyards. Yes, I realize how dumb that sounds but I honestly had no idea how Europeans ate or why I envisioned their meals as luxurious affairs.
After living in Germany for four months, I’ve learned an important lesson: Eating “like a European,” boils down to eating simply and buying only what you need. To help you out, I’ve compiled a few basic rules of thumb you should keep in mind when you go to the grocery store.
1. Buy locally
This is probably the most important rule to keep in mind when you’re buying your weekly groceries. Germans adore their farmers markets and I’ve learned to love them too. If you live in a city that has a regular summer (or winter) farmers market and you’ve never been before, you need to go now. It’s a great way to learn more about your local farmers, and the produce quality is better than any supermarket. You can usually find homemade jams and breads at farmers’ markets too, which is an added bonus.
2. Invest in high quality foods
Before you get nervous thinking I want you to buy really expensive food, hear me out. Instead of constantly trying to save a dollar here and there, allow yourself to buy a few key items that will make you feel like your meals are more decadent than they really are. I’d recommend buying some higher quality olive oil (flavor-infused is always a good choice), some good cheese (at least a step above generic) and a really good loaf of bread for your lunches. Adding a few quality ingredients will make you feel happier about your meal while making you feel oh-so European.
3. Buy only seasonal produce
For one week, try challenging yourself to buy only foods that are in season (you might have to look it up first as American grocery stores buy from around the globe). European supermarkets carry almost only seasonal produce; if every European can do it, so can you.
4. Learn some basic recipes
Try making some starter recipes, so to speak. Instead of purchasing pre-made pasta sauce, buy a tin of canned tomatoes and make your own. The same goes for homemade salad dressings and marinades. Europeans are all about the “do it yourself” attitude when it comes to the kitchen; I love this mentality because it’s healthier and it makes meals seem more exciting.
5. Don’t count your calories
That’s right, my friends. Put down your calculator and stop reading your food labels all the time. If you follow the first four rules of thumb I’ve laid out for you, you won’t need to worry too much about what you’re putting into your body. The ultimate European dining experience is a relaxing meal where you (gasp!) actually enjoy the meal you’ve prepared for yourself.
Now that you know how to eat like a European, do yourself a favor and whip up a good meal (and maybe uncork a bottle of wine if you’re feeling fancy).