In a country famous for its pastries and viennoiseries, not to mention cheese, bread, and other goodies, French people have quite the selection of things to snack on! But there’s a twist: In France, it’s usually a no-no for adults to eat between meals.
On the other hand, French kids have their own special snack time: le goûter.
Let’s learn all about le goûter and take a nibble at some other French snack vocabulary. Since it’s a complicated issue, we’ll also look a little more deeply into the French attitude about snacking in general.
What does le goûter mean?
Goûter is the French verb for “to taste”. But its noun form, le goûter, refers to snack time for children.
Le goûter usually falls around 4pm, and can be served to kids at home, at school, or during after school activities. Le goûter is a French tradition, and has been served nationally in schools and at after school programs since 1941.
Interestingly, le goûter can also mean the snack itself, and thus can be used with other articles and possessive adjectives. But le goûter is never pluralized, even when it’s referring to multiple snack items.
Here are some example sentences with le goûter:
Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau et une compote. (For snack today, we had a cookie and applesauce.)
Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant. (Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.)
J’ai faim, Maman ! Tu as un goûter pour moi ? (I’m hungry, Mom! Do you have a snack for me?)
What do French kids snack on?
A typical goûter usually consists of cookies and some kind of drink – usually water. For a larger goûter, such as one served at an after school program, a piece of fruit is also often included. A dairy offering, like a yogurt drink, might also be served.
Other popular goûter choices, especially for goûters served at home, include pastries and viennoiseries like pain au chocolat or pain au lait, or a piece of bread with some chocolate squares on it. Different varieties of applesauce, especially in drinkable pouches, is also a popular choice for the goûter.
Is le goûter only for children?
In France, the custom of having a late-afternoon snack evolved around the Renaissance (although people certainly snacked before), but the term goûter seems to have become popular in the 19th century.
With time, le goûter became mostly associated with children; in fact, if you visit the French Wikipedia entry for le goûter, you’ll find several 19th century paintings that depict children enjoying their goûter.
In recent decades, snacking in France has become something looked down upon for adults. This is because the French are very strict about eating three meals a day: breakfast (le petit-déjeuner), lunch (le déjeuner), and dinner (le dîner). The idea is for these meals to be healthy and filling enough that you won’t need to snack between them. But there’s a lot more to why snacking is perceived so negatively in France. We’ll look at it more in-depth later on in this article.
Since kids use a lot of energy and also may not be able to consume large portions, they get a pass when it comes to having a snack. This pass is extended to certain adults, including people who are sick, elderly, or doing exceptionally hard physical labor.
Personally, I’ve always found the attitude towards snacking in France to be similar to that of smoking. There are even warnings about the dangers of eating between meals on the packaging of certain snack foods and advertisements. But smoking seems more socially acceptable!
Still, despite all this, many French adults do indulge in a snack from time to time.
Snack time for French adults isn’t usually called le goûter, though. Let’s look at a few other snack-related words in French, in the next section.
French snack vocabulary
Although snacking is generally met with disapproval in France, it’s still pretty codified. There are several different types of snack time in French culture, and in addition to le goûter, a few of them are even socially acceptable!
Here are some common French snack words.
Une collation (a refreshment)
Une collation is a socially acceptable snack, since it’s served in situations when such a thing would be considered appropriate. For instance, you might see a collation offered when someone is in the hospital for an outpatient procedure; for runners at a race; or during a long conference or meeting.
Ex: Une collation sera servie après le match. (A light snack will be served after the match.)
Typical food and drink served for une collation include cookies, fruit juice, hot drinks (coffee, tea, etc.), water, fruit, or pastries. Typically, une collation is very light, so you wouldn’t have all of these things on your plate at once.
Short for l’apéritif, this word l’apéro means pre-lunch or pre-dinner drinks and snacks.
L’apéro walks the line between an appetizer and a snack, but I’ve been in situations where it goes on for hours, with people having a few drinks and picking at offerings like nuts, potato chips (crisps) and slices of dried sausage.
You could see it as a lead-up to dinner, or maybe a pre-dinner snack! Either way, like le goûter, l’apéro is a beloved French tradition. Not all French people will always serve or partake in one, especially on a busy work night (although it does seem to be an integral part of the schedule of many older, retired French people), but it’s a typical way to while away a few hours on a slow day.
Typical food and drink served for l’apéro include alcholic beverages, peanuts, potato chips (crisps), dry sausage slices, and olives – generally savory, rather than sweet, snacks.
Un en-cas is a quick snack when you’re so hungry that even the general social disapproval of snacking between meals can’t stop you! This kind of snacking may be understandable from time to time, but is typically discouraged in French culture.
Literally “a break crust”, since, in the past, French snacks often involved a piece of baguette, whether on its own or with cheese, chocolate, or some kind of spread. Today, snacks have diversified, although many French people will still opt for something with a baguette.
Example: Il s’est fait un casse-croûte. (He made himself a snack.)
Un casse-croûte is similar to un en-cas — that is, it’s an unscheduled snack that may be looked down upon if indulged in too often.
Snacking between meals.
Yes, the French actually have a single word for this action, which is seen as a very bad habit.
The word grignotage is related to grignoter (to nibble). Canadian French speakers may also use another derivative, une grignotine (a snack food).
Example: Pour beaucoup de Français, le grignotage est à éviter à tout prix. (For many French people, eating between meals is to be avoided at all costs.)
A French snack word faux-ami to watch out for
un snack – a snack bar.
Not only does this word not mean “snack” in French; snack bars don’t just serve snack food, but often fast food-style meals as well! Example: Tu peux commander un burger au snack. (You can order a burger at the snack bar.)
Typical French snacks for le goûter and other snack times
Here are the most typical French snacks:
- un biscuit/un gâteau – a cookie or little snack cake. In general, the words are used interchangeably, although biscuit is always used with hard cookies, while gâteau can be used with both hard or soft ones, as well small snack cakes. You may also hear un cookie used if the cookie is meant to be an American-style cookie, often a chocolate chip cookie. You can learn more about all of this in our guide to French cookies.
- une pâtisserie – a pastry. Not to be confused with une viennoiserie, a pastry made with a specific type of dough or yeast, or puff pastry. Popular French snacks like the pain au chocolat, croissant, and brioche fall under this category.
- le yaourt/un yaourt – yogurt/a carton of yogurt.
- un fruit – a piece of fruit.
- la/une compote de pomme – applesauce. In France, applesauce usually come in either a glass jar or little portable packets a bit like juice boxes. Although apple is the most popular, it’s easy to find many different kinds of compote in France, including mixes like pomme-vanille (apple-vanilla) and pomme-poire (apple and pear).
- les chips – chips (US)/crisps (UK). A bag of chips/crisps is un paquet de chips.
- les cacahuètes – peanuts.
- du saucisson (sec) – dried sausage.
- des olives – olives. Green olives are the most common in France, but you can find many other varieties.
- l’eau – water. A bottle of water is une bouteille d’eau. Water is the most popular drink in France!
- un jus de fruit – fruit juice.
- du café – coffee
- du thé – tea
- un produit laitier – a dairy product of some kind (milk, yogurt, cheese, etc.). This wording might be used on a school menu showing what’s being served for le goûter.
- In addition to these snacks, which were mentioned previously in the article, you might also come across:
- des Apéricubes – These are possibly the most iconic brand-name French snack for adults. Little cubes of cheese flavored in sometimes surprising ways, they’re individually packaged, with riddles and jokes in the packaging, making them a fun snack food to serve at parties and holiday gatherings.
- une tartine – a piece of bread with something spread on it. This will often be some sort of cheese spread, or chocolate. Note that the French are known for their butter but don’t typically eat just bread with butter.
- le fromage – cheese. This would often be paired with a bit of baguette but never crackers.
- le pain – bread. The most common kind of bread for a snack in France is probably une baguette (a baguette). Fresh bread is available all day at boulangeries.
The important thing to remember about snacks in France
Whatever kind of snack you might partake in, snacks in France are typically very light affairs. For instance, a child’s goûter may consist of only a single pastry or a few cookies, with a yogurt and water. An adult might just indulge in a handful of chips or peanuts or a small slice of a part of baguette with a light spread on the top.
How do you say that someone is a snack in French?
If you’re a fan of American slang, you probably know that calling someone “a snack” means that they look really good/appealing.
There is no exact equivalent to “snack” in this sense in French, but there is a roughly similar expression: à croquer. Literally “to bite”, it’s sort of like saying someone looks “good enough to eat”. Ex: Jude Law est à croquer. (Jude Law is a snack.)
Note that this expression can also mean “so cute I could eat him/her up,” so context can be helpful.
For instance: Regarde mon petit neveu, il est à croquer ! (Here’s my little nephew, he’s so cute I could eat him up!) vs. Son mec est à croquer. (Her boyfriend is a snack.)
You can see à croquer on its own or paired with the phrase belle à croquer. Ex: Elle est belle à croquer! Note that there is no masculine version of this phrase, so just use à croquer on its own for a masculine subject.
Should I have a snack if I go to France?
As we’ve seen, there are certain snacking situations that are perfectly culturally acceptable in France, while others are not. That said, most French people I’ve come across are pretty live-and-let-live when it comes to snacking. So, if you’re hungry, go for it!
Why do French people dislike snacking?
Although not all people are the same, the French in general often have very strict rules about eating. For instance, if you go to a small town or village in France, most restaurants will be closed outside what is considered normal eating hours. French families will often strictly adhere to mealtime hours as well.
A lot of this is cultural, but as obesity rates have risen in recent decades due to things like the increasing availability of fast and processed foods, the French adherence to mealtime has also become a battle against weight gain. French meals might often be rich, multi-course affairs, but to the French, eating outside mealtime hours seems like a dangerous, surefire way to gain weight.
Sadly, as in most places, the fight against obesity isn’t just health-related. There is an aesthetic element, as well, and also something else….
I’ve often wondered about the French view on eating and weight. I’ve done a lot of investigating, and I’ve come across a really interesting insight: for the French, weight management seems to be a physical way to show that you are responsible and in control of your life.
With all of this in mind, there is a really interesting paradox in French culture. I find that if a person has a skill or talent but is overweight, they may still be praised, respected, and even considered physically appealing in a different way by the French media. A good example of this is Gossip singer Beth Ditto, who was absolutely adored a few years ago and featured in Jean Paul Gaultier’s runway shows.
Sadly, however, there are many exceptions to this treatment, especially for female celebrities who gain weight — and , of course, many real-life French women who don’t fit the extremely thin mold.
Overall, I find the French at the very least to be more polite in public (not necessarily online) when it comes to people’s appearance, than people are in some other places. So if you’re overweight and traveling to France, don’t worry that people will openly mock or be unkind to you. If you show them respect and act respectfully, you will be treated respectfully, at least to your face. (Then again, this is a general rule for all travelers to keep in mind, regardless of their weight…)
And for what it’s worth, every French person I’ve ever spent time around has indulged in a snack, at least now and then. After all, regardless of societal pressure and expectations, we’re all human.
How is snacking seen in your culture? Is there a French snack food you’d like to try?