How the Spanish eat five times a day and still don’t get fat

“Do you know how many times the Spanish eat per day?” I always ask tourists when I guide them around the city. “No? Five times.” “Five times?!” they answer standard in disbelief. Yep, and isn’t it wonderful? One of the great things about living in Spain is the food. And they take meal times very seriously.

I admire the Spanish for their sacred keeping of mealtimes. Ever got stared at in Spain while munching on a sandwich on the go? Exactly. Nobody does that. The amount of boxed ready-made sandwiches full of additives I have eaten from Marks & Spencers in Scotland in my lifetime is incredible. There I was at 1pm, queuing up to pay for my “meal deal”: a cold, soggy sandwich from the fridge, a bottled drink and a bag of crisps or bar of chocolate. Eaten on a bench in the park, or more often back at my desk. Scoffed in about 10 minutes. Plastic waste in the bin. Every day.

spanish meal times
A terrace waiting for the lunchtime rush next to the Mercado Colon in Valencia. Don’t expect to be fed between 12 and 2! If you’ve missed almuerzo, you’ll have to wait until the restaurants open for comida.

Enjoy a beer with your almuerzo

So how do the Spanish do it? What are those sacred five Spanish mealtimes? They start with a small desayuno, a cup of coffee and a croissant or a bit of toast for breakfast, mostly at home. For the kids, some ‘galletas‘, thin biscuits dipped in a glass of milk. Then at 10.30 it gets more serious. Almuerzo. Terraces fill up, workers gather at the bar of a cafetaria. Bring it on. Tortilla, chorizo, ensalada rusa, bocadillos with cheese and jamon, ‘tostada con tomate’, croquetas…lots of dishes you can choose from mid-morning, all freshly prepared on-site. Fresh bread from the bakers. And hey, let’s just wash it all down with a glass of beer or wine. Yes, you read that right.

Spanish eating habits
Almuerzo usually means fresh bread with Spanish ham or cheese or a slice of tortilla. A plate of olives on the side and a bottle of beer on the table.

Menu del dia, the best thing since sliced bread

A few hours later, somewhere between 2 and 3 o’clock in the afternoon it is time for la comida. Lunch. Restaurants open, but shops close, and it is siesta time until about 5 for shop keepers and banks. Most office workers go back earlier. Yes, people do work in this country, believe it or not, a lot of people don’t finish work until 7 or 8 o’clock. And no, they don’t go to sleep during siesta. Maybe when you’re 80.

People either go home to cook their lunch or meet with colleagues outside on the terrace of a restaurant. For three courses, usually. On week days you can eat a 3-course home cooked Menu del dia for around €10, which includes a starter, main course, coffee/dessert and a drink. Apparently a leftover from the time general Franco was in power, who in the sixties and seventies ruled that each restaurant should provide an affordable meal for people on work days. He may have been an awful dictator, but at least he got one thing right.

Valencia cafe culture


Carbs are for Comida

After a few more hours of work or school (kids also enjoy that 3-course meal at lunchtime! I drool when I read their menu each week…), it is time for number four on the list of Spanish mealtimes. This little meal, or rather snack, is still taken quite seriously and happens at around 5pm when the schools are out. Merienda. “Quieres merender?” You often hear mothers ask their kids when they tumble out of the classroom, tired and hungry. No kid ever refuses, as merienda involves bread, biscuits, chocolate milk, fruit or other items children could practically live on. Most parents will just have a cup of coffee.

I suppose this bit of snacking is needed because most kids are ferried off to football, piano or tennis lessons, and they will have to sit it out until at least 9pm when the final meal of the day is served: la cena. Dinner. “Wow” the impressed tourists usually gasp by now, when I get to meal number five. But cena is not usually a very big meal. Not like our evening dinner. No plates full of pasta or otherwise carb-heavy recipes. After all, you already have that 3-course meal in your belly, right? Exactly. And a tip from the tour guide: paella is never eaten at night. Remember that next time you visit Spain.

Spanish dinner times
The beautiful Central Market of Valencia, where it’sall about fresh produce.
Photo by Juan Gomez on Unsplash

You either eat or you talk about eating

As I am learning more Spanish by the day, I am starting to understand random conversations in the street between people. It is always about food. “We either talk about food, or we eat,” a Spanish mum from school explained to me with passion the other day, while we’re out for a walk in the hills. “The whole objective of going out somewhere is eating together. It is the most important thing. Got something to celebrate? You go out for a meal. Meeting up with friends? It has to be centred around a mealtime and finding a nice place to eat.”

I asked her why Spanish people are not all morbidly obese with all that eating. “It’s not about the quantities”, she said, “I never have huge plate fulls, but I love eating. It’s about tasting different things and appreciating the flavours. And about the social aspect.” I remember being told by a Scottish colleague once years ago that “eatin’ is cheatin’“, when I suggested we should go for something to eat before hitting the bar. I never got into that pint drinking on an empty stomach habit. I love a beer, but give me some croquetas, por favor.

Spanish dinner times
Photo by Victor on Unsplash

An all day activity and no one knows where the kids are

Needless to say that the Saturday morning hill walk was heavily interspersed with almuerzo (and cans of beer at 11am), followed by a leisurely lunch on the village square….and my new favourite thing: the ‘sobremesa‘, which basically means you all stay at the table after the meal, talk, laugh and keep bringing out drinks and snacks. For hours. The kids were playing somewhere, stole food off the table every so often, and nobody really cared. Everyone had a great time. We went home at 6pm, all happy and tired.

I was wondering about what makes Spain such a pleasant and laid back country to live in. Ignore politics and bureaucracy, as these things will make you angry no matter how much vitamin D you are soaking up, but Spanish people really know how to enjoy life. The climate helps for sure. Sunshine year-round brings everybody out of their houses and together in the street. No staying indoors or in cars all day. Being outdoors, chatting and eating. Did I mention food? Spanish meal times take a bit of getting used to, your old schedule gets thrown out of the window. But it is pleasant, as long as you go with it. “No pasa nada” is a great expression and used all the time in Spanish. “It’s OK”, relax, don’t take it all too seriously, here, have some olives.

siesta in spain
Husband doing siesta

Colourful Boho Chic Christmas Décor Ideas

Minimalist was never your thing anyway? Go for a Boho Chic Christmas this year! Choose bold colours, crazy patterns, folklore, floral and gypsy touches and your home will certainly look unique this festive season. Today I am sharing some inspiring boho chic and folklore Christmas decorations that are to awake your inner hippie, even if you haven’t tried such ideas before.

Boho chic christmas decor
Go bold and colourful with your Christmas decorations, using garlands, wreaths and fairy lights.

Boho Chic Christmas Tree Décor

Let’s start with a wonderfully colourful Christmas tree. It can be decorated with vintage and folklore styled ornaments, colourful pompoms and garlands and bold lights. No space for a tree? Try hanging a stick Christmas tree on the wall and decorate it with colourful ornaments. Use a crocheted, patchwork or woven round rug as a tree skirt. The more colours and bohemian patterns you add into the mix, the more fun you’ll have. No minimalist less is more here. Go bold!

boho chic christmas tree
Decorate your tree with silk flowers for a truly gorgeous Boho Chic Christmas! See the tutorial here.
Boho chic christmas decor
Vintage Christmas baubles are the ideal way to create a bold colourful Boho Chis Christmas tree. Buy a box full on Etsy or source them in your local vintage shops.
Boho chic christmas decor
No space for a real tree? Temporary replace that artwork with a wall hung tree made out of branches!
boho chic christmas decor
Use a crocheted round rug as a tree skirt to finish off your boho chic Christmas decor. This one can be found on Etsy.


Christmas Ornaments, boho style

Choose colourful folklore and boho chic ornaments and make some unique ones yourself. You can crochet them, make mini dream catchers with feathers, use crystal pendants or make an ornament garland or wreath. Find some vintage ornaments and make a hanging using an embroidery hoop and bold ribbon. You don’t even need a tree to display ornaments: just hang them on a string or on the window, along your stair banister or pin them on the wall. You can also put them on the mantel or put ornaments into a jar to add to your festive boho chic atmosphere.

Boho chic christmas decor
Lovely wooden dream catcher ornaments on Etsy

Boho Chic Christmas Wreaths

No Christmas is complete without a wreath on your door! Make this year’s wreath keeping the bold boho style in mind: make an evergreen wreath with plenty of colourful decorations, a floral piece wreath interwoven with lights or a wreath in dream catcher style. Macramé and crochet are welcome, colourful pompoms will make also make fabulous and unique Christmas wreaths. You can also make a wreath of sticks and some greenery for a natural feel.

Boho chic christmas decor
Pom poms make an instant colourful impact when made into a wreath. This one is on Etsy

Boho Chic Christmas Stockings

If you use stockings as part of your Christmas décor, you can really push out the boat whenit comes to the boho chic and folklore theme. Adhorn your stocking with vintage fabrics, small crocheted squares or patchwork, beads, buttons, ribbons and bits of lace for a bold and colourful effect. They will spruce up any mantel.

boho chic christmas stockings
Use up your favourite fabric remnants, ribbons and tassels to make beautiful Boho Chic Christmas stockings