“French Kids Eat Everything” is the most convicting book I’ve read to date on day-to-day parenting. Additionally, nothing I’ve encountered in the last few years on food education (Super Size Me, Fast Food Nation, Eating Animals, Food Inc., etc.) has provoked more thoughts in me about changes I personally need to make in my own eating habits as this book.
Karen Le Billon’s book is nearly impossible to put down, and once finished I think you’d be hard-pressed to admit that it didn’t stir in you the need to take some action in regard to changing the way your kids eat, what you make for them, how much you let them snack, how you eat, American ‘food extremism’ that generally falls flat (Atkins diet, gluten-free eating, shake diets, home delivery meals, etc.), and what REAL food is.
Le Billon’s book is told as an entertaining narrative of her family’s experience living in France for a year (a family that included two typical North American kids who prior to their arrival in France existed on pasta, crackers, and nothing green) but is heavily laced with statistic after statistic that drives home how vastly different French kids eat from American kids; eating well in France is as ingrained in their culture as eating fast food is in ours.
“French Kids Eat Everything” is written on the platform of ten unwritten French rules that LeBillon found herself assimilating to while abroad; rules that she was bent on proving wrong as she recounts numerous heated discussions with her new French friends about how ridiculous she thought they were about eating. But she soon realized that her children needed to go through a food “re-birthing” of sorts; learning to eat all over again as if they were still infants–because the French way of eating just made more sense after-all. Most North American kids she concluded are neo-phobes…….they have a fear of new foods and we….their parents…… are to blame. She also couldn’t ignore the statistic that only 3% of French children are considered obese compared to 20% of American children.
Is it possible to implement all ten of these immediately, or ever? Especially while living in America? I don’t know. But I think it’s worth a shot.
A handful of these I feel like I’m pretty good at, #3, #4, and #6, but others–I’m giving them a try as I write.
Rule # 7: SNACKING
LeBillon tells many stories in her book of French parents being put off with her if she offered food to their children outside of meal time, the jokes that French people tell of those (foreigners of course) they see consuming “disgusting” snacks and constantly “slurping” drinks, the no-nonsense reaction her daughter’s teacher had when she asked if she could send a snack to school with her (the answer was a resounding NO), and the fact that the French believe it’s okay to be hungry, to work up an appetite, to look forward to their next meal, and to actually eat a tasty fulfilling meal each time so you don’t have a need to load up with snacks in between. Proof that the French are baffled by North American snacking; most strollers made in France do not have cup-holders and traditionally, cars made in France don’t have them either.
How many times do I make sure my purse is loaded up with fruit snacks, 100 calorie packs, or a cheese-stick……just in case my daughter gets fussy, gets impatient, we’re five minutes late for a meal, I need her to be quiet while I’m on the phone, or because I know it’s easier to just give her a little bag of gold-fish when she’s cranky instead of showing her how to change her attitude and learn patience? The same amount that most North American moms do and that’s the problem.
The French believe in one substantial (consisting of REAL food–cheese and crackers, fruit, vegetables, bread and butter, etc.) snack a day–usually between three and four in the afternoon (they eat dinner around seven) and that’s it. I’ve been pretty religious about this going on a week now and the biggest difference I’ve seen is that my daughter finally has an interest in eating a good breakfast–eliminating almost all of her requests for snacks mid-morning.
*Word to the wise…….you have to include yourself in the no snacking rule if you want your kids to do it; they learn by osmosis. So find a good hiding spot to scarf down a handful of Cheez-its or challenge yourself to eliminate snacks too. Ouch!
Rule #5: EAT A VARIETY OF VEGETABLES
One of the most mind-blowing sections of LeBillon’s book is the day care and school lunch menus that are posted on the doors of every school and day-care center in France at the beginning of the week. Lunch menus for kids…..infants, toddlers, kindergartners, third graders, middle school students, everyone; in every school and day-care center, no matter the socio-economic make up of the school. The French believe that healthy diets and high quality food should not just be accessible to the elite and the food education their students receive in all schools proves it.
The menus include things like leek soup, beet puree, goat cheese and endive salad, roasted sole, mussels, and spinach soup. There is no such thing as kid food–all French people eat the same thing. Schools believe that educating students on healthful, delicious food is as much a part of the education process as getting students to understand addition, subtraction, and reading and writing.
So in true French fashion I whipped up some beet puree for my daughter this week…….she actually kind of liked it. We gave it a fun name per the advice of “French Kids Eat Everything,” and I put a little butter on top. We didn’t finish a whole (very small) bowl, but we made progress. The French also believe that there are very few cases of a child actually not liking something. If they turn their nose up at it more likely than not it’s because they just haven’t tried it enough times.
*This one is a challenge for me too. I don’t naturally love a lot of vegetables. But it’s time for me to grow up and expand my vegetable palette along with my daughter. Right?
When I feel like we’ve a firm handle on these two I’m going to tackle Rule #9–the mostly REAL food rule. I’ve always felt like I’ve done a fairly good job with this but was shocked when I really started keeping track of how much processed food goes into what I make...even what our recipes call for. That food co-op is sounding better and better.
So read the book for yourself. On every page is something you can learn and apply to your own kitchen. You don’t come away from it with a sour taste in your mouth that all Europeans think everything they do is better–it’s not the point of the book. What you’ll come away with is the motivation, determination, and honestly…excitement to try something new with your kids when it comes to their eating habits.
Now, off to buy some leeks.
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