Let’s talk about the way my kids have been eating. I have switched to eating a predominantly plant-based, gluten-free diet, so I’m getting my fruits and veggies in. But the kids? Not so much.
I’ve been feeling kind of guilty about that. My littlest one will drink green smoothies with me in the morning, but refuses to touch anything that isn’t sweet. No veggies for her unless it’s corn. My son has proven that man can live by bread (and butter) alone. My oldest will eat almost anything–including kale, but still relies on a lot of cold cereal and snacks to make it through the day.
Enter my new favorite parenting book….French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon.
Karen and her husband, Phillipe, decided to move their family from Vancouver, Canada to a small village on the northwest coast of Brittany for a year–to be closer to Phillipe’s family and enjoy some time in the beautiful, rural French countryside.
Le Billon quickly found that the way they ate in North America was not going to fly in France. Things were very different. And thus began her journey and the creation of her 10 French Food Rules.
I’d seen this book and had glanced over several reviews before I cracked it open. I didn’t have any preconceptions about the book; I wanted to read it with an open mind. But I was hoping it would provide some solutions to the daily eating battles at our house.
|Rule #4: Eat family meals together—–>No distractions.|
Le Billon takes you with her on her journey to discovering the secrets to how French kids learn to eat and enjoy their food without complaint and with an open mind.
As I read along, I found myself feeling defensive in her behalf when she was criticized by family and new friends in France about the way her kids ate. (By the way, I thought the book was written brilliantly–you really do learn what she learned in the same way she learned it. Or at least I did.)
Her kids ate like my kids ate–like, well almost all the kids I know, and the way I liked to eat as a kid (and teenager, and adult). Most kids in the United States like to eat kid-friendly foods–chicken nuggets, pizza, hamburgers, fruits snacks, juice, sweets, lots of white bread, etc., etc. My kids are no different. Why would they want to eat “grown-up food” when given the option of eating high-sugar, high-carb and high-fat convenience food?
Well, in France, Le Billon found out that there is no “kid food” or “grown-up food.” It’s all the same. Kids eat what their parents and other adults eat.
And it’s something they learn from early on. Even babies are started on “grown-up food” like leek and potato puree, or soft blue cheeses. And guess what? The babies love it and start from the get-go to appreciate good food and how it tastes.
I was fascinated by the her experience with the teachers and staff at her daughters’ schools. More so with La Cantine (cafeteria) at each school. My daughter eats school lunch and I’m always interested in what she’s having each day. It’s nothing like what French kids eat at school. NOTHING. French kids eat four courses of gourmet food in the middle of the day with real plates and real silverware. They have much longer than 10 hurried minutes to eat. I found my tummy was rumbling and I was trying to think of ways to move to France and experience this for myself.
Le Billon ran into a bit of trouble with the school teachers and staff when talking to them about her daughters’ eating habits, and often came away feeling beat up, but with a new perspective. That’s when things really started to change for her. She could look around and see that the way the French treated, respected, and enjoyed their food was not a bad way to go. Along with help from her (amazing) in-laws and friends, they embarked on a new attack plan, that included some changing in her diet and eating habits too. (Yep, yep, and yep. Realized this myself.)
What I first took away from the book is that kids can learn, or be trained, to enjoy real food. They don’t need to be coddled and given “kid food.” I’m not shy about telling you that I’m a reformed picky eater, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that you can retrain your taste buds and learn how to eat and enjoy healthy food. I wish I’d learned that as a kid.
And while I’m at it, I might as well confess that my husband has been nagging telling me for years that our kids should eat the way we do and that I needed to stop being a short-order cook for our kids. They eat what’s in front of them, or they go hungry. Eventually they’d learn to eat well. This is the way my husband grew up in Brazil, and later in the US with his Brazilian mother. (The French don’t have a monopoly on this idea. I suspect most places in the world have similar attitudes towards eating. We’re just kind of spoiled in the US, plus there seems to be a fast food place on every corner here.)
I once again learned (because I’ve heard it before and it didn’t sink in), that not liking a certain food probably means you haven’t tried it enough times yet. The French have a good grasp on that.
So, how have I applied this new testimony of good eating habits from the French?
After I speedily read through the book in two days (I could not put it down), I decided some real change was in order at our house too. We, as an entire family, were going to follow as many of the rules as possible and start eating healthy, real food together. I was going to be a hero.
And you know what? It worked while I stuck to it…which reiterated:
I really do have to be in charge of my kids’ eating habits. The French are pretty strict, but it’s not because they are their children’s food dictators. No–it’s about giving them the gift of enjoying good food, which is at the heart of French culture.
For me, as much effort as it was to get dinner on the table each night, it really was worth it.
I created menus that included new foods that my kids had to try (not like, but try). We ate as a family at the dining room table. The kids helped set it for breakfast, lunch and dinner. We eliminated distractions. We all sat at the table until everyone was finished. My girls were champs. They totally went along with it. Dessert wasn’t a reward (see: Rule #2), but they didn’t get it unless they’d at least tried everything on their plate.
My son famously exclaimed every night, “I don’t want NEW food, I want OLD food!” And he went without dessert and some meals until he gave in and tried some new foods. (I did make sure that there were some things served that everyone would like.)
Le Billon knows how the French eat and how we Americans eat. There is a happy medium between the two where our cultures and exist side-by-side without clashing too much, which leads to the final Rule #10:
I highly recommend this book to everyone I come across. I recommend it not only for kids, but for adults who are picky. (You know who you are.)
Disclosure: HarperCollins Publishers sent me a complimentary copy of this book. All opinions and gushing are my own. Go get yourself a copy of the book. You’ll love it!