Saturday, December 8, 2012

French Kids Really Eat Everything?

Have you heard the expression "French kids eat everything"? Have you read the book? I was intrigued by the title and what I already knew about the French way of eating (and my love for French food!) so I read it as soon as it came out. Since then, we have tried some of the approaches suggested in the book with some success.

I love Karen Le Billon's carefree writing style. She is not afraid to write about the many cultural blunders she made when she moved her family from Vancouver to her husband's native village in France. It was a learning experience for all - including their two young daughters who learned to transition from the American way of eating to the starkly different eating habits of the French.

I love learning from different cultures and adapting these ideas and approaches to fit our lifestyle. Karen suggests 10 "rules" that her family adopted from the French way of eating, which are summarized below:

Even though the obesity rates in France have been rising, and even though they serve rich food and stinky cheeses, obesity rates of the French are lower than in the U.S. One of the most notable differences in approaches to eating between Americans and French families, is the appreciation for food that is instilled at a very young age in France. Food is part of their culture, not a means to an end or found at the golden arches of McDonald's.

In the U.S., the focus is generally on how to fit healthy dinners into everyone's schedule. On the other hand, French children, as a rule, learn where food comes from, they help cook and set the table. French kids sit down to eat for every meal. Not only is this taught at home, but in daycare and school as well. If you read about the meals schools serve in France you will be shocked - three-course meals for pre-schoolers? Yup. And you name it, they eat it.

I could especially relate to Karen's struggle with the foods served at American schools and daycares, where let's face it, our children are learning a great deal about how to eat (or what not to eat). Because even if you do everything right at home, they are still learning about food while at school. The best tip I have for parents is to join your child for lunch and observe how children are served, what processes are followed for helping them eat, how much time they have, and then to think about how this could influence the way (and what) they eat.

Even if you don't have time to read the whole book, check out the last section, which has Karen's "rules" with short explanations for each, along with tips for how to put these healthy eating ideas into practice with your own family. It's not only about putting healthy food on the table, it's about creating an experience and helping your children develop a relationship with food that I find so valuable.

What tips or resources do you have to share about healthy eating for kids? Did you read this book or follow Karen's blog? I'd love to know what you think!

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12 comments :

  1. Maybe my kids are unique but I strongly believe that you make a meal and place it before them. They choose how much to eat and when the meal is over, we leave the table. If they've not eaten anything, I will be sad but will be happy to have them join us for the next meal. From 6 months on, they have been given everything imaginable and at this point eat a lot of food that most people wouldn't (myself included). I disagree with her "rule" of no snacking. We eat 3 meals a day and they snack once bet. breakfast and lunch and again after nap bet. lunch and dinner. We eat smaller meals which I believe is better for the metabolism. I have found that the less I make a "big deal" out of eating (how much, how fast, when, and what), the more they will try things and eat for nutrition what they like. Kids have to be given choices and not forced into submission.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Michelle. I think the author's suggestions are actually in line with what you are saying, it's just hard to tell from the short list I highlighted in this post. Her book goes into much greater depth and detail. Your kids do really well with food and from what I know of them, they will try anything, which is wonderful and not typical of most American children (in general).

      The author does suggest that children are in control - they choose how much and what to eat. Although parents and teachers encourage them to try everything, it is not force or submission that the author is suggesting, but rather that if we teach children about food they will develop a healthy appreciation for it, thereby wanting to eat what's on their plate, staying at the table to talk, etc. So she suggests making a big deal out of meals in the sense that it's the French way/culture to shop for food in natural markets, prepare meals together simply, and then sit down at the table together to really enjoy the meal and discuss food (as opposed to scarfing down dinner so the kids can go play). She does not suggest making a "big deal" in the sense of micro-managing what/how much kids eat. French kids are given lots of choices and opportunities to try new food, nothing forced.

      I agree about the snacks, we have two snacks a day at our house most of the time, but her suggestions are to make the snacks "count" in ways you are probably already doing with your kids. Such as preparing a well-balanced snack that they sit down at the table to eat and enjoy, as opposed to putting a bowl of goldfish on a table for kids to scarf down in between running around, playing, etc. In France, as the author explains, adults don't eat snacks at all, but kids do, so it was one of the hardest parts of her family's adjustment to life in France. A very interesting read, I think you would identify with a lot of her points and find their transitions (to France and then back to Canada a few years later) interesting.

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  2. Great points! I once knew a guy that was a chef, and I believe his wife was too. They followed the same idea that their kids would eat what they were eating, and they actually started this game at a very young age where they would always ask their kids to identify the different flavors in each meal to help them learn and appreciate each ingredient. I thought it was a pretty neat idea since most American's just don't even think twice about what they have in their mouths.

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    1. Sorry for missing this comment. It took me until now to realize all my blog comments were being directed to my spam folder (duh to me!). And here I thought I just ran out of favor ;) What a great way to teach your children and help them develop a love of food! As you probably noticed this weekend, our little monster is not afraid to pull a chair up to the counter and "help" :)

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  3. Great post. I have an American expat bloggy friend that was living in France and she mentioned the very same things - may have even mentioned this book - in an email exchange. She was shocked not only by the open mindedness of very young toddlers to new foods but also their ability to function in adult eating environments - so running/shouting at restaurants, sitting through multiple course meals and even using (toddler) knives for certain foods. It was fascinating to hear about. And, as you said, it really is about teaching from a young age all the stages of food - where it comes from, how to select it, how to prepare it and how to eat it. Even though we have done all of those things, I was quite impressed by the good behavior of kids at restaurants that she described. I remember Maren as a toddler and she was like a hummingbird - briefly flitting around her food and flitting off to something else. haha! I am thankful she has always been a good eater and agree with most if not all of the tips in the list you shared. It is essential - ESSENTIAL - to try new things. Even as adults! And, I can't imagine short order cooking - who on earth has time for that! - so I think eating one meal, as a family is also so important. I was most interested in your talk about the influences of daycare on eating habits. While we don't deal with daycare, we do deal with outside sources (grandparents, friends, etc) and their lack of information or care about what they are eating or giving to kids. Good suggestions on how to negotiate that and keep that little belly full of yummy,healthy things. Great post!

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    1. Thanks Sarah. Sorry it's taken me this long to realize my blog alerts have been going to my spam folder, yikes! Such a good point about external factors, whether it's a daycare teacher or well-meaning grandparent. I am pretty sure I know where Liam learned to say "yuck" because we don't say that at home. You are right about the lack of information/education. Healthy/real food can be easier than most people think, so I'm grateful we are in the same boat!

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  4. ha ha ha we do eat everything! Even things which gross others out :) stinky cheeses and all. Hardest part living stateside is trying to get daycare and schools to follow along with the three course meal. I never realized it but I've been prepping Sophia's lunch is three containers (first course, second course and dessert) since she could start eating solids. Wasn't until i noticed that the daycare was just laying them all out on the table in front of her that it occurred to me to explain my intent behind the three separate containers.
    Regardless, I think the main difference truly is that French kids are just expected to fit into their parents lives/schedules... eating habits and all.

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    1. Yes, yes, yes! It felt like I was banging my head against the wall since we did the same thing with the different containers yet his end of the day report would say he ate nothing! One change and suddenly he was eating everything. I loved reading this comment from you/having the French point of view weighing in here, thanks for sharing! (and sorry I have taken so long to respond, I missed all my comments from the past month thanks to a weird spam filtering issue).

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  5. oh intersting share..yah diet does vary and the culturally i guess it varies right :) Wld love to c u drop by my blog and great xmas offer from romwe!

    Blog Url: www.fashionistaera.blogspot.com

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    1. Thanks Fash! It's very true about the cultural variation, which I find so interesting. Heading over to check out your blog now..

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  6. We lived in France for 5 years raising our two sons, from ages 2 years and 8 mo. to 7yrs. and 5yrs. before we moved to Morocco for another 5 years.
    I have not read this book but could have written it. All of her rules above are right but the main correction I have in this blogg is that French families in general, do not eat the evening meal with their children. During the time we lived there, fathers and children came home for lunch, "Dejeuner" they did not institute the "journee continue"(full day at school and work without a long lunch break) until the early 2000's. Most mothers were still staying at home, or worked somewhere where they also came home for "Dejeuner" The main meal of the day is mid-day and naps immediately after. Children then returned to school at 2:00pm and Parents back to work . Children stayed at school till 4:00 and came home to a snack called "Gouter". This is often Chocolate and Bread, with chocolate milk. So they do snack. They were then fed about 5:30 a "potage", soup, bread again with cheese and maybe a fruit. Then off to bed, around 7:00 Just as the father arrived home from work. They were usually bathed and in PJs for his arrival and then marched off to bed. The parents often then had an aperitif, (coctail or wine with a small food item, like olives or nuts) Then the parents ate alone. Since they have eaten their main meal at mid-day they eat lighter in the evening. They always eat in courses, even if it is soup, it will be proceeded by salad, and followed by a cheese, then fruit. No desert at night. Most desert is eaten in the afternoon with Gouter, or after lunch.

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    1. Interesting Tish! Thank you for sharing, and I did not realize that about French families not eating dinners together. I don't think it was mentioned in this particular book either, so your insight is appreciated. It makes sense in some ways, that parents would like to enjoy that time alone at night, especially if they ate their lunches together as a family. The book did mention that younger kids get a snack after school when they get home - actually the chocolate on baguette, like you mention :) But it made it seem different than how most kids snack in the US (like very 2 hours, or they have free access to the fridge and pantry at all times, eat in the car on the go, etc.).

      I am so interested to know what the food/eating culture was like in Morocco?!

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