Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Thoughts on French Kids Eat Everything

I just finished French Kids Eat Everything, mostly in little spells while I rode the bus to my job.

Here are my somewhat random thoughts because I'm still sorting out the effects of the book.  It's basically the food/eating rules the French use, codified by a Canadian mother (Karen Le Billon) when she and her French husband took their children to live in France for a year.

1.  "Taste training" is a brilliant way to sum up what I'm trying to do with my kids.  In fact, it applies to more than just food.  I want to educate them on good taste which, admittedly, is far more subjective than it used to be.  I don't automatically think it's cute when they wear mismatched clothes or want to put ketchup on everything; I'm not rigid about it, but I do want to teach my children what goes together and why.  My husband, you should know, thinks this is a little too detailed.  I'm sure our parenting balances out!

2.  I do agree with the French philosophy of no snacks, in sharp contrast to the multiple small meals many American nutritionists recommend.  I had already cut back on giving the kids snacks because I was lazy, but now I realize it is making them much hungrier at meals, which are more balanced than snacks.  "Hunger is the best sauce," you know.

3.  I do wish I lived in France.  I think.  I'm not usually a Francophile, but so many of the ways I appreciate life match up to what people say goes on in France.  I've only been in France for a few days, but I did live in Germany for a bit and spent 3 weeks in Switzerland. 

4.  I love how calmly French people assume that children will learn to like all foods if they are exposed often enough.  I had already noticed that my children's favorite vegetable or fruit changes within minutes, so I don't pay much attention.

5.  We were getting terribly casual about table manners and eating together.  This book gives me impetus to get it together again.

6.  But holy cow, I can't picture eating every meal at a table with a tablecloth with other people.  I'm American enough to like a quick sandwich sometimes, or to read while I eat alone.  I appreciate food and I am usually very deliberate about pairing dishes and making it look nice, even leftovers, but I have other things I want to do besides eat!

7.  I find the picky eaters in this book tiresome.  I like Karen Le Billon for wanting to change her kids' eating habits, but I am annoyed and appalled at her spineless parenting.
8.  And the Le Billon family's eating habits just about fall apart when they return to Canada.  This revs up my anxiety about my kids in school with the food issue - how will their home training stand up to the cold, bad world? 

I managed to renew the book for another 2 weeks and asked my husband to read it. I'm still pondering things - I'll let you know if I have further thoughts.  And I welcome your thoughts!


Lisa said...

Don't worry too much about the future, Margo (although I have no children so know nothing, really)
I'm thinking of the Bible verse - train up a child the way he should go, and he will not depart from it.
What more can you do? except pray, of course.

Sara said...

What do you do about snacks? We cut back recently here, too - with the result that our four-year-old actually eats his dinner some time - but still have one in the afternoon (we tend to eat lunch on the early side, closer to 11 than noon).

The toddler must be about to grow, though, because suddenly she is constantly begging for food, and I haven't been sure what to do. She seems young to keep to such a strict schedule, but if I feed her, her older brother wants to snack, too, and then I have to deal with that.

Also, do the French do anything about dawdling eaters? Joseph can drag a meal out for a very. long. time.

jodi said...

I haven't read the book so I'm glad to get your perspective on it. I do like the little to no snack rule. I've implemented it with my kids in the past two weeks and I've noticed they are eating actual meals without complaint and finishing it completely.

Dianna said...

I really enjoyed this book, too, and found myself wishing for longer, more civilized lunch periods in the schools.

I really liked the idea that your kids will eventually learn to like foods that they won't eat now. That attitude has changed the way I think about my son and cucumbers. :)

I got annoyed with the author too about her picky eating habits. I think the number one reason that my kids are pretty willing to try new foods is that my husband and I are, too.

Jennifer Jo said...

No snacks is a hard rule---and perhaps not a wise one---when children are small. Each child is different and some of mine suffer from sugar crashes and the subsequent serious meltdown. And you can't reason a toddler through those! But around age 4 or 5, they seem to develop the ability to "tank up."

The main reason I don't do snacks, however, is because I'm lazy. Prepping a snack for 4 is a pain in the rear. It's easier to tell them to drink a glass of water and go out to play.

Polly said...

Interesting! I'm a little Francophile-ish myself and enjoy reading about the French but have not read this book. My son has issues w/ textures mostly, and he is a little particular--he takes after me. I'm not picky, per se, and I LOVE trying new foods, but I don't 'like anything and everything.' I've got some standards. My daughter will eat nearly anything that doesn't move at this point, and is not particular about textures--like my little sister. (My sister will truly eat ANYTHING.) Genetics?

I do agree w/ no snacks, though--sometimes I think this is what makes my child such robust eaters at mealtimes. We do usually do some kind of late afternoon snack-thing b/c we eat dinner rather late (usually a smoothie, which I blogged about a day or two ago, actually!) but that's pretty much it. If someone comes to me ravenously hungry I will feed him, but otherwise we wait until mealtime.

My son is very good about trying new foods. Our rule is you try it. If you don't care for it, fine, but you need to eat least take a bite or two. And it will show up on your plate again, and you will need to try it again. I think this helps.

Tracy said...

Ahhh...my children are older now, but this subject has long interested me.

In our home, you will fix what I prepare. Not just one bite of it, either. You will eat a full serving spoon- so what, 4-5 tablespoons, maybe? But yes, you must.

Guess what? I could take my children anywhere... for dinner at a friend's, and they would never think of acting rudely over what was served, or even wrinkling their noses. They have good appetites, are healthy, and are willing to try about anything.

Snacks? I do think small children need them. Fruit? Vegies? None of this juice, business, though.

Can you tell I have very strong opinions on this? ;-)

Rebecca said...

Not to get all Sunday School-ish but pickiness IS a luxury of an affluent culture. Rather than the modern French, I like to consider cultures that arose out of gratitude for any food at all. (And not exclusively far-away cultures: the Depression-era farms of their great-grandparents, for instance.) I want my kids to be picky about quality (chik-n nuggets are not food) but, at bottom, grateful to be eating.

Unknown said...

We raised 3 girls and I haven't read the book. While I had a casual house, I did teach table manners, including taking a "courtesy bite". I did do snacks, usually string cheese and an apple, but no juice. I served water at meals, which the kids were fine with. I had a nice pitcher I kept on the table. My one daughter would talk non-stop thru meals and at one point I did a "no talking for 3 minutes-eat!" Worked great! I always served a wide variety of ethnic foods, never kept soda at home, limited the junk food somwhat (you gotta have some). I taught our girls to be civilized eating out too- we always got comliments. I taught the girls eating out is a time for people to relax and enjoy their meal. No bad manners, be polite to the servers (they work HARD), no being loud and crawling under the table :( I've always been appalled by folk's lack of enforcing basic manners eating out with kids! OMG, I'd be mortified. And if times continue to get TOUGH no one will be able to afford to be a "picky eater"...

Zoë said...

Food and kids fascinate me.

I agree with Jennifer that little tykes need snacks but they eventually can eat enough at meals to last them til the next meal.

Your kids will be fine in school. You may notice sloppiness occasionally but really, they will outshine their peers with their manners, that's for sure. you'll just have to give them reminders occasionally :)

I agree that using a table cloth at every meal might be a bit overkill but if it works for them, fine. I happen to have two young ones that can be messy and I like to serve breakfast and lunch at the island (stools and a butcher block top...easy to wipe up!). We eat supper together at the regular table...usually with a table cloth but I'm not a stickler about it. If we ate on a cloth at every meal, I'd be changing the table cloth too often. Maybe I just need to work on the kids' sloppiness. It's hard to eat with a fork when you're two, though!

I like your taste training thoughts, too. I already implement that in eating but could do more in other areas of life.

Margo said...

Sara, my youngest is 4 and I think he's only now able to handle going between meals without snacks. I don't know where the French draw the line (obviously, small children have smaller bellies and are growing quickly). My children have begged for snacks in the past, too - I would tell them to take a big drink of water, like Jennifer Jo says in the comments, because sometimes our hungry/thirsty/bored signals get confused, and check back with me in 15 minutes. If they're still hungry and it wasn't close to a meal, then they had a snack.

The French would love Joseph! They value time at the table, talking and eating.

Margo said...

Jennifer Jo, I even have low-blood-sugar meltdowns! My life improved so much when I realized this at age 25 and started to plan better!

Zoe, interestingly, Le Billon talks at length about French children's tidiness while they eat. They don't spill, throw food, or grab things. I am stern and persistent about manners, but my children still have food on the floor and tablecloth after many meals.

Sarah Barry said...

Agreed with your thoughts.

I really enjoyed this book! I learned so so so much and have spent the past week changing/challenging my children's eating habits. It has gone far better than I ever could have expected.

I've cut way back on snacks. I'm feeding them what the grown ups eat. I changed our family dinner time so we can all eat together when my husband gets home (at 6:30 or 7).

Without realizing it I have been short order cooking and serving a separate "kids" menu.

The principles in this book have forever changed my view of how I feed my children!

I hope to do a post myself on my thoughts of the book. You actually came to mind several times as I was reading, especially when she talks about shopping at the market.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting that you should be commenting on this book! I borrowed it from our library, renewed once, but then it had to go back. I'm on the list to get it back again to finish it (hopefully soon).

Anyway, I found so much to think about while reading Karen LeBillon's book. And yes, while I want the wiggle room, so to speak, of simply making a sandwich for myself, or doing our movie-&-popcorn thing once in a while, the book's advice on eating is largely right on the mark. Children should be expected to eat with their families, & to partake of what's offered at the table. It's not cruelty to expect this from children...actually, it's a kindness, because it's part of training them to become patient, grateful, & more pleasant to be around.

Deanna Beth said...

I love every word that you wrote and so much of the comments, too. This is very interesting to me as Sophia recently did a 4H Child Development project that turned into a study on what the parents of picky eaters are doing differently than the parents of children who will eat without complaint. We just recently spent a weekend with a family who had a child who complained at every meal (and ate very little) and then asked for (and was given) Dippin' Dots or popcorn at every cart and kiosk that we passed as we toured.

I have two picky eaters, though my rules are basically the same as most that I read above. I just wish a Pop Tart had never, ever crossed our threshold and that they'd never heard of a Happy Meal. They are infrequent treats, but I swear they would be happy if that's all they ate.

I'm inclined to think that, mostly, your children will understand that "that's not how we do things" and will maintain their good taste in good food even among school friends. But Soph did find one mom in her 4H research who said that her kids loved all fruits and vegetables while they were at home with her and now that they are teens and tweens, they prefer "kid food."