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French Kids Eat Everything

by Tiffany in Book Reviews, Healthy Eating

I have a bit of a love affair going on with all things French right now. This is due in no small part to the some of the books coming out about French living, parenting philosophies, and cooking for kids. Do you remember my review of the awesome book Bringing Up Bebe – The Wisdom of French Parenting? Well that got me started and I can’t seem to stop. I loved that book and it made me realize that whereas attachment parenting resonated most with me whilst my kids were little I am definitely taking a page from French moms nowadays. It was where I was introduced to the concept of equilibre (eh-key-lee-bruh) or balance. Not letting any one part of life – including being a parent –  overwhelm the other parts. Everyone probably wishes they had some do-overs in regards to parenting choices but one of my do overs would be to have lots more equilibre as a mom, wife, and woman with her own interests and passions.

Among others books I have recently picked up are Paris in Love: A Memoir about a woman who sold off her belongings and moved her family to Paris for a year. I wish!! Also French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters.

Just like the aforementioned parenting book, I loved French Kids Eat Everything. Like the previous author, Karen Le Billon also moved to France only to be amazed by how mannerly French kids were and how they eat anything and everything set before them. French kids could manage to stay well behaved through a four hour meal with their parents and they relished foods that her own kids wouldn’t touch. The stark contrast between her own children and french children spurred her to investigate just what French parents were doing to achieve the near miraculous. This book is the result of all that research and also a memoir of her experiences and conversations. It is not only informative and helpful…it is also a page turner. How many parenting books and healthy eating books can boast that??

Once again I was amazed by how the school system works in France and just how well kids there eat. It is really a very rigid system and actually a rather punitive. No one’s quirks and preferences are pandered to and you if you don’t toe the line and conform to the rule of standard you are ostracised. While that may sound bad to me if that involves test scores or homework I see lots of value in that if it is nutrition education. Food education is mandatory in the French schooling system and this is so important because it ensures that all French children are eating healthy diets regardless of circumstance. We can see how in America it is the wealthier people who have greater access to healthy foods and nutrition education. It is just not like that in France. All kids from the time they are babies are encouraged to eat healthy foods within the school and daycare systems (also government run). Parents had the same education so they are on the same page. It really appears to be an awesome example of citizens and government being in sync with what is best for the people and nutritional health. In America the guy who vandalizes a McDonalds goes to jail. In France he is elected to office for being a crusader (true story).

In the US our government subsidizes crap food to make it artificially cheap whilst keeping healthy foods out of the reach of the poorer individuals. Nutrition education is also a joke. In France the kids are not only being taught from day one what is healthy to eat they are provided stellar meals with fresh fruit and veggies making an appearance every day (and being eaten), meats that include real chicken, fish, crab, roast pork (even in the poorest districts), real desserts (not twinkies), and water instead of sugary colored milk. Some schools even send home meals suggestions in advance for evening meals so that children are eating a perfectly planned and balanced diet.

You also won’t find too much of the fake processed foods in France that Americans seem to love so much. They have an affinity for healthy, quality foods and take pride in being foodies who want only the best. That may sound elitist but remember this is EVERYONE from the rich banker, to the school teacher, to the guy who fixes carburetors.

There are ten food rules in the book that were modeled to reflect the way of the French system and the author used to them to overhaul her own family’s eating habits. Many of them  I copied into a notebook or on post it notes on the frig. Food rule #2 is to avoid emotional eating by not using food as a pacifier, punishment, or reward. I know this to be excellent advice but it is so hard to do in practice, especially if you were raised in a contradictory way. #3 revolves around scheduling and planning meals (much better than I currently do) and making sure kids eat what the adults eat or they don’t eat…period. Amen to that as I chuck my short order cooking apron.

Food rule #4 is all about making all meal times social and beautiful, ala setting the table like royalty is coming to dinner and really making every meal meaningful. #7 is about avoiding snacks, which we are already implementing. Snacking is just not done in France and I happen to LOVE this. I have such a hard time convincing my own kids that they will not die if they are not allowed to graze all day.

One of the best tips I picked up was about adding more veggies to the diet (I forget what food rule that was). The author started making soups reminiscent of the purees that French babies eat to train their palates for all manner of fresh veggies. Her kids were older but she wanted to introduce them to veggies (which they refused to touch) in much the same way. Hubby and I discussed it and are now planning menus that include a thick veggie based soup as a first course before the main event. Think carrot soup, leek soup, cauliflower soup, broccoli soup, turnip soup, ect with lots of fresh herbs and spices thrown in. I can make just enough so that everyone gets about 1/4 cup to a whole cup and that needs to be eaten first. A particular soup never appears more than once in the same week. There are usually veggies in the main dish too but this just adds another veggie opportunity and a way to sneak stuff in that they normally won’t eat. Such a simple yet brilliant idea and the book is full of great tips and ideas.

I highly recommend French Kids Eat Everything as leisure reading for the health minded but especially if you struggle with making sure your kids are eating a varied and balanced diet. Enjoy!


Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

20 Comments on French Kids Eat Everything

  • Funny… I’m French-speaking (born and living in Quebec), not French. Yet my 14-month old eats onion soup, leek quiche, chick peas, onion omelets, any kind of fish, lemon (yes lemon!), salsa… pretty much anything we eat (I’m trying to find an exception and am not finding one this minute…). I simply… didn’t question it. And I quickly realized she prefers tasty stuff, not bland baby purées. Ah but then most of what we eat I make from scratch if I didn’t grow it. So she’s been tasting all of those things since she was conceived. I did work on my own diet before she was born, though. And read a lot of information. I simply don’t buy juice anymore. And if I crave something commercial… it turns out there’s sites online that give better recipes than the original! Woohoo! :-)

    • Sounds like you have a great eater on your hands. Kudos to you! I think the issue with Americans may be that even the adults nowadays won’t touch such things and thus are not passing on a familiarity with these good and healthy foods. Perhaps Quebec is still rich with older traditions…

      • Hmmm… I’d love to say yes. But we’re very North-Americanized… not to say Americanized. I’m an odd cookie. Not to say I’m alone (!!) but we tend to stand out in our tiny community, whether we want to or not. An example? We walk (gasp!).

        Who knows though, she may grow up and decide to open her own McDonald’s someday and break my heart! (Last time I ate that was… a few hours before my contractions started. And I saw it come back up. And then I was CURED! Hahaha! (But really, I was!))

        But for sure it depends on what kids see us doing. In a way I’m very grateful I had her late (36), because it gave me time to shed a lot of (food and other) issues before becoming an example (good thing too: she’s extremely observant!).

  • I remember that French book about parenting and loved it.  I think many times my friends and family think I am too hard on my kids but I expect them to rise to their God given talents to help themselves and others. 

  • Sarah Shivers Lewis

    I too have a French phase going on right now. Would love to go for a several months if not longer. I’m reading Paris In Love now. Enjoying it very much & have French Kids Eat Everything on my list. My friend read it & love it. She said it helps that everyone eats that way & the government is even on board. But she said that she gained a lot from it.

  • Tori Leitch

    Hi Tiffany I love your blog. I am visiting from Jen and Joey Go Green & your newest follower ;)

  • I read this book too and LOVED it. Have been meaning to write a review for ages!

    We too made some changes after I read this book. I also posted a list of “Food Fundamentals” on my fridge. LOL!

    It has always gotten on my nerves that my kids wanted to snack all the time, and I should’ve listened to that instinct. For one, all of them have had tooth decay despite a very healthy diet – which was probably due to snacking inbetween meals. But my mind was somewhat brainwashed by the whole “grazing” thing… remember Dr. Sears recommendation to put food in ice cube trays for a toddler to nibble on?

    Makes sense on the surface but truthfully it leads to problems. I was surprised that eliminating snacking (except for the 3-4 pm gouter – de rigeur!) didn’t meet with much argument from my kids. I found that they ate more heartily at mealtimes, which is nice because I hated how they would wolf down food in 5 minutes then want to leave the table.

    I only have one picky child and this regime has helped her. She is eating a wider variety now. I have NEVER been a short order cook, but in the past I would allow her to make a sandwich if she didn’t like what was being served. No more! And I found that she loves leek soup. :-)

    • So cool to hear your experiences! I knew when reading this book that you would like it. I keep meaning to link to your article about eating like a French woman!

  • …I do wish the book when into more specifics about how parents keep the kids at table longer. I think it’s hinted at because the French are more likely to use spanking and saying that would be like the proverbial turd in the punch bowl in an American parenting book… perhaps being entirely French in our eating is impossible in a culture that doesn’t support that.

  • Jill Hart

    Part of the problem with picky eaters can be pointed back to infant formula, which is rampant in the US. Infant formula is mostly sugar! Breastfeed your babies, start them on real food that you process yourself, not cereal, get them used to eating a balanced diet early on. Talk soda pop out of the house entirely, you wouldn’t give your child a beer, soda is worse! (and that goes for most pasteurized milk products,  sugary drinks, energy drinks etc) Our bodies process sugar like the poison it is! Awesome Review Tiffany.

    • Excellent points Jill! Especially regarding breastfeeding…

  • My children ate everything – until they got into first grade and discovered PB&J sandwiches. They veered that way for a while but have now returned. I’m happy, even though composing a bento box is harder than slapping together a PB&J (especially before coffee). For dinner, I have one rule that goes over all the other ones:  if I cook it, they will eat it. Sometimes they admit that the yucky-looking lentil stew was actually pretty good :-)
    When they were small we cut them a lot of slack at the dinner table, telling them stories with accompanying drawings, etc.  They are now returning the favour by making real contributions to the dinner table conversation.  I guess we average 45 minutes for dinner on weekdays.  Longer on weekends when I put on a dessert, or when we share the meal with friends and wine bottles get opened.

  • tsoniki

    I will definitely get this from the library! We are actually moving that way next year so I will get to experience this. I’m lucky in that my kids eat just about anything/everything though. LOL

    • Tiffany

      You are moving near France Tsoniki??? Cool!

  • What an interesting idea about the soup. I’ve been very lucky to have a kiddo who happily eats veggies… now if I could just get the husband on board. lol. 

  • mish

    Healthy eating does not equal dictatorship/socialist government intruding into a families choices about how they raise their children.  Toeing the line is unhealthy for thinking!

    • In the US we live under the rule of corporate socialism. We aren’t faring so well if you haven’t noticed and the French ARE, as least nutritionally. You can’t knock what works unless you have a viable solution and I don’t mean individually. EVERYONE deserves better food and health.

  • kaiyasue

    After reading your post, I got the book.  I really like it so far! (I’m over half way through.)  Like you said, it is hard to put down.  Many of the “rules” I had tried to implement on my own anyway, but with varied success.  We try to eat a variety of real food and my kids do eat better than most of their peers, but I have been guilty of some of the typical “North American” food faux pas too… I have recently felt like a slave to all the snacking.  My boys want to eat all the time and I try to give healthy options, but it was getting to be overwhelming.  This book has my gears turning and I am definitely going to try and make some changes to educate my kids’ palate and make meals more enjoyable for all of us.
    As an aside I can see why their breastfeeding rates are so low!  These practices for babies go against all the research on breastfeeding.  I’m glad I was able to give my babies the variety of flavors that come through mama’s milk as well.  

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