Last week I shared a French school lunch menu that I got from Karen LeBillon, author of French Kids Eat Everything. It featured beef tongue for preschoolers. If your kids are anything like mine (as in, they prefer an all cracker diet), you find it kind of hard to believe that four-year-olds are happily eating beef tongue. But Karen insists they really, really are. So how do the French pull this off? I admit, I was at least a little bit intrigued.
Karen is a Canadian, and when she moved to France with her two children and her French husband, she was also the parent of two very picky eaters. Like many North American parents, she was doing all she could to keep the makers of Goldfish crackers – or Cheddar Bunnies, for the hippies in the room – in business. But then she witnessed French children happily eating salad and seafood, and she wondered why they happily came to the table and stayed seated, while she had always experienced dinner as a battleground. She put her researching skills to work, and uncovered some French food rules. Her book is part personal memoir and part how-to manual, and the food rules figure prominently.
Before I spoke with Karen, I was more than a little skeptical that five-year-olds would happily eat fish and beets and the like. I also had my doubts about what kind of parenting styles spawned these children. Were they holding their kids down and force-feeding them spinach? After speaking with Karen, though, I’m sold.
Based on what Karen has to say, the French are actually not force-feeding their children. In fact, they eat slowly, avoid snacking and pause often to consider whether they’re full. One of the rules that Karen lists in her book is that you don’t have to like a food, but you have to try it. If a child doesn’t enjoy something, their parents simply say, “That’s okay, you just haven’t learned to enjoy it yet.” They view teaching their children about food as a process, and mealtime is relaxed and lighthearted, so everyone is enjoying themselves.
Looking back at my own experiences with kids and food, and I can see that in many ways I’ve sold my children short. I’ve expected them to dislike anything spicy or with a strong flavour, and so I have tended not to offer it to them. There are things I’ve never bought or prepared for my kids, simply because I suspect they wouldn’t like it. Maybe they wouldn’t – but it seems like it would be more fair to actually let them try, than to just not offer it and then label them as picky eaters. I’ve certainly had experiences where my kids enjoyed something and it surprised me, and I’m sure there are many foods they would like that I’ve discounted out-of-hand.
During our interview, Karen shared some French food rules. She also talked at length about school lunches, and how the French approach differs from the North American approach. If you want some simple ideas you can use to expand your own kids’ culinary repertoire, you want to hear how the French approach school lunch as an exercise in culinary education, or you’re curious about how to make mealtime more fun for everyone, you’ll want to listen to what Karen had to say:
Next week on the podcast I’ll be sharing an interview with Dionna Ford of Code Name: Mama. She’ll be talking about her new mother’s journal For my Children, the Natural Parents Network, and how she informs and advocates without alienating. It’s a good one. Subscribe to the Strocel.com podcast in iTunes, and you won’t miss a minute!