Wednesday, January 28, 2015

On training our kids (and ourselves) to eat like the French

First of all, I feel like I should be honest and say that after reading two books on French culture,  I honestly don't think I would survive in France. And that is not a knock on the French. It's quite the opposite actually. The French have got their stuff together.

Before Ryan was born, I read a book called Bringing Up Bebe that I found to be really interesting. I even went so far as to say that it was quite possibly the best parenting book I had ever read (and I read a LOT of parenting books in the years leading up to us starting our little family). It gave some practical advice on areas such a teaching indepence, confidence, respect, discipline, and healthy eating habits. The eating habits of the French, particularly how well the children in France eat, was fascinating to me. I mean who doesn't want their kids to eat and enjoy a variety of healthy foods?

So about a month ago, when I came across this book: French Kids Eat Everything, I knew I wanted to read it.

It's worth mentioning that I am NOT a great eater who enjoys a variety of healthy foods. My favorite food groups are carbs and dairy. And since being pregnant and becoming a mom, I've had to force (strongly encourage?... no force) myself to eat more fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood. I realize that the only way my kids will eat well or be open to trying new things is if Matt and I set a positive example for them.

SO, that's the back story of why I wanted to read this book. That and Ryan just started solids this month so the timing seemed extra appropriate.

One of my favorite parts about this book was the list of 10 "food rules" she observed while living in France with her family. Here are a few of my other take-aways from the book:
  • It's okay to be hungry in between meals- So this spoke to me... as in for myself. The French have four square meals per day: breakfast,  lunch, gouter (their "snack"), and dinner. And those meals pretty much happen at the same time every day for everyone: 7:30, 12:30, 4:30, and 7:30. Aside from the planned gouter, they do not snack. Period. They also eat all meals at the table. If a child says he is hungry, the parents positively respond by saying that he'll really enjoy his next meal or talk about what they're having for dinner that night to get them excited about the next meal, but they never offer something to tide them over because they don't want to spoil his appetite for the main meal.
  • Food is not a pacifier, a distraction, a toy, a bribe, a reward, or a substitute for discipline- The French are big on not tying food to emotion. The author mentioned that scientists have found that when food is used as a reward, kids tend to prefer that type of food, which makes sense (and in most cases, usually sweets- desserts and/or candy are used for rewards). This also though falls into the category of absolutely no snacking in between meals.
  • Create house rules about food- The no snacking rule might not work for everyone (and by everyone, I mean us), so I liked the author's ideas of setting up food rules about snacking and other "junk" food (the French refer to anything processed as "junk"- yikes). For example, kids can grab fruits or veggies without asking but all other foods must have permission. They also set up rules about certain foods their kids were wanting (particularly fast food when they moved back to Canada... France has hardly any fast food restaurants) since they believe that nearly all food should be enjoyed in moderation. The rule was "our family only eats fast food on days that begin with F." I thought this was a cute and "official-sounding" way of saying there's only one day they're allowed to have fast food, but still allowed it into their diets so that it wasn't banned completely. Side note, I've read a lot recently on using the phrase, "Our family" or "We" or "The insert last name" when communicating with kids about things you may do differently than their friends. I like it as an alternative to just saying no. It feels like there's more weight and explanation behind it, even though it basically is just saying no.
  • Valuing food and order of food- The French are big on teaching and talking about food (texture, taste, how it was prepared, etc.), and the order of food, rather than saying things like, "Eat it because it's good for you," or "You can't have dessert until you finish your meal." The "talking up" food, coming to the table hungry, and making eating times a time to sit and enjoy conversation (no matter the age, kids are at the table and a part of the conversation that happens at the table) makes eating a positive experience and gives kids a better chance at liking what is being served. If the kids don't like something they're served, the parents nonchalantly say something like, "That's okay, you'll like it when you're older," but never offer anything else and never force kids to eat. They also use the phrase, "First this (veggies), then that (dessert)," to explain order of eating rather than making the dessert sound like a reward for eating the main dish (which they think devalues that healthy food and builds up the dessert).
  • Parents schedule meals and menus, not the kids- Choices are not offered. Kids eat what is served or they're extra hungry for the next meal, but it's not punitive (as it sounds!). Usually new foods are introduced with other foods the kids are sure to like, and if they don't like it, they know that they'll be extra hungry for the next meal. It's more a mindset than a battle at each meal. The kids understand the food rules, so there's rarely an argument about them. (Consistency is a beautiful thing, but so much easier said than done!) I can tell you right now that this will be WAY hard for me to stick to if I have the slightest feeling that my kids are still hungry after a meal, but I think the idea makes sense and I'd like to be able to do it in a positive way if I can!
  • Don't disguise healthy foods- This goes along with how the French teach their kids about foods. Two ideas I like: Happy Plates, and Food Experiments. Happy Plates are a scheduled snack (remember the snack only happens once/day at 4:30... but I don't think the time matters as much as the idea of planned eating) of fruits and/or veggies that are designed on the plate in the shape of a smiley face or other fun shape. It associates the healthy foods as fun and positive. Food Experiments are used with younger kids who may be pickier eaters. Different foods are placed in a bag and the kids take them out and taste them, describing their tastes and laying them into separate categories on the table (salty, spicy, soft, chewy, etc.). The kids understand going in that they might not like the taste of every thing in the bag; they're job is to simply create categories and separate the foods into those categories. I thought this was a great idea for kids with food phobias or a fear of trying new foods in general- what kid doesn't love a science experiment?!

So those are my take-aways from this book. It may sound like I gave a lot away, but there is so much more to be read in the pages! You can purchase a copy for yourself here.

I'd also love to hear any tricks that have worked for your family. We are at the very, very beginning of this journey of creating healthy eaters who enjoy food, so any input/ideas you can give would be awesome!

On Friday, Elizabeth and I will be sharing our Favorite Finds for January and we'll be hosting a sweet giveaway for you guys, so make sure you check back here on Friday!



  1. I'm so glad you reviewed this book. I've been curious about it and this review really helped. Thanks for sharing. Also, I love the way you're introducing whole foods to Ryan.

    1. I think you'd enjoy reading it Deborah! And thanks too- I'm trying anything that will give him a chance at being a less picky eater than his mama! ;)

  2. This sounds like such a great book!!! I have always been interested in how other cultures handle food and I had seen a book once that was titled French People Aren't Fat or something like that. Anyways, these points you make are all great ones! While I don't have kids and therefore can not solicit advice, my sister has 4 and none of them are picky eaters. Her youngest is 4 and he requests salad at restaurants and he loves broccoli and it filled most of his plate at Christmas dinner. So I know it is possible for kids to have a wide and healthy palette!

    1. Oh girl! It sounds like your sis needs to email me or swing by this post and comment on her tricks! And I know exactly which book you're talking about- those French are definitely onto something with their eating habits!

  3. This is an interesting idea. I really agree with kids eating the same food as their parents.

  4. Pinning this so I can remember all of your tips. I especially like the food experiment. Great review on what sounds like a great book!

  5. This is on my list of books to read, so I'm glad to see that you enjoyed it. I, like you, eat simple foods and love pasta and cheese, so I am hoping that this book will help me teach myself and Caleb how to eat more foods.