This is a fun book that romanticizes French food, French culture, French parenting style, and their eating habits. It makes us Americans/Canadians look like fat little pigs rolling around in slop. Although this is the case, I loved majority of the tips and advice provided in this book about raising a well-rounded foodie willing to try everything at least once. The book has 10 key rules to help raise such a child and I agreed with all but one, and I will explain why.
I’ll give you a little insight on why the French may have the advantage on us when it comes to raising ultimate little eaters. According to the book our culture is more fixated on eating as a health issue rather than just eating because it is enjoyable. We punish ourselves emotionally, mentally, verbally, and physically for eating that creamy donut for breakfast, or that slice of cake after dinner. We log in extra hours at the gym to widdle away one lousy pound. Our culture doesn’t have any balance and according to this book we are at different extremes when it comes to food: The obese person shovelling food down even after the “fullness” button has been reached; The super skinny person counting calories and spending over three hours at the gym to get those ripped abs. I am sure there are French people over there that have eating disorders and just as many picky eaters as we do over here, but on a whole their educational system is geared towards healthy eating habits by means of a completely different strategy.
Apparently the French daycare and schools (which are subsidized for everyone) have professional chefs and caregivers who make and provide fresh balanced meals every day no matter how rich or poor you are. The child learns that they do not get to choose their meals at an early stage, parents and schools plan their three course lunch and afternoon snack at weekly meetings. Damn, if we had that over here I would be over the moon. Less time grocery shopping (although I love doing this), cooking, prepping lunches in brown bags, and probably cheaper. Yet somehow I would probably be in a select few that would be happy about this. If the parents are on some crazy diet, have some food intolerance, or have religious limitations towards food (which our multicultural country is all about), it would be difficult for our schools and day cares to provide 6 different 3 course meals to suit everyone’s preferences.
Also, apparently they get a two-hour lunch break (30 minutes to eat and the remaining to digest and play). It is ridiculous for us to attempt the same things they do when our system is drastically different and with our vast amounts of different cultures living in harmony. We’d only be setting ourselves up for failure striving to be like the French. So when and if you read this book don’t focus on the “French people” and “us” factor, but rather the rules that may help you raise a healthy child with the ability to eat like a champion.
Rules that I hate, love, and hope to adopt.
1: You are in charge of Food Education.
The key point here is to model healthy food habits. If you as an adult are a picky eater, chances are your child will be too. The tips they provide in the book talk about teaching the child to discuss types of foods, textures, colours, and taste. Don’t focus on labelling foods as “healthy” and “bad”, but focus on which ones have more nutrients and discuss how to incorporate all foods into their life. The book also gives ideas to help make trying new foods fun by incorporating little games at each meal.
One thing that I notice with some parents in today’s world is that they expect their child to eat the same diet they are on whether it is because of ideologies, lifestyle choices, or even the convenience of cooking one meal. I strongly believe that you are robbing your child of their experiences by limiting them in which foods they can and can’t eat. Sometimes to an extreme, where a vegan lady refused to feed her older baby anything else but breast milk and the baby ended up dying. I had a discussion with my cousin recently where we commented on an awesome a mom we knew who has celiac disease. Her children are still allowed to eat wheat and gluten products, and she makes a conscious effort to allow them to eat these foods rather than restricting them. Look at it this way: I absolutely hate water and basically can’t swim, but I wouldn’t dream of robbing that experience from Oliver by not allowing him to go swimming just because I don’t like it. Same goes for food. If you don’t like tomatoes, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy them and let your children taste it and experience that flavour for themselves. If you are a vegetarian please let your child eat meat and choose for themselves. Especially when they are so little and need all the carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and nutrients to grow into a healthy strong adult. So because you are in charge of their food education, teach them in every aspect that you can.
Here is a few link about parent’s dietary decisions affecting their babies:
2: Avoid emotional eating. No food rewards and/or bribes.
I understand the basis for this rule and why it would be beneficial, however I like the idea that if you wanted to incorporate a reward, make it a fruit or vegetable. A small treat/dessert will be provided at the end of every dinner, making it something they look forward too. This then reduces the fear and fixation on calories, obesity, and that certain foods are taboo (making them want it even more). My husband and friends have this discussion several times throughout the year. When he was living in Japan, I went to visit and noticed that you could buy alcohol from vending machines that were in walking distance of every house. At first I was like “Hell yeah”, but then wondered about how this might lead to underage drinking. Answer, it doesn’t. Children over there don’t see it as a special thing, therefore are less likely to abuse the readily available alcoholic drinks. Their first reaction isn’t like mine (pure excitement thinking that I was breaking a rule) … but that is because I was raised to believe alcohol is dangerous and unobtainable until you turn 18. I remember friends sneaking drinks from their parents liquor cabinet, fake identification cards to get into bars, and several other sneaky ways to get a drink because they were not allowed to and were constantly told so. The same rules apply to food. If fast foods, treats, desserts, and candies are not prohibited and taught to be enjoyed on special occasions, then the same effect occurs where they are less likely to binge, sneak food, and eat emotionally. It will be tough for us to stick to this rule, but something to work towards.
3. Parents schedule meals and menus. Kids eat what adults eat, no short order cooking.
Now this rule I agree with, however in reality I realize that school cafeterias will provide choices and therefore cannot be followed 100% of the time. I remember in junior high buying myself corn dogs for lunch, walking over to the IDA to buy 5 cent candies, and volunteering as a cafeteria worker to get free “fast food.” The French may have those chefs cooking a three course meal for children’s lunches, but why even fantasize about it? It will not happen here!!!! I hope to adopt the idea for dinners and for every meal on weekends, but realistically realize it wont happen all the time. I am excellent at planning meals and enjoy doing so (almost obsessively and to the point that my brain is constantly thinking weeks ahead on what to make), but if this is going to be successful long-term especially when I am back at work I will have to plan myself a break at some point. The author suggest Friday fast food day where you do not cook and order in. My husband had mention something similar when he was a child, but it consisted of just pizza every Friday. I like the idea of changing it to you can only order pizza, sushi, Chinese, East Indian, etc. once a month. So if you ordered pizza this Friday you can’t have it again until next month. Offering children tons of choices and options will broaden their taste buds. They will be more likely to enjoy a greater variety of foods if they have had broad exposure on a regular basis.
In the book they also have a great idea to encourage your child to order off the adult menu at restaurants rather than the kids (which consists of the same 10 things at every restaurant). There is a broader selection, and they probably will feel super special for getting to choose an “adult” meal.
4. Eat Family Meals Together. No Distractions.
This will be extremely difficult for Brett and I to model, but something I have always wanted to strive for when our kids are older. We are excellent when we are with guests, but on a daily basis we still eat watching TV. We still play our silly games on our phones as we eat. Hopefully it will be easier to avoid when we have two little children to focus on at the dinner table.
5. Eat Your Veggies.
I don’t think we’ll have any issues with this rule. Like the author suggests: think variety. They can’t hate them all and keep it positive. Plus there are so many ways to change the flavour profile of vegetables in order to make them tasty and desirable.
6. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to taste it.
I love this rule and will apply it to every meal. The key aspect to this rule is that if they don’t like it after trying it, do not substitute it for something they do like, and do not make it a big deal that they don’t like it. Remove the item they do not like and continue on with the meal. Many parents make the mistake of forcing them to eat it all off their plate or on the opposite end, get up and cook them a separate meal that they do like (no short order cooking). This then teaches them to hate the food even more, and that there will always be a second option that is tastier if you complain. The book suggest to go with the phrase, “this is the meal. Eat it or don’t eat it”. But to be successful, don’t be a jerk, and make sure there is at least one thing you know they will eat on your menu when planning it.
This brings back memories of my eating habits. I hated tomatoes. I used to hate my dad’s attempts to get me to eat meat by blending it into my soups. I remember chewing it into a ball and hiding it in a plant nearby and coming back to dispose of it later. We all have our own finicky habits, but trying new things will help break it. There isn’t one thing I will not try once, and I will eat whatever someone else is serving if I am a guest. I am very passionate about food and this is something that occurred within the last 3 years. It is never too late to start changing your perspective on healthy food habits. This does not mean a crazy diet, omitting foods that are considered unhealthy. Eat, enjoy, variety, moderation, healthy portions, and be realistic about your goals.
The one year that I hated the most was the summer that me and Brett did “my fitness pal” for fun, counting calories. Eating flavourless low-calorie jello, tasteless treats, ugh and for what? I lost 10 pounds in a month and Brett lost 40 pounds. I didn’t look anymore fantastic, was starving all the time, and never enjoyed my food till cheat day and gorged myself. Now tell me that is a healthy lifestyle.
7. No Snacking.
IMPOSSIBLE. The one rule I absolutely hate and think is unreasonable. If I did not snack or eat some of my meals on the go, then I would probably miss a lot of meals. You would meet the crankiest, meanest person in the world ready to rip your head off the moment you spoke. Plus I swear to god I have a hypoglycemic sensitivity … Meaning I start to have the shakes when I don’t eat after long periods. There are healthy ways to snack and with so many activities, chores, and life to live, snacking is a must for me and will be for the family. I understand where they are coming from when they explain that snacks make them less hungry, and therefore they will enjoy their meal less at dinnertime. However “French” people in this book never exercise, participate in sports, enjoy extra curricular activities, and apparently think we are crazy Americans that do too much. Just like eating, I think there needs to be a balance. I love playing sports, hiking, taking courses, and participating in lots of hobbies. I wouldn’t enjoy life if every day were the same: going to work then to the market, planning a meal, and sitting down to eat at the table every evening. Life isn’t just about food. Get out there and enjoy every aspect of it. For us we will try the idea that fresh fruits and vegetables are always available to snack on at anytime throughout the day and you do not need to ask for permission to eat these. Mom will make special snacks on occasion and treats/desserts are reserved for parties and after dinner. Man, I need a snack right about now. To grab an apple and eat while I write … How can that be wrong? …Personally I think this is a stupid rule.
8. Slow food is happy food (as in, eat slow).
I need this rule put in front of my face as a reminder for most meals. I have gotten into the habit of scarfing down my meals in order to go on to my next chore, or whatever it is I need to do. Even sometimes at dinner when I am really hungry, I shovel food in so quickly and then complain that I am still starving. The book makes a good point and my husband has been telling me this for years. Wait ten – fifteen minutes to digest and see if you are still hungry. My husband would scold me before I went to get seconds. The book points out that when we eat so fast our brain doesn’t have the time to catch up to our stomach which is still processing the food. So the idea is that if we eat slowly then we are better able to sense when we are full/satisfied and stop before over eating. Totally true because whenever I went for seconds I would roll around in bed later that night complaining I was so bloated and uncomfortable. My husband was right, however he makes the same mistake of over eating all the time as well. Two peas in a pod. I need to remember to slow down, enjoy my food allowing myself to process and prevent overeating. I don’t think this will be a huge issue with children since their metabolisms are much faster, they probably are rearing to go back outside to play, and participating in different sports might mean shovelling down a meal before heading off to practice.
9. Eat mostly real food – treats on special occasions is ok.
Just as with everything in life, balance is the key. Eat everything and anything but in moderation and no strict diet restrictions. We all know that vegetables and fruits are healthier than chocolate and candy. There is nothing more to say about this rule.
10. Remember: eating is joyful. Relax!
There you go. Ten rules which you can choose to like or dislike, follow or not, and maybe incorporate into your day-to-day life in hopes of raising a kid that will eat everything. Check in with me in 5-10 years and I guess we will see whether my children eat everything … Probably not, but I promise it will be almost everything! 🙂