The pleasures of the table belong to all ages, all conditions, all countries and to each and every day ~ Jean Anthelme Brillat Savari , the physiology of Taste (1926)
Food fights used to be frequent at my house before I changed the way I approached food and mealtimes.
Prior to this dinner time was parenting purgatory. Fried chips were my sons favourite vegetable. Anything green or orange was met with clenched teeth. He lived on a white pasta and milk diet. My standby was instant noodles and ‘just add milk ‘ cereals.
Josh was a picky eater right from the start. By the age of two he had developed a fear of new foods. He didn’t like anything saucy or creamy and refused to eat things that most other children ate like Mac and cheese, and sandwiches.
I then came across a book that described how French children were fed. It shocked me that according to the author, French kids eat everything , from fruit salad to spinach and stinky cheeses. They regularly consume things that most of us wish our kids ate – like salads. While visiting France I have seen French kids greeting things like radishes with as much delight as popcorn. I have witnessed three year olds devouring seafoods of all sorts and toothless babies sipping everything from be hames sauce to vegetable bouillon.
Now French kids don’t eat this way because of some genetic predisposition for liking exotic foods. Just like kids everywhere, their favorites include things like pasta, potato chips, chicken and chocolate. But that’s not what they usually eat. As amazing as it may sound, French children love all kinds of food, and most of what they eat is healthy . They eat in a straight forward joyous manner.
This is in fact the junior version of the French paradox which has had nutritionist scratching their heads for years. In a nutshell : French adults spend twice as much times as Americans eating , and they consume foods like butter, pork, and cheese in apparently uninhibited quantities, yet are less overweight (very rarely obese) and have lower rates of heart disease than Americans. The French truly have their cake and eat it too.
The way French kids eat is equally paradoxical. French parents gently compel their kids to eat everything they are served, uncomplainingly. They ask them to spend long hours at the table rather than watching TV and playing video games. Despite this French kids think eating is fun, France’s rate of childhood obesity is one of the lowest in the developed world. This is not because they are all on a weight loss program; diets for French children are relatively rare.
Until I started to understand and look at the French method of feeding kids, I felt powerless to do anything to change the way my son ate. I wanted to change it but didn’t know how?
The strategies I had learnt at varsity didn’t seem very satisfactory. Force and pressure tactics didn’t appeal to me and I didn’t like bribing kids to finish or start their meals. Vitamin pills seemed like a cop out particularly after I understood that they don’t supply the nutrients the way fresh food does.. I started trying some recipes that allowed you to sneak heathy foods into kids meals. It didn’t really work, in fact it backfired as Josh picked up the ‘yucky food’ hidden in his safe food. This made the safe food safe no more. What a mess! Would my Josh keep putting cauliflower purée in his brownies after he left home. I think not!
There had to be a better way and there was and the French held the key.
The first thing I learnt when studying the French approach to feeding kids was
You start educating your children very young , well before their first birthday. After all eating is one of the first acts they learn and perform consciously and then independently before even walking and talking. Firm but gentle guidance is required. French approach to food education is highly structured yet not rigid. It is common sense routines and social habits.
So the first French food rule I figured out was:
French rule #1
Parents: you are in charge of your children’s food education
More about this in our next blog on fussy eating