Book review: French Kids Eat Everything

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

amazon.com

I put French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon on hold at the library when a friend recommended it to me after my sippy cup musings. I was a little skeptical that I’d actually read and finish it (I’m not much of one for non-fiction), but I’ve had a hard time putting it down!  There are so many good snippets of wisdom, that I wanted to mark at least every other page, but had to stop myself because it’s a library book.  Shucks! That makes remembering where the good parts are difficult, which in turns makes writing a review a little tricky.

In FKEE, Le Billon writes about her time spent in France as a Canadian mom (kids ages: 6 and “toddler”) with her French husband.  They moved to Brittany, a rural area in northern France where his family lives.  She spends quite a bit of time throughout the book describing French food culture because it has such a tremendous bearing on the way French kids eat.  When she said that the topic of what’s for lunch comes up at the breakfast table, and more often than not what’s for supper comes up at lunch, I thought to myself  “a nation of people just like me! and so many of the other dietitians I know!”

Near the beginning of the book (p 51), she quotes Ellyn Satter’s “division of responsibility” (without actually citing it, maybe because she doesn’t know how right on she stated it or where she actually got it): “Kids get to decide whether, what, and how much to eat.” Unfortunately, in context, she makes this sound like a ludicrous idea, mostly because of the way she was putting it into practice: letting her kids dictate what she cooked for them for meals and letting them eat snacks at any time, anywhere.

The rest of the book goes on to describe her discovery of the French food “rules”- more like habits, as culture is wont to be, and her implementation of them in her own family.  These rules are printed conveniently on the back cover of the book.  Anyway, in her description of how the rules play out in the lives of the French people she observed (friends, inlaws, strangers), she pretty much describes a whole society whose eating culture is a grand example of Ellyn Satter’s division of responsibility, as well as all the “mindful eating” stuff that dietitians like to talk about.

In France, parents and schools set meal times. There is no snacking, except for the after school snack.  Wouldn’t you know, Ellyn Satter (ES) says that it’s the parent’s job to set the times of meals and snacks!

In France, kids eat what the adults eat. One meal is prepared, and everyone partakes of it. ES also recommends no “short-order” cooking.

In France, parents tell their kids to try a food, and expect that it may take as many as 10 or more trials before a child likes the food.  ES tells parents to expose a child to food at least many times before throwing in the towel.

In France, when a child doesn’t like a food after tasting it, the adults say “you just haven’t tasted it enough times yet. Maybe next time!” and move on- no stressing and agonizing about what the child will eat.  ES says to keep meal times stress free.  The main difference between what ES says and what French culture dictate is that the French, apparently, do strongly encourage a child to taste a food, whereas ES doesn’t recommend this.

I could go on and on about how what the French are doing (according to Le Billon) is almost exactly what Ellyn Satter recommends after all her hours of research and working with kids and families on eating. Funny that someone could spend a lifetime in America discovering that the French cultural way of eating and teaching children to eat is the best way to get kids to eat a healthy, varied diet, and to enjoy eating for what it is rather than emotionalising it. Huh.

I’ll just end by giving you the rules for school lunches set out by the french National Ministry of Education, which I think are some of the best I’ve heard.

“Vegetables had to be served at every meal: raw one day, cooked the next.  Fried food could be served no more than once per week. Real fish had to be served at least once per week. Fruit was served for dessert every second meal, at a minimum; sugary desserts were allowed- but only once per week.” (p 42)

I have found this book very inspiring, and I recommend you read it- especially if you have kids or are just interested in the food culture of another nation.

Le Billon, Karen. French Kids Eat Everything. 2012, Harper Collins, New York.