The overarching message of French Kids Eat Everything, a product of the Le Billon family’s year long stay in Mr. Le Billon’s native France, is that kids can and will eat a varied and nutritious diet. All you need to make it happen is to live in a culture that places the utmost priority on eating real food as a profound source of pleasure and connection.
At the opening of each chapter, Le Billon casts herself as the nay-saying North American. She is anxious about her child’s autonomy being threatened by the regimented (but delicious!) school lunch program. She worries about her child starving to death and throws snacks in the back seat as soon as they are picked up from school. She rushes through meals because she’s “too busy”. But by the end of each chapter, her husband, extended family, and France as a whole have managed to help her take another look at her North American habits and she usually ends up happier as a result.
Le Brillon’s descriptions of French society and how it is geared toward teaching children from a very early age to enjoy a nutritious, varied, and disciplined diet had me turning green with envy. School lunches are impressive in France. They are presented in four courses and last for a minimum of 30 minutes! Kids and parents alike are excited to examine the menu each week and every student is required to partake. No one packs a lunch. There are no snacks save a little something when the kids arrive home from school.
It’s a case of being liberated by limitations. I’d give my left arm for a small piece of the discipline the French seem to possess around food. At the same time, they enjoy the act of eating and preparing meals so much more than North Americans. Getting dinner on the table isn’t just another thing to check off a list, it’s the highlight of the day.
Over the course of her family’s stay in France, Le Billon gradually attempts to modify her family’s eating habits. Taking a lesson from French parents who make it a priority to repeatedly expose their children to a wide array of foods during their first years, Le Billon trains her typical picky North American children to expand their palates and enjoy their food. Le Billon distills the lessons she learned into a set of ten rules.
I’ve been inspired by the book to take our family dinner to the next level. I started with clamping down on snacking (myself included). But I’ve counteracted any resulting unpleasantness with more elaborate dinners. Inspired by the book, I’ve been serving multi-course meals to the kids most nights of the week. They love it. Probably because dessert is always on the menu now. Surprisingly, it takes me about the same amount of time if I prepare a simple soup/salad, simple entree, and super simple dessert. (It’s usually fruit, but I did make a mean chocolate pudding last week.) And there’s no more opting out of dinner for my youngest any more. She no longer goes to bed with a belly full of bread. So far it’s working really well aside from all the dishes. Not only are all of us eating more vegetables and trying lots of new foods. We are also spending more time together at the table.
To win your very own copy of French Kids Eat Everything, comment below. I’ll be choosing a winner at random at 7pm EST on Thursday May 10th, 2012. Good luck and happy reading.
Update May 10th: Shelly is the winner! Thanks to everyone for chiming in!