Finding balance with food, movement, and community for my (dairy-free) family.


Friday, July 27, 2012

Frenchifying Dinner Step 2: A More Leisurely Pace

As part of our French food-attitude makeover, I'm re-making our dinner hour in the French image one element at a time:  more courses, a more leisurely pace, a fancier table, and better conversation.

A More Leisurely Pace

In French Kids Eat Everything, Le Billion mentions approaching setting the table as if heading out on a long car trip.  I've started making an effort to anticipate every possible need before sitting down (salt, pepper, dressings, drinks, napkins, etc).  I also stay-put as long as anyone else is eating rather than beginning to clean and tidy up as others are finishing.

What I've Noticed . . . 

  • Being able to stay-put once I sit down makes a huge difference for me.  I'm able to relax and engage more in conversation.
  • Remaining at the table and chatting seems to encourage the kids to linger longer and eat more food, naturally consuming a greater variety in the process. 
  • I'm really surprised at how long my four year old and six year old will now stay at the table.  Was my jumping up to start cleaning--so I could move on to the next thing on my list--having that great an effect on their eating?  It must have been.  
  • Serving multiple courses helps slow the pace of the meal down.  
Join me next week as I scrape the play-doh residue off the table in an effort to make things a bit fancier.  

Read more about our French food-attitude make over:  
French Kids Eat Everything:  A Paradigm Shift for Parents of Picky Eaters
Six Ways Eating on a Schedule Has Improved Our Lives
Frenchifying Dinner, Step 1:  More Courses

Monday, July 23, 2012

Zucchini Waffles: More Breakfasts Al Fresco

In my quest to find cool breakfasts for hot days, I've resorted to cooking on the deck again.  My husband thought I'd lost my mind when I suggested we make waffles on the deck to prevent heating up the kitchen.

But, he tries to be a good sport, so he went along with it.

My husband, making waffles on the deck. 
Waffles are great cool breakfast not only because the waffle maker can be plugged in on the deck, but also because they freeze and reheat in the toaster so beautifully.   We made a big batch and then froze the leftovers for future cool breakfasts.

For my current favorite dairy-free waffle recipe, I converted this zucchini pancake recipe from Amanda Rose, who blogs at Traditional Foods.

Zucchini Waffles

Dairy-Free Zucchini Waffles
3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons baking powder

4 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons brown sugar (or sucanat, rapadura, etc.)
2 cups coconut milk beverage (or other milk substitute)
1/2 cup coconut oil, melted
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups grated zucchini

1.  Preheat your waffle maker (optional:  on the deck )  
2.  Combine flour, salt, and baking powder.
3.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients.  
4.  Combine the dry ingredients with the wet ingredients, stirring with a minimum of strokes to avoid over-mixing.  
5.  Cook on your waffle maker according to the manufacturers directions.  

Freezing Tip:  
Spread your waffles in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze for about an hour.  Then remove the waffles; store and freeze in a zipper bag.
Freeze Waffles in a Single Layer, Then Transfer to a Bag

 Freezing in a single layer first will prevent them from freezing into a solid mass and make it easy to remove them one at a time to reheat.

I thought our waffle breakfast-picnic was a hoot.  My husband . . . not so much.  Fortunately, the kids enjoyed their waffles with gusto.  

 Waffle Picnic on the Deck

Looking for cool breakfasts for hot days?  

Check out these other ideas to keep your kitchen cool in the morning:
Gingerbread Granola Al Fresco
Dairy-Free Spinach Strata
Peanut Butter Banana Muffins
Mini Hootenanny Fruitenanny Buffet

Friday, July 20, 2012

Frenchifying Dinner, Step 1: More Courses

No, not french fries for dinner . . . Frenchifying . . . make like the French and linger over a multi-course meal of real food, relaxing and savoring the food, the company, and the setting.

As the next baby step in our French food-attitude makeover, I have plunged into changing up our dinner time habits with four French attributes in mind:  more courses, a more leisurely pace, a fancier table, better conversation.  First up . . .

More Courses

 Veggie Starter Plates:   A Playful Way to Serve Salad
In a recent post on her blog, Karen Le Billion (author of French Kids Eat Everything), writes that a typical French meal includes  . . .

1.  A vegetable starter
2.  Protein rich main-dish, with a vegetable side
3.  Dairy (usually cheese or yogurt)
4.  Dessert (usually fresh fruit)

Being dairy-free, I can scratch the third course off (phew--one less thing to do).

Previously our dinners have generally just been a protein rich main-dish--sometimes with a vegetable side, sometimes with the vegetables incorporated into the main dish.

What I've Noticed . . . 

  • I've noticed that starting with vegetables when the kids are hungriest makes them slightly more willing to experiment with something new.  
  • It also seems to help that we're all eating each element at the same time--positive modeling.  Previously my husband and I ate our vegetable sides first while the kids plunged into the main dish.  
  • For myself, I've noticed that starting with vegetables (usually some sort of salad), has made it easier to stick to a modest portion size of the main dish.
  • Ending with fresh fruit (very easy this time of year, but what will we do this winter??) is refreshing.
  • Ending with fresh fruit also makes it easier to stick to a modest portion of the main dish.  I look forward to enjoying the fruit, so I'm more likely to transition away from the main dish while I still have space to enjoy the fruit.  It also makes it less likely that I find myself smuggling chocolate chips from the pantry while I clean up after dinner.
  • Ending with fresh fruit is much better than ending with any sort of sugary dessert--which tends to become an obsession for the kids.  When they know there's a dessert (other than fruit), dinner becomes an agonizing barter over how much they have to eat in order to get the dessert.  
Apricots for Dessert

Check out other posts about our French food-attitude makeover:

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Gingerbread Granola Al Fresco: Cool Breakfasts for Hot Days

Granola is the quintessential real food cool breakfast--actually intended to be eaten cool (unlike a lot of the breakfasts I've been feeding my family this summer).   It still requires heat, of course, to bake, but a few days ago I saw an idea at Stacy Makes Cents that resolved even that problem:  granola made in a slow cooker.

Gingerbread Granola 
Sure, the slow cooker still cranks out heat, but because it's portable it can be plugged in on the deck or in the garage to avoid heating up the kitchen, making for a truly cool breakfast for hot days.

Granola recipes are incredibly flexible, tolerating all sorts of adjustments and substitutions.   My current favorite granola recipe is very heavy on blackstrap molasses and traditional gingerbread spices.  It has a heavy molasses flavor which Sis and I love and big brother tolerates.

I'd been meaning to make granola, so I decided to give it a try in the crock pot.

Gingerbread Granola

2 tablespoons honey
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup coconut oil

3 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup coarsely ground sesame seeds*
1/2 cup sunflower seeds
1 cup sliced almonds
1 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves 
1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 cup dried sweet cherries
1/2 cup dried tart cherries

I mixed this all in the slow cooker to avoid making more dishes.

1)  I put honey, black strap molasses and coconut oil in the slow cooker, then covered and set to high for 10-15 minutes, until the coconut oil was melted and the honey and molasses were warm.

2)  I added the dry ingredients to the slow cooker.  

3)  I added spices, sprinkling them in a sweeping motion across the top of the dry ingredients, trying to avoid clumps.  

4)  Using tongs, I mixed the spices and dry ingredients.  Then switching to a stiff spatula, I combined the dry ingredients with wet ingredients.  I used the spatula to be sure to scrape all the molasses, honey, coconut oil goodness from the bottom of the crock pot.

5)  Once well-combined, I set the slow cooker to low with the lid ajar on the top (to allow moisture to escape, avoiding soggy granola). 

6)  I stirred it every half hour for 2-4 hours, until it seemed done.  The darkness of the black strap molasses makes it tough to tell if it's finished.  My best advice is to scoop out a spoonful, let it cool for several moments, and taste to see if it's dry and crisp enough.  

Ginger Bread Granola
7)  Once the granola finished cooking and had cooled a bit, I stirred in the dried cherries and put it in an air tight container.  

8)  Serve with coconut milk beverage.  

*Sesame seeds are probably not the tastiest add-in, but I bought a bunch after reading that they are very high in calcium, so I try to work them in where I can.  

I was pleased with how this turned out and am pleased to have a breakfast I can make without heating up my kitchen at all.  Cooking al fresco is fun and I do love this granola.  (Check out this nutritional data for more information on why I love black strap molasses for more than just its flavor.)

Cool Breakfasts for Hot Days

Granola cooked al fresco wins for being a truly cool breakfasts.  Check out these posts for other breakfasts that can be prepped in advance and served cool:

Dairy-Free Spinach Strata
Peanut Butter Banana Muffins
Hootenanny Fruitenanny Buffet

Monday, July 16, 2012

Maple Vanilla Nut Cream

Maple Vanilla Nut Cream on a Mini-Hootenany
When I made a mini-hootenanny buffet for the kids, I wanted something creamy and just a little sweet to unite the dish.  This dairy-free sweet nut-based sauce was not quite what I had in mind, to be frank, but the kids enjoyed it.  Here's how I made it (note that the nuts need to soak for at while before mixing):

Maple Vanilla Nut Cream

1/2 cup raw, unsalted cashews
2-3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons water

Step 1:  Soak the cashews in warm water at least 2 hours or overnight.

Step 2:  
1)  Strain the cashews to remove the water.
2)  Using an immersion blender or food processor, combine all ingredients, blending until smooth.  Adjust maple syrup to achieve desired sweetness.  Adjust water to achieve desired texture. 

Note:  I couldn't get mine perfectly smooth, but I was afraid if I added more water it would get too thin and make eating our hootenannies messy.  With a high powered blender, one could probably use less water and get it to more of a spread consistency rather than a pour or drizzle consistency.
Maple Vanilla Nut Cream

Here's what I like about this topping:

  • It's lightly sweet.
  • It's creamy--which is always a fun texture to find when living dairy-free.
  • The sweetness comes from an unrefined, traditional sweetener:  maple syrup.  
  • Unlike most sweet breakfast toppings, the sweetness here is balanced by the protein and fats from the cashews.  
  • Maple syrup is expensive, so this lets me stretch my maple syrup while still enjoying the classic taste with breakfast.  
I have to say, I'm excited to try this on other breakfasts--like waffles and French toast.  

Hootenanny Fruitenanny Buffet: Dairy-Free Mini High-Protein Fruit-Filled Pancake Cups

Hootenanny Fruitenanny Breakfast Buffet
Versions of this breakfast dish pop up all over the Internet under half a dozen different names:  hootenanny, Dutch baby, German pancake, panakuchen, oven pancake. I snagged the idea to make a mini version in muffin tins from a Real Mom Kitchen post via pinterest.   

In a spirit of playfulness, I went with the nonsense name hootenany fruitenanny when I introduced a dairy-free version of these to my kids last week (much nicer then the hyphen mania in my subtitle, don't you think?).  

I fully expected Big Brother to reject these as he has baked egg dishes in the past, but instead he totally dug them.  He told Papa, "Mama made an exciting treat for breakfast!"  

I guess this just validates the French assumption that food rejection is just a matter of inadequate exposure . . . just keeping swimming, swimming, swimming, just keep swimming . . . 

I've made three batches of these dairy-free mini hootenannies to experiment with different variables.  The idea is that the batter puffs up in the oven, but sinks when removed--creating a cavity perfect for filling with fruit.
Standard Size Muffin Tin:  White Flour in the Front
and Whole Wheat Pastry Flour in the Back
Larger Size Muffin Tin:  White Flour in the Front and
Whole Wheat Pastry Flour in the Back.  (One
Hootenanny Gone MIA Having Makeup Done
for Photo Shoot)
I was surprised to find that I got better puff and, therefore, a better cavity when I used whole wheat pastry flour than when I used white flour (yay!).  We topped ours mini hootenannies with fresh fruit and some maple vanilla nut cream.  The fun of picking and choosing fillings seemed to fuel the kids' enthusiasm for this meal.

Without further ado, here's my favorite way to make a Hootenanny Fruitenanny Breakfast Buffet.

Mini Hootenannies

1 cup coconut milk beverage
6 eggs
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 cup melted coconut oil


1)  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease muffin tins.

2)  In a blender, combine coconut milk, eggs, whole wheat pastry flour, salt and vanilla until smooth.  Be sure to stop and scrape the sides as the flour is prone to lumping.  

3)  Blend in the coconut oil gradually (taking special care to be gradual if the coconut oil is warm from melting).

4)  Fill each greased muffin tin 1/3-1/2 way full.  (I tried two sizes of muffin tins and preferred the results from the pan with larger muffin cups, but both worked fine; also, less batter in each cup seems to make for a lighter end-result with more puff.)

5)  Bake for 15 minutes at 400 degrees. 

Topping Ideas (this would be the Fruitenanny part . . . )

Big Brother is Ready to Fill His Mini-Hootenanny

  • Diced Apricots
  • Blueberries (frozen or fresh)
  • Diced Peaches
  • Raspberries
  • Strawberries
  • Any fresh seasonal fruit
  • Maple Vanilla Nut Cream

I Like Mine with Diced Apricots

A Drizzle of Maple Vanilla Nut Cream Adds A Little Sweetness

Cool Breakfasts for Hot Days?

Okay . . . so it's a bit of a stretch to call this a cool breakfast.  I like them best warm from the oven, but they are good at room temperature.  If it were cool enough in the evening to bake with my windows open to cool the kitchen, I could prep these the night before and serve them at room temp.

Something about the texture makes me think these will not freeze well, but I may be dead wrong--I haven't tried it.  

Here's what I love about these--and why I will include them in our summer breakfast rotation:
  • With six eggs they are higher in protein than a typical pancake or waffle (my kids' favs).
  • There is no sugar in the hootenanny and none added to the fruit.   
  • Aside from the natural sugars of the fruit, the only sugar here is the 2-3 tablespoons of maple syrup in the Maple Vanilla Nut Cream.  Even that cream was used sparingly (one batch lasted for more than two breakfasts), plus as a cashew-based cream it comes packed with the fat and protein of the nuts.  Not to mention that maple syrup is relatively unrefined sweetener to begin with.  
  • Glorious seasonal fruit gets to be the star of this meal.  
  • My kids thought these hootenannies were fun and delicious.  
Lady, stop taking my picture so I can
eat this hootenannny.  

My next breakfast post will be a truly cool breakfast with a fun twist.  In the meantime, check out these posts for other ideas for cool breakfasts for hot days:  

I shared this post at Allergy Free Wednesday.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Six Ways Eating on a Schedule has Improved Our Lives

Reading French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billion inspired me to give my family a French food-attitude makeover.   We're doing this in baby steps, but the first change I made--immediately after finishing the book--was to end grazing in favor of eating meals together at a set time.   

So what have I noticed since we made this change?

Eat like the French:  On a Schedule
Photo by stockerre

Six Ways Eating on a Schedule has Improved Our Lives

1)  Increased hunger at meal times:  When my kids don't graze they are more likely to be hungry at meal time.  Try as I might to make real-food snacks, the reality is that food offered at meal times almost always offers more nutrient-density and balance than snack foods.

2)  Increased willingness to try foods:  hunger is the best seasoning, yes?  Eating on a routine makes it more likely that my kids come to the table hungry, making even new (or green) foods look more appealing.

3)  Saving mom's sanity:  We'd fallen into a weird pattern of one child asking for an early lunch.  Just as I was cleaning up from that, another child would be hungry for lunch.  Eventually I'd eat lunch, and just as I was clearing it all up, the first child would come around requesting a snack.  Aiyiyi!  Crazy-making.  With everyone eating at a set time, I reclaim my afternoons.

4)  Snack time fun:  Every day, around 3:30 or 4:00, at least one of my children was hungry.  Every day I was surprised and irritated.  It felt like I'd just cleaned up from lunch and was starting to think about dinner prep and making a snack was an unwelcome interruption.  Now we've adopted the French models of 3 meals + 1 snack for kids.  I now plan for an afternoon snack that we all enjoy together.   It has created an opportunity to make some playful foods without having them displace a meal.

5)  Less emotional eating:  My daughter tends to ask for food out of boredom.  Her siblings see this and out of competition, fearing she's getting something and they are missing out, ask for food as well.  This meant more time in the kitchen for me, often wasted food, and was laying the groundwork for an unhealthy relationship with food.  Now when whiny children say, "I'm hungry . . ." instead of dropping everything to cater to them, I cheerfully reply:  "That's great.  You'll really enjoy our next meal.  We'll be eating at [insert time]."

6)  The opportunity to make meals an event:  This is more of a hope than a reality at this point, but when everyone sits down to savor the same food, together, appropriately hungry having waited, it creates a communal event.  A moment to be shared.  A bonding experience.  Instead of eating being just about self-gratification and personal nourishment, it is something grander--a family experience bigger than the individual.

Why eat on a Schedule?

This shift to eating on a schedule stems from three of the French Food Rules outlined in the book:

French Food Rule #3:
 Parents schedule meals and menus.  Kids eat what adults eat:  no substitutes and no short-order cooking.

French Food Rule #7:  
Limit snacks, ideally one per day, and not within one hour of meals.  In between meals it's okay to feel hungry.  At meals, eat until you're satisfied rather than full.

French Food Rule #2 
 Avoid emotional eating.  Food is not a pacifier, a distraction, a toy, a bribe, a reward, or a substitute for discipline. 

Our Family Baggage:

The way our family has dealt with food in the past has been reactionary to food issues my husband and I have.  

My Husband's Baggage:  
My husband's parents took an authoritarian approach.  They were proponents of the clean plate club, insisting that he eat every morsel on his plate, over-riding his internal hunger cues.  Unfinished food was saved and served at subsequent meals until it was gone.  It was controlling and left him with a tendency to overeat and abuse food.  

Not wanting that for our kids, we did a pendulum swing in the other direction, catering to their every eating whim in an effort to help them honor their hunger and satiety cues.  Our approach had really flopped at times.( . . .like when Big Brother lived on crackers for several months in his third year.  Solution:  stop buying crackers).  

And even at the best of times our child-centered approach was contributing to making me a bit crazy in the kitchen.   Preparing real food is time consuming.  Preparing real food on demand to satisfy the whims of three young children . . . crazy making.  

My Baggage:    

In my adult life, I've struggled terribly with emotional eating.   By allowing my kids a lot of choice in their eating, I was hoping to spare them from this.  It wasn't working out that way though.  Allowing them so much choice was also creating the opportunity for them to ask for food for emotional reasons (boredom and comfort topping the list).  

Taking the Reins:  

The French approach takes a balanced authoritative approach (read more about the difference between authoritative and authoritarian parenting here).  Parents take the lead, in a gentle, but firm and respectful way.

As Americans we place such a value on autonomy that my tendency was to give my children too many choices when it came to food.  Establishing this schedule has simplified life for all of us.  

How has your relationship with food shaped your mealtime parenting decisions?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dairy-Free Spinach Strata: Cool Breakfasts for Hot Days

Dairy-Free Spinach Strata
 To make this a cool breakfast for hot days, I start it in the morning, let it soak in the refrigerator during the day, bake it at night (when we can have the windows open to cool off the house), and serve it cold the next day.

I was worried that a strata cooked the night before and served cold might not be great. Boy was I wrong! Delicious . . . vegetables for breakfast.

To make this dairy-free strata, I used nutritional yeast flakes to give it a bit of a cheddary flavor.  The sourdough English muffins add a nice tang too.  

Dairy-Free Spinach Strata

3 sourdough English muffins (I use this recipe from GNOWFGLINS)
6 eggs
2 cups coconut milk beverage (or other non-dairy milk)
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast flakes

1/2 Tablespoon healthy fat (i.e. coconut oil or lard)
2 cups raw spinach
2 cloves minced garlic

Step 1:
1)  Toast the English muffins and cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
2)  Spread out the English muffin cubes in a 1.5 quart casserole dish.
3)  Whisk together the eggs, coconut milk beverage, ground mustard, salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast flakes.
4)  Pour egg mixture into the casserole dish over the English muffin cubes.  
5)  Refrigerate for 6-8 hours

Step 2 (6-8 hours later . . . ):  
1)  Preheat the oven 350 degrees.
2)  Melt 1/2 tablespoon fat in a skillet over medium heat.
3)  Wash spinach well.
4)  Add garlic to preheated oil, sauteing for a moment.
5)  Add the spinach with water still clinging to its leaves to the skillet, sauteing until wilted.
6)  Spread spinach across the top of the egg mixture.
7)  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, until the egg mixture in the center is set.  

Dairy-Free Spinach Strata:  Delicious Cold or Warm

Kid Reviews

I have to be honest:  the kids didn't love this.  They each ate some, but not a lot.  My toddler ate the most.  There was no wailing and gnashing of teeth over it.  They just quietly had a light breakfast.  

We've been in a breakfast rut, so this was quite a departure and they weren't quite ready to roll with it.  I enjoyed it enough that it will definitely make future appearances in our rotation.  We'll see if they warm up to it.

Cool Breakfasts for Hot Days. . . 

The heat has become brutal here since I first made this recipe.  It's no longer cooling off enough in the evenings to allow for cooled-off cooking with the windows open.  This morning I tried this overnight, no-cook oatmeal and a muesli recipe from my favorite cookbook for a truly cool breakfast, but I found the texture of both quite off-putting.  

So . . . I'm thinking my strategy will be to batch cook and refrigerate/freeze our breakfasts that can be enjoyed cool so that I'm only heating up the house one day a week rather than every morning.  This spinach strata kept well in the fridge for several days and I have a big batch of peanut butter banana muffins stashed in the freezer.  

I shared this post at Allergy Free Wednesday.  

Monday, July 9, 2012

Peanut Butter Banana Muffins: Cool Breakfasts for Hot Days

Peanut Butter Banana Muffins:  fruit sweetened, with just
a bit of blackstrap molasses
I got the bug to try a dairy-free fruit-sweetened muffin with peanut butter to make it a bit more stick-to-your-ribs than most muffins.   After a little digging, I found this excellent recipe from Door to Door Organics.  The kids were happy with it, but my husband gave it a thumbs down.  After several modification attempts, he accepted a version that adds blackstrap molasses.  

Peanut Butter Banana Muffins

1 cup coconut milk beverage (or other non-dairy milk)
2 eggs
1/4 cup applesauce
1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
1/2 cup peanut butter
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

1)  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
2)  Whisk together milk, eggs, applesauce, molasses, peanut butter, and mashed banana.
3)  Add dry ingredients, stirring with a minimum of strokes.  Avoid over-mixing--some lumps are okay.  
4)  Grease a muffin tin or fill with paper liners.  Fill each muffin cup about 2/3 full.  
5)  Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes.  

Blackstrap molasses has a strong flavor, but is one of the few sweeteners that has much to offer in terms of nutrients.  A 2 teaspoon serving offering 13% of the daily value of iron and almost 12% of the daily value of calcium.  Check out the chart here for more nutrient information.

Peanut Butter Banana Muffins with Fresh Raspberry Jam

I rarely serve muffins because I often feel like it's just a cupcake minus the frosting--and cupcakes for breakfast just seem wrong.  Fun, but wrong.   Even with the addition of the blackstrap molasses, these muffins won't be sneaking into any birthday parties, but my family is enjoying them for breakfast.

Cool Breakfasts for Hot Days

The heat has finally hit and to keep the AC off as much as possible, I'm shifting away from our normal hot breakfasts in favor of something cooler:  cool breakfasts for hot days.

As it turns out, I'm apparently incapable of serving anything for breakfast that doesn't require cooking.  This is mostly about finding dairy-free breakfasts items I can prepare in the evening when the windows are open to let in the cooler night air--items that will still taste great in the morning without reheating.  Muffins are perfect for this.  

Too hot to cook in the evening?  Bake a large batch and freeze.  Pull out the amount needed for breakfast the night before and the muffins will be defrosted in time for breakfast.

Check out other cool breakfasts for hot days:
Dairy-Free Spinach Strata
Mini Hootenanny Fruitenanny Buffet

Friday, July 6, 2012

French Kids Eat Everything: A Paradigm Shift for Parents of Picky Eaters

A Paradigm Shift for Parents of Picky Eaters

Karen Le Billon's recent book, 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,  offers so much more than the typical tips for dealing with a picky eater:  it offers a paradigm shift for creating a food  culture within the home that naturally overcomes picky eating in kids.

Available at
One of my favorite things about this book is that it is primarily written in memoir style, chronicling Le Billon's family's year in France.

The memoir-style allows the reader to experience the clash of cultures through the author's North American eyes, giving us time to digest the radically different paradigm embraced by the French when it comes to feeding children.  The memoir-style also makes for an entertaining and engaging story rather than a pedantic parenting book.

Typical American Picky Kids

At the outset, Le Billion paints a picture of herself as a fairly permissive, child-centered, attachment-type parent.  This philosophy has carried over into mealtime to the extent that each of her two daughters are picky eaters, eating a very limited and repetitive diet high in carbohydrates and processed foods.  (Hmmm . . . that might sound like someone I know . . .)

The French Kid Contrast

Upon moving to France to live near her husband's family for a year, she is confronted with the reality that French children eat a wildly diverse diet, enjoying all the foods that their adult counterparts do (including vegetables so varied most Americans have never heard of them and French stinky cheese in all its glory)--all without fuss or parental coercion and with apparent great enjoyment.

What She Discovered

Le Billon is skeptical that adjusting her meal-time parenting could produce the results she sees in French children, but immersed in their culture, she slowly comes to identify principles of eating that do in fact make it possible.  As an academic, she doesn't take anything at face value, but digs in to the research about childhood eating, and manages to weave casual references to this research into the book without disrupting the narrative. 

In the end, she arrives at 10 principles that underlie the French approach to food and unlock the secret to their cheerfully-vegetable-eating offspring.   


As I read, it became clear to me that the mealtime culture in my home has undoubtedly contributed to my kids' picky ways.  Here are some of the key contrasts I noticed:

French parents assume their kids will eat veggies,
while I just hoped mine would.
Photo by Alex E. Proimos

1.  French parents assume their kids will eat and enjoy a diverse diet of real, unprocessed foods, including vegetables and assume any resistance will be overcome with repeated exposure
.  I hoped my kids would love veggies and real food, but when they objected, I wasn't surprised.  I assumed it was normal for kids to be picky and to want to live on crackers and PBJ and, therefore, didn't feel comfortable pushing much.   Instead, I resigned myself to hoping they'd outgrow their picky ways someday . . .you know . . . in their 20s maybe . . . 

2.  French families make every meal an occasion.  Even in the school cafeteria there are table clothes, cloth napkins, and real dishes.  Meals are always eaten together and are a time of leisurely conversation and relationship building  At my house we're pushing aside crayons and Popsicle-stick creations, throwing forks down askew on the table, and wondering what the sticky stuff is on the chair on which I'm about to sit.
The French Make Every Meal an Occasion--We Don't.
 Photo by Channone

3.  French families eat slowly and savor their food.   Around here, by the time I've popped up and down a half dozen times to grab the last forgotten drink and suddenly-required extra napkin, the kids have woofed down their food in far less time than I spent preparing it  . . . or at least the elements they desire . . . while launching into whining about the parts they are rejecting.

4.  French kids eat the same foods as their parents.  We do well with this at dinner, but at breakfast and lunch I tend to cater to my kids' food fads and preferences, at times making 2-3 different hot breakfasts to accommodate all of our preferences, making myself insane.  

French kids eat at set meal times.
Photo by  stockerre
5.  French kids only eat at established meal times (breakfast, lunch, dinner, and an afternoon snack).  In an effort to honor my kids' hunger cues, I've found myself making lunch for one child at 11:00, for another at 12:00, for myself at 1:00, cleaning it all up just in time for the first child to want a snack . . . creating a crazy-making cycle that keeps me stuck in the kitchen doling out food to kids who sometimes don't even eat the food they've asked for--or, if they do--are no longer hungry for dinner.  

6.  French parents never use food to entertain, distract, reward, or bribe their kids.  We work hard not to bribe our kids with food, but I'm certainly guilty of using it as a distraction and occasional reward:

"Eat these pretzels while we shop."
"Munch on this banana while  you sit in the stroller."
"Please stop crying--would you like a cracker?"
"Yay! You went potty--have jelly bean."

Coming Soon:  My Family's French Food-Attitude Makeover

Following the journey of Le Billion's French-food-attitude makeover absolutely inspired me.  I made some immediate changes to the way I feed my family--with great results--and I have more changes planned.  As I work to implement more changes I do wonder:  how successful can this approach be for one isolated family in a culture awash with food dysfunction?

Le Billon's family's transformation happens embedded in a French culture where everyone from Grandparents to school teachers to the cashier at the grocery store are united around a set of eating principles.  Can these principles work in the absence of supportive surrounding culture?   Finding out is going to be a bit of an adventure.

Grab a copy of the book and join me as I experiment with my family to improve our family food culture.