A Paradigm Shift for Parents of Picky EatersKaren 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 Amazon.com|
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 KidsAt 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 ContrastUpon 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 DiscoveredLe 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.
ContrastsAs 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 . . .
|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
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 MakeoverFollowing 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.