Outsmarting a Picky Eater: Part 2 of French Kids Eat Everything

Outsmarting Your Picky Eater

Outsmarting Your Picky Eater

When I spoke to Karen Le Billon, one of the things that struck me the most was the fundamental difference between French people and North American people when it comes to snacking. For Americans, snacking is a way of life, and for me, as a mom, it has become as much a part of our daily schedule as bedtime. When my girls were little and I would write out their schedules for my mom or a babysitter, I would always include two snacks per day – a mid-morning one and a mid-afternoon one. And, since my girls are often slow/disinterested eaters, I would find myself clearing their snacks away in time to serve them lunch or dinner. And then I would wonder why they weren’t hungry. Given the choice between snacking and real eating, my little grazers always chose snacking. And I was left frustrated by the futility of putting food out and picking it all back up again. It seemed so pointless!

But my biggest fear was that my kids would experience hunger – even for a minute, so I never left the house with assorted snacks in tow. I tried to make them healthy – organic cheese sticks, apple slices, bananas, small bags of whole grain crackers, but they were still snacks and they were still filling. And so the cycle continued, to this day, picking out food and picking up after my picky eaters. Speaking to Karen changed my attitude about snacking forever. Here’s more:
Why the French Don’t Snack
“The French believe that it’s okay to have your stomach empty because you’re in between meals; there is a difference between an empty stomach and a hungry one. French adults don’t snack; its rude to snack. A French person in an office would never eat at their desk;they only eat at the table at lunchtime. And kids don’t snack except for gouter, the traditional after school snack, but that is usually more like a small, healthy meal eaten at the table. Maybe bread, butter, a fruit compote. That’s my daughters’ cousins go-to after school snack – a fruit compote with no added sugar. They don’t have the convenience foods that we have; we now have food everywhere -libraries, bookstores, drugstores. You can’t buy foods in a drugstore or a bookstore in France. They don’t believe it’s okay to snack. All ads for snack foods have a label like we have on cigarettes saying that it’s bad to snack.
The French do believe that it’s important to eat a good quality diet; you don’t get hungry because you have a satisfying meal.”
Adjusting to North American Life
Now that Le Billon and her family are back in Vancouver, she says that they have been able to maintain most of the eating habits they “My kids do not ask for snacks anymore; they just ask for that one snack a day. It’s hard for us because school lunches are such a problem; my older daughter’s school has a lunch time of ten minutes total. All of the things about food that we don’t want them to learn, like eating on the run, we teach in school. The French secret is that they are backed up by schools and communities and parents working together. It’s fascinating what we can learn from that and the message for parents is not a message of blame. It’s more like it’s really hard in our society to feed our kids well, but here are some great ideas about what we could do, but they require the support structure. It’s really cooperative and collaborative, and a collective vs an individual responsibility.”
The McDonaldization of France
I asked Le Billon the question that was at the top of my mind: How likely are French moms to pull through a drive-through on the way home to pick up dinner? The answer – not very. While France now has it’s share of fast food places, their menus have been tweaked to appeal to the French palate, with more healthy options. And they still haven’t really caught on among the French. “There is a lot of concern about the impact of fast food on French culture. They care about preserving the core of French food culture. We are still debating things like a soda tax and they just went ahead and implemented it. They have responded and we for various reasons have not. In schools in France, they have taste training  for younger kids and older kids get lessons on food marketing, food as national heritage, and food politics. We could update home economics, for example. We have the know-how here; there is a bigger cultural moment that needs to happen.”
French School Lunches vs American School Lunches
“Lunches are three to four course hot meals with fruit and veggies, and they are as little as $.20 for low income parents, $3 for typical parents. There is a nationwide ban on vending machines in schools, and they have nationally tightened nutritional requirements for all schools. Good food is important to the French. When a child comes home from school, parents ask: What did you eat for lunch today and did you enjoy it? Click here to read more about the gourmet four-course meals served to French students at schools this week.
Life as a Food Activist
Le Billon’s journey started with blogging about food and has evolved into what she calls “accidental food” activism. She was chosen by the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation to be one of its Real Food Advocates. “It’s good to have a conversation about how we teach our kids to eat and what we tell them to eat. I hope this book will help spark that conversation and be a part of the overall picture. I know it works for our family and for France as a whole. It’s about fast, easy recipes, good structure at mealtimes, and kids who are hungry at mealtimes. We are three times more likely to have obese kids in this country. We are not learning to eat the way we used to (for those of us who grew up in the 70s) and it’s common sense.”
Make the Connection
I was amazed at home easy it seemed. We have all these convenience foods that are supposed to make it easier and it makes it a lot harder, and I was doing a lot more work. I saw that my kids could come to the table and eat happily, and that imposing the structure ends up making it less work and more fun. Before it was quite stressful to feed my children and now it’s a pleasure and joyful to eat with them and a real moment of connectedness. A lot of people really crave that and are finding it hard to get there. It’s easier than people might think. It happened in less than a year for us. Some people who read the book have applied the French food rules to their kids and they are relatively easy, commonsense rules and once you get them into place it should all make it a lot easier.”
For more wisdom from Karen Le Billon, visit her blog at www.karenlebillon.com.


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