As a vegetarian I can not abide coq au vin, cassoulet or foie gras, but as far as the traditional slow-food and intimate relationship, both physically and emotionally, to food, the French way, appeals to my sensibilities.
The books French Kids Eat Everything furthered my affection for the French approach in particular in the ways children are taught, from an early age, to enjoy real food. Author Karen Le Billon notes French playwright Moliere's take, “Manger Bien et Juste.” Eat well and right. Simple enough. I can usually handle simple.
As I turned page after page I found that my approach to nourishing my children echo's the French approach or at least Le Billon's interpretation. At times my children have returned home from school mentioning other kids have criticized their lunch box contents. Crudites and hummus, lentils, rice and veggies, corn chips, salsa and guacamole are apparently warrant leers and jeers in the ten and under set.
I wasn't sure what to say (or do) in response. This is just the way we eat.
This is the way we like to eat.
We like real food.
Don't get me wrong, my kids wouldn't turn down an Oreo, but they understand those are "sometimes foods" and what we eat day-to-day is mostly whole, relatively unprocessed, fresh and when we can get it local- seasonality can at times present a challenge. But we try.
Deeply engrossed in French cooking and eating, I temporarily wished we lived in some quaint French village or in sophisticated Paris, never mind the fact that we collectively know only a couple dozen words in French. Food seems to be a language unto itself there, rapt as I was, in that momentary fantasy, I figured we'd manage.
French Kids Eat Everything the title causing a bit of alarm in my younger child, "What does it mean they eat everything? Like everything? Play dough? Wood? Flip-Flops?"
"No dear, they just aren't picky. They find a variety of foods appetizing."
"Oui, like you."
This is just what Le Billon learned as she journeyed with her family for a year in her husband's native France where she faced the challenges of not only adapting both herself and her children to a new culture, but navigating the particular French ways of eating.
Long, leisurely meals where children and adults alike engage in polite and engaging conversation, the absence of short-order cooking, like so often happens in American homes: quiche and salad for the adults and mac-n-cheese for the kids is not typical at all in France. Quite remarkably they also have a nearly opposite model for Public School lunches.
This captured my attention. A couple years ago I was riding closely on the heals of Jamie Oliver's School Lunch Revolution after my daughter became very ill after eating lunch at school. It was her first day and she wanted to carry her tray and collect items along the line in the cafeteria. Well, she collected a little more than she bargained for and needless to say it was her last time eating school food as she said emphatically, "I'm never eating school food, never, ever, never again."
Le Billon offers up explanation and an outline of the school lunch program in France or Cantine. The meals are prepared from fresh produce, are nutritionally balanced, the frites aren't typically considered a vegetable as they are stateside. And almost most remarkably lunch-time is a considerable amount of time, not the fifteen minutes my children are typically given with staff admonishing them to "hurry-up." She also relays that this time of the day is a social time where the meal is enjoyed together, another aspect of French dining I admire. Good food, good company, what's not to like?
When Le Billon returned to Canada after her year with her family in France, she came up with the following, “Find a balance between the foods available where you live and a schedule that lends itself to mindful cooking and eating.” I think this is reasonable given the reality of most of our lives, preparing and then enjoying a meal for upwards of two hours is more of a luxury than an everyday way of life, we can still seek to find this same balance Le Billon describes. At the very least it is more appealing than the harried meals wolfed down between activities, in the car or worse separately not at the table and as for getting your kids to eat beets, it is more about the journey than the destination as they say. The idea is to try new things, to be open and adventurous.
In our home we already have a decent handle on this, but one thing I've found helpful is to offer a small amount of mixed greens topped with a simple vinaigrette.
Here is a recipe for just such a thing from Karen Le Billon's book, French Kids Eat Everything.
Vinaigrette from French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon
Time: 2 minutesServing: Makes a little less than 1 cup, to serve a family size salad
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup white wine vinegar
- 1 ½ teaspoons Dijon-style mustard
Optional: 1 Tablespoon maple syrupOptional: 1 Tablespoon finely minced shallot, scallion, or onion
Put ingredients in a jar with a lid, close jar, and shake vigorously. (Deirdre's Note: I often let the kids help with the measuring- they enjoy being a part of the food prep and especially the shaking!)
Taste before serving and adjust quantities for your preference.
Can also be served as a dip with crudités (sliced veggies) and can be used as a dressing over cooked vegetables.
Please share any stategies you have in getting your kids to eat a variety of foods or what you think of the book French Kids Eat Everything.