Imagine dropping your kids off at school, knowing that come lunch time, they would gather at a communal table set with China plates and kid-size cutlery and enjoy a meal such as, “Endive salad with Emmental and croutons, Alaskan hake with organic pan -fried potatoes, blue cheese, and plain yogurt, with Apricots in honey syrup” over the course of their mandatory minimum of 30 minutes at the table. And like it. Imagine.
Now, cut back to our reality here in the US. We drop our kids off at school, knowing that come lunch time, they will stand in the hot lunch line for a good portion of their lunch break, returning to the tables with their tray laden with prepackaged items such as chicken nuggets, microwaved pizza (Back in November our congress officially classified 2 Tablespoons of tomato paste as a full serving of vegetables), prepackaged apple slices coated in preservative and chocolate (or in some cases root beer…yes root beer) flavored milk; only to inhale what portion of their meal they can in the six minutes left before recess. This is our reality.
To view my copy of Karen Le Billon’s newly released book, French Kids Eat Everything, one could mistake it for a aged treasure; studied and read over the course of decades. Dog-eared and highlighted with abandon, it stands as a testament to the value of the material contained within it’s pages. In the book, Karen describes in great detail the monumental gaps in reality between the French style of eating, and our American counterpart. To the French, food is a pleasure, an experience of which one raised on drive-thru’s and frozen TV dinners can not relate.
So why might you ask was this book regarded as a necessary reference tool? A go-to handbook for a mom raising her children in the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles? Because it made sense. It made me long for an community to raise my children in where a phone call to the district nutritionist requesting the removal of chocolate flavored milk was not met with resistance. A school environment where a mom’s effort to promote a healthy program of fresh fruit to all students was not canceled after the first day when the children proved they would actually eat the fresh apples. A community where good food matters.
In French Kids Eat Everything, Karen Le Billon describes Ten Rules for Happy, Healthy Eaters.
- “French Food Rule #1: Parents: You are in charge! One of your most important jobs is to educate your children about food and to respectfully discipline their eating habits.”
- OOTBF’s perspective: For me, this translates to: No, our kids will not “just” eat hot dogs and macaroni and cheese. Sure, if they’re given the opportunity to choose, they’re going to tell us that’s all they’ll eat. It is our job to know otherwise.
- “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.”
- OOTBF’s perspective: How many times have we reached for the Goldfish crackers to keep a child busy while we try to get something accomplished? Who hasn’t offered their kid an ice cream if they behave well at some point? And here’s a good one: Is there actually a pediatrician that doesn’t offer lollipops for a good visit? Enough said.
- “French Food Rule #3: Parents schedule meals and menus. Kids eat what adults eat: no substitutes and no short-order cooking”.
- OOTBF’s perspective: What’s for dinner? Well, the kids are having macaroni and cheese with cut up hot dogs at 5:00pm. Then we’ll have roast chicken and potatoes with sauteed spinach after they’re in bed. Sound familiar?
- “French Food Rule #4: Food is Social. Eat family meals together at the table, with no distractions.”
- OOTBF’s perspective: But my husband works late, we have piano lessons until 5:00pm and I just have SO much to do when we get home. I know. This is my life too. The French have busy lives as well but they make eating together a priority and get it done. Do they do this every meal of every day? My guess is no, but they certainly make a commitment to do it often. And no television in the dining area.
- “French Food Rule #5: Eat plants of all colors of the rainbow. Don’t eat the same main dish more than once per week.”
- OOTBF’s perspective: This rule is two fold. Before reading this book, I used to make my children their sandwiches without lettuce, tomato or onion. Why? Because they didn’t “like” it. I actually know better, but found myself falling into the trap of “kids don’t like vegetables”. Now after reading French Kids Eat Everything, my children bring sandwiches to school with at least one vegetable (and avocado doesn’t count). Whether or not they take it off at school is their business, but I decided it was my responsibility to give them the option to learn to love it. As for the second part of this rule: We are blessed with the internet. There are more recipes out there then we can count, and there is no excuse not to give them a try.
- “French Food Rule #6: For Picky Eaters: You don’t have to like it, but you do have to taste it.” For Fussy Eaters: “You don’t have to like it, but you do have to eat it.”
- OOTBF’s perspective: For me this loops back around to French Food Rule #1: Parents are in Charge. It is our duty to encourage our children to learn to love Real Food. In fact, the lack of this rule in America is creating a society filled with diabetes, heart disease and other food related illnesses. No one wants to raise their child to have a disease, and in my opinion this is probably the simplest way to help them live a healthy and happy life.
- “French Food Rule #7: Limit snacks, ideally one per day (two maximum) 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.”
- OOTBF’s perspective: This is probably one of the most challenging French Food Rules for our society. We are a culture of snack foods. Heck, my website has numerous recipes for mid-meal snacks. The trick, according to Karen, is to have these snacks at a designated time each day, and to make them a mini-meal of sorts. In French Kids Eat Everything, their “snack” was called the gouter and consisted of an unprocessed, Real Food “dish”, not a handful of Goldfish crackers and a string cheese. So does the snack need to be celery or kale? No. Some of the snacks listed in French Kids Eat Everything included baked apples, cucumbers and yogurt, avocados with a vinegarette and even crepes!
- “French Food Rule #8: Take your time, for both cooking and eating. Slow food is happy food.”
- OOTBF’s perspective: Pretty much says it all, right? Now we just have to implement this into our lives.
- “French Food Rule #9: Eat mostly real, homemade food, and save treats for special occasions. Hint: Anything processed is not “real” food.”
- OOTBF’s perspective: If you are reading Out of the Box Food, then you are already working on implementing this rule into your family life. Real Food is good food. Period.
- “French Food Rule #10: Eating is joyful, not stressful. Treat the food rules as habits or routines rather tan strict regulations; it’s fine to relax them once in a while.”
- OOTBF’s perspective: Everybody now…Whewww. Yes, even good food rules need to be bent on occasion. We are moms, dads, grandparents, friends, sisters, brothers and above all else, human. We should do the best we can to use real ingredients, take our time with food, and create a positive food experience for our families. If we truly do our best, we’ll get it done. I believe in us.
Le plaisir de la table est de tous les ages, de toutes les conditions, de tous les pays et de tous les jours.
The pleasures of the table belong to all ages, all conditions, all countries, and to each and every day.
-Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste (1825)
French Kids Eat Everything, by Karen Le Billon
Would you like to read, dog-ear, highlight and treasure your own copy of Karen Le Billon’s, French Kids Eat Everything? Come back next week when we’ll offer a Free GIVEAWAY of her book to one lucky winner! Until next week…
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