BOOK REVIEW: FRENCH KIDS EAT EVERYTHING
Updated: Mar 15, 2018
About 2 years ago now, I'd absolutely had it with picky eating. My kids were having pasta with butter more often than I cared to admit, and almost everything else I tried was met with whining and tears and me trying to convince them to eat. I was trapped in a power struggle for sure - and I was losing.
I was determined to find a solution, and had recently heard about the book French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon, and thought I'd give it a go.
Essentially this book documents one mom's move to France with her husband and two daughters, who were typical picky eaters. Upon arriving in France, she realized how well the children ate there, and sought to find out why. Her discoveries shaped her own habits with her family to help her children grow out of their picky eating ways.
Ultimately, it wasn't a miracle cure, but it gives interesting and useful insight into why so many American kids are the way they are, and a few of the tips I implemented have gone a long way in improving my kids' eating. Two years later, they will all eat some select vegetables (including broccoli!), try new foods without crying, and eat most proteins.
I also found the book to be an enjoyable read, and would recommend it to anyone feeding kids, picky or not.
Sadly, some of the insights, though interesting to read about, simply aren't helpful for us living in the US, such as the school lunch situation. In France, all children eat a school provided hot meal for lunch, starting even in preschool. They are ALL served fish, vegetables, meats, soups, purees, etc. They grow up seeing their peers eat a wide variety of healthy food and it's the only option for them at school - there is no other temptation. Here in the US, all our kids see at school is everyone eating chips, juice and cookies. My kids come home complaining that their friends all get Oreos and Cheetos and "why won't you buy that stuff??" *sigh*
That said, some of the insights were very helpful and I implemented a few that really worked. In particular, the no snacking rule.
In France, people don't snack. It is well known among the entire population that it's not a good idea to snack between meals. Only younger children are given a snack at about 4pm each day to tide them over until dinner, but once they are older, this snack disappears. One scene in the book I loved and have often repeated to friends is one where the author and her daughter are checking out at a grocery store, and she appeases her whining daughter with a snack from her purse - the clerk looks at her, shocked, and says "but you'll ruin her appetite!".
Meanwhile, in America, I can't send my daughters to an art class or a swim lesson without them getting a snack at the end from the teacher - no matter what time of day. Snacks are EVERYWHERE! I never realized how much food is pushed at my kids until I read this book. I've since implemented a no snack rule outside of the 3pm-3:30pm window and it has improved dinner time immensely since, go figure, they're actually hungry!
Another insight that's helped one of my daughters in particular was realizing that texture often plays a bigger role than taste in "not liking" a food. In France, they purposely start with soups and purees to get kids used to flavors before asking them to get used to a new texture. I've since made many more soups and she is more likely to eat (and like) those than the same foods in other forms.
Another line I love from the book and use multiple times each week is "you don't have to like it, you just have to try it". This is genius! It immediately trumps the defense kids always use of "I don't like it!" and gets across the point that not everything is supposed to taste like cookies. Just TRY it. You might not like it, but it won't kill you, and eventually you'll get used to the flavor. The first time I said this I could see a shift in their demeanor. It immediately went from flat out refusal, to "okay, let's muster up the courage to eat this". Now, two years later when I say this line, they all know the drill and just stick whatever it is in their mouth and get on with it.
Overall, if you have a picky eater on your hands, I'd definitely give this book a read - it's entertaining, helpful and encouraging, and to top it all off, has a great yogurt cake recipe inside that your kids will love making!