Get Your Kids to Eat Everything, the French Way
How a year in France cured my family of picky eaters
Ask my children what their favorite foods are, and the answer might surprise you. Seven-year-old Sophie loves beets and broccoli, leeks and lettuce, mussels and mackerel—in addition to the usual suspects, like hot dogs, pizza, and ice cream. Claire, her three-year-old sister, loves olives and red peppers, although her all-time favorite is creamed spinach. Living as we do in Vancouver, where the world’s largest salmon-spawning river ﬂows through one of the continent’s most Asian cities, our daughters also happen to love seaweed, smoked salmon and avocado sushi.
Our daughters’ enthusiastic eating habits are no surprise to my French husband, Philippe. But they still surprise me, because food ﬁghts used to be frequent at our house. Before our family moved to France for a year and embarked on our (unintended) experiment with French food education, dinnertime was parenting purgatory. Fries were my daughters’ favorite “vegetable.” Anything green was met with clenched teeth. Whining stopped only when dessert appeared. Our standbys were Cheerios, pasta, and buttered toast. We considered goldﬁsh crackers to be a separate food group.
Sophie was a picky eater right from the start. By the time she was three, Sophie had developed a fear of new foods that reminded me a lot of myself as a child. Anything objectionable on her plate would trigger her little “crazy food dance” (as we called it): arms waving, eyes rolling, Sophie would whine, sometimes yell, and even jump up from the table to avoid being confronted with the fearsome food in question. Her somewhat quirky tastes didn’t make it easy to avoid setting off this behavior. For example, Sophie didn’t like vegetables, or anything white or creamy: cheese, yogurt, any sauce of any description, or even ice cream. And she refused to eat things that most other children like, including macaroni and cheese, and sandwiches of any kind.
In contrast, Claire—her younger sister—ate almost anything. That is, she would eat almost anything until she started behaving like her older sister. This gave me a serious case of parental performance anxiety, combined with a good measure of guilt.