Get Your Kids to Eat Everything, the French Way
How a year in France cured my family of picky eaters
You see, my husband’s friends, parents, aunts, uncles, cousins and other sundry and assorted relatives all expected our daughters to eat like French children. And French kids eat everything, from fruit salad to foie gras, spinach to stinky blue cheese. They eat things most North American kids (and some of their parents) would never dream of eating, like cardoons. (Don’t worry, I’d never heard of them either.) I have witnessed three-year-olds devouring seafood of all sorts and toothless babies sipping everything from béchamel sauce to vegetable bouillon. Some have even more exotic preferences: Didier, who would cheerfully savor la langue de boeuf (beef tongue), or little Fabrice, whose favorite food was museau à la vinaigrette (pickled pig snout), or baby Claire, who gummed her daily ration of Roquefort cheese with obvious delight.
True, you might ﬁnd the rare French child who has an aversion to speciﬁc foods (cauliﬂower, in my husband’s case). But, for the most part, French kids consume anything put in front of them. They eat in a straightforward, joyous, and all-embracing way that seems bafﬂing to the ordinary North American. And everyone assumes this is normal—including the kids.
This is, in fact, a junior version of the famous “French Paradox,” which has had scientists scratching their heads for years. French parents gently compel their children to eat healthy food. They expect their kids to eat everything they are served, uncomplainingly. They ask them to spend long hours at the table (where they are expected to be extremely well-behaved) rather than watching TV or playing video games. Despite this, French kids think eating is fun. And that’s not all: France’s rate of child obesity is one of the lowest in the developed world. And while rates of overweight and obese children are at an all-time high and are rapidly increasing in most wealthy countries, they are stable and even declining in France. This is not because they’re all on a weight-loss program; diets for French children are relatively rare because few of them need it.
Before we moved to France, I was stumped about how French parents achieved this.
What did French parents know that I didn’t? As I learned during our year in France, the secret lies not only in what, but also how, when, and (most important) why French kids eat.