About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Monday, January 21, 2013

#98: French Kids Eat Everything

French Kids Eat Everything: 
How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters, by Karen Le Billon
(New York: William Morrow, 2012)
"Moving her young family to her husband's hometown in northern France, Karen Le Billon is prepared for some cultural adjustment but is surprised by the food education she and her family (at first unwillingly) receive. In contrast to her daughters, French children feed themselves neatly and happily -- eating everything from beets to broccoli, salad to spinach, mussels to muesli. The family's food habits come under scrutiny, as Karen is lectured for slipping her fussing toddler a snack -- 'a recipe for obesity!' -- and forbidden from packing her older daughter a lunch in lieu of the elaborate school meal.

"The family soon begins to see the wisdom in the 'food rules' that help the French foster healthy eating habits and good manners -- from the rigid 'no snacking' rule to commonsense food routines that we used to share but have somehow forgotten. Soon, the family cures picky eating and learns to love trying new foods. But the real challenge comes when they move back to North America -- where their commitment to 'eating French' is put to the test. The result is a family food revolution with surprising but happy results -- which suggest we need to dramatically rethink the way we feed children, at home and at school."

Table of Contents:
  1. French Kids Eat Everything (and Yours Can Too)
  2. Baby Steps and Beet Puree: We Move to France, and Encounter Unidentified Edible Objects
  3. Schooling the Stomach: We Start Learning to "Eat French" (the Hard Way)
  4. L'art de la table: A Meal with Friends, and a Friendly Argument
  5. Food Fights: How Not to Get Your Kids to Eat Everything
  6. The Kohlrabi Experiment: Learning to Love New Foods
  7. Four Square Meals a Day: Why French Kids Don't Snack
  8. Slow Food Nation: It's Not Only What You Eat, It's Also How You Eat
  9. The Best of Both Worlds
  10. The Most Important Food Rule of All 
My Take:
Liked it, but not quite so much as Bringing Up Bebe. I think the chief difference is that Le Billon managed to push some of my rusty-but-still-functioning parental guilt/ smugness buttons in a way Druckerman's book didn't. To be fair, the two aren't identical; French Kids is more narrowly focused on the French attitude towards food and eating, while Bebe is a broader observation on French parenting in general.

Anyway, it's no secret that I've wrestled with my share of parenting demons over the years. I've always been a working mother; I nursed my daughter for a year; she has no siblings. For all the much-publicized trials of raising a teenager, this is one thing that gets better with time; you've realized by now that whether and how long you breast-fed and what you do from 9 to 5 really doesn't matter all that much, and you can commiserate with other parents about adolescent attitude flare-ups without their insisting that you wouldn't have this problem if only you were co-sleeping.

One of the areas where I never quite fit the toddler parenting mold was preparedness. I carried a diaper bag when we still needed one, and would toss in a favorite toy or 2 if we were traveling to a kid-free home overnight, but other than that, I was never The Mom Who Has Everything. And while I sometimes wished I had a Band-Aid or box o' wipes handy, neither Twig nor I ever suffered for a lack of little prepackaged baggies of Teddy Grahams and goldfish crackers. Sure, I felt a little sheepish on those play dates where other moms ended up feeding both their own kid and mine from their Cheerios stash, but I also knew Twig was way more interested in the playground than the food, and probably wouldn't have thought to ask for a snack on her own if her friend wasn't having one right there in front of her. In fact, my first inkling that the local Supermom (a truly lovely person whose child was Twig's favorite preschool playmate) just might not win all the medals in the parenting Olympics came when we took the kids to lunch at a grocery store cafe, and Twig happily devoured her strawberries and yogurt without much prompting, while Supermom laboriously spread cream cheese on tortilla chips one by one for Superkid.

Point is, I was primed from the get-go to do some private eye-rolling at some of the French parenting norms that proved so hard for Le Billon to accept. Of course you don't make special kid-friendly food at every meal; if a child is hungry enough, s/he'll eat at least some of what everyone else is having. And naturally the after-school snack can wait till you get home; barring exceptional circumstances, there's no need for regularly dining a la car. (5 hour road trips? Sure, pack a few snacks. A 15-minute trip home from school or day care? Not so much.) Long story short (or at least shorter than it would be if I kept on keepin' on), Le Billon's observations about French food culture are fascinating to think about for anyone interested in the topic, whether or not they have young children, though I ended up without much sympathy for the author herself.

No comments:

Post a Comment