French Food Rules

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving! We’re getting together with some friends from church and so Scott and I are cooking a third of the menu items; he has the entire week off which is heaven! We’ll be making Sweet Potatoes (with a quinoa and nut crumble topping), Pecan Pie, Caramel Apple Pie, Holiday Quinoa Salad, maple syrup sweetened Cranberry Sauce, and Mashed Potatoes. It’s gonna be great!

I recently read a book by Karen Le Billon titled, “French Kids Eat Everything”. It’s about a Canadian woman who moves her family to her husbands hometown in northern France for a year(they are university professors and would be on a one year sabbatical), and she is surprised by the food education she receives, along with her two young daughters. Karen came up with ten ‘French Food Rules’ based off her observations of the French food culture; below is a photo of her rules:

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Here is a closer look at that list of rules with some of the ideas/thoughts I gleaned from the text that followed each rule; the text in italics are my personal thoughts:

French Food Rule #1 You are in charge of food education Don’t play with food. Kind but firm. Authoritative parenting. 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. Don’t use food as a bribe, reward or punishment. Don’t give it attention if they don’t want to eat it. Don’t label them a ‘picky eater”. Rather tell them they are ‘learning to eat”. Serve veggies every day; one day raw, the next cooked. Fried food no more than once a week(we don’t really do fried so this won’t be difficult). Real fish at least once per week(This, on the other hand, will be very difficult considering I don’t like fish.But I think it’s a nice idea 🙂). Fruit is dessert most days; sugar desserts, once per week(really like this one!). French Food Rule #3 Parents schedule meals and menus. Kids eat what adults eat: no substitutes and no short-order cooking.(Amen!)  I used to do this all the time when we only had our one child. If Elisabeth didn’t want what I made for dinner, I’d warm her up Dino Buddies :). Yikes! I’d pop 5 chicken nuggets in the microwave; and I thought that was a healthy substitute! But what I eventually realized was that I was hurting her by doing that, not just with health and nutrition, but because I always had a substitute for her and never made her try what we had, she didn’t develop those tastes early on like her siblings did, and still now, even though it’s 5 years later and she’s ten-years-old, she’s my one that still has a harder time trying and liking new foods. But, as she is maturing, and as we talk more about foods, about their flavor, texture, color, etc,  she is recognizing the benefits of trying new, nutritious foods and she is making a conscious effort to do more trying, and liking, which is wonderful! Americans tend to be anxious about food and to identify health, nuturtion and dieting as the key issues they associate with eating. The French, almost never mention any of these topics when asked for their thoughts on food. Rather, they talk about pleasure, tasty food, socializing, culture, identity and fun. French Food Rule #4 Eat family meals together. No distractions! We’ve always been pretty good about not having any TV, phone, electronics of any sort etc. at the dinner table and I’m glad because we have some of the best interaction with the family over dinner together; in fact, when my kids ask me what my favorite thing was each day (they ask after I ask them first), my answer is almost always, ‘dinner with the family’. And it’s true. French Food Rule #5 Eat vegetables of all colors of the rainbow. Don’t eat the same main dish more than once per week.  French food rule #6 For picky eaters: “you don’t have to like it, but you do have to taste it.” Say at every meal. (I love this phrase and use it often!) I didn’t have to teach my daughters the patience they needed to wait in line at the bank or grocery store because snacks would achieve the same result, without stress. (true!) Don’t fuss. Say, “you haven’t tasted it enough times yet.” Try to serve it as a soup or puree for taste if they don’t like texture. French Food Rule #7 No snacking! It’s okay to feel hungry between meals. ( 4 meals , or three meals and one snack. Limit snacks, ideally one per day, two max & more for small children, and not within one hour of meals) It’s okay to feel hungry between meals. Eat until you are satisfied rather than full. “A good meal must start with hunger” -proverb.  Hunger is the best seasoning. North American children are given anything to stave off hunger. French children are promised they’ll eat well at next meal(really like this!). Even with newborns, they only eat every 3 hours. French learn self control early on. Never have to ask to reach for a fruit or vegetable. But they do have to ask permission for anything else. If needed, keep family food diary for a week. Track what and how much the family eats. Rebalance snacks and meals if needed. More or less of some foods? French Food Rule #8 Take your time, for both cooking and eating. Slow food is happy food. Instead of saying “I’m full”, say “I’m not hungry anymore.” Parents encourage kids to ‘eat until they are satisfied.’ Ask, “are you satisfied?” or “have you had enough?” “Cooking can be an act of love and delight, or It can be yet another exercise in racing through life on automatic pilot- never stopping for a moment to notice, feel or taste. Cooking performed as an act of love brings us renewed energy and vigor” – Janet Luhrs, The Simple Living Guide Point out the smell, appearance, texture. Have table all set and ready, classical or peaceful music. Once sitting, sit. Eat slow. Visit. Praise those who eat well rather than punishing those who don’t. Don’t be anxious or create a negative emotional setting. French Food Rule #9 Eat mostly real, homemade food, and save treats for special occasions. (Hint: anything processed is not ‘real’ food.)  French Food Rule #10 Remember eating is joyful- Relax! Here are some specific things that we’re implementing at home:  *Less snacking(More veggies. If you do snack make sure it’s not within an hour of your meal time) *Do more 3 course meals: salad, entree, fruit. Don’t bring out entree until after we’ve had time to eat salad. Treat once a week.  *Don’t use food as bribe, reward or punishment which, “imbues food with emotional baggage; children later on will attempt to deal with or bury their emotions through eating; eating disorders.” *Don’t force to eat, no coercion, fuss. *Only eat at table! Not in car, standing or on the run…this will mean cleaner cars and strollers. Great book with lots of good ideas on food culture!

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