I’ll admit that I have never been a fan of the French. Call it American brain washing, social stereotyping or that I just haven’t rubbed elbows with enough countrymen. Though I love to travel like Paula Deen loves “buttah,” Paris, Provence and Cannes holds no allure for me.
But color me intrigued when Pamela Druckerman, an American author transplanted in Paris, asserts that French children eat well-rounded meals that are more likely to include braised leeks than chicken nuggets. In fact, she was so impressed by multiple facets of French parenting that she wrote Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.
Cue mad dash to the library and gobbling up every word after the kids were in bed.
Here are the secrets to creating mini-gourmands and not raising picky eaters according to Druckerman, who chummed it up with French mommies, daycare providers, waitresses and philosophers.
First solid foods for babies are vegetables.
Babies are not started off on bland foods like rice cereal, a typical first food in the U.S. Instead, they are served up a slew of veggies, typically steamed and pureed green beans, spinach, carrots, peeled zucchini and the white part of leeks. Moreover, the French view vegetables as a tasty dish, something to be savored, not just served on the side.
Children receive a “culinary education.”
French moms and dads believe that it’s their parental duty to introduce their children to a wide variety of flavors. Actually, they don’t just introduce, but encourage their offspring to appreciate the smell, taste and texture of each food they eat. They prepare each meal in courses, and with variety and presentation in mind – if the plate looks boring, add some color with tomato or avocado.
French parents don’t give in to picky eaters.
If a child doesn’t like something, that’s fine. For now. But no doubt that food show up on their plate again in another form. French parents don’t crumple in the face of a picky eater. They persist. Foods are served time and again, in different pairings and cooked different ways until a child acquires a taste for it. Faced with a stubborn-faced toddler, a French mom is advised to stay calm and cheerful. One smooth mom tactic is to ask her child to just smell the food. If that doesn’t entice a wrinkle-nose diner, then the mom usually requires the child to “just taste it.”
Replacement foods are not offered. If you adopt this tactic as your own, you may get concerned about your child eating enough food. Never fear advises a French government handbook, “Don’t panic. You can keep giving him milk to be sure he’s getting enough food.”
Children are not given processed food.
Fresh food is the norm – fruits, veggies, fresh baguettes, cheese, etc. Says Druckerman, “…just going with the middle-class flow, my kids have never tasted high-fructose corn syrup or long-life bread. Instead of fruit roll-ups, they eat fruit.”
Kids eat on a schedule.
From three months old, children are gently encouraged to get on the national dining schedule – 8 a.m. breakfast, 12 p.m. lunch, 4 p.m. snack and 8 p.m. dinner. The afternoon snack is the only snack children are given and thus, arrive at the table hungry.
Meals are served in courses.
When kids arrive hungry at the table, the first thing they are usually given – as an appetizer or first course – is fruit (at breakfast) or vegetables (lunch or dinner). Giving the healthiest foods first is genius! Hunger puts the brakes on pickiness and mom can be assured her child is getting the nutrients he/she needs. (I’ve tried this multiple times and it almost always works.)
There are no children’s menus.
Most restaurants in France do not have children’s menus. Kids are expected to eat the same types of meals as adults.
Chocolate is a daily staple.
Cakes and cookies are often served with lunch or as an afternoon snack. In fact, according to Druckerman, a common afternoon snack for children in France is a chocolate sandwich. This is a bar of chocolate wedged into a baguette. (Yum, yum – let me wipe the drool from my chin.) Chocolate milk is often served for breakfast with fruit and a baguette, and kids are allowed to eat all the candy or sweets they want at special occasions. Since dessert is a daily part of life for them, they aren’t as inclined to gorge themselves into sickness.
I love this book – so much that I’m going to buy it (and that’s saying a lot considering I’m a platinum library member). I don’t agree 100% with all the French ways, but there’s definitely wisdom to be learned from other cultures. If you too want to hear learn how the French get their babies to sleep through the night by three months old, how their kids entertain themselves and how French parents keep their romance alive, you must read the entire book. Druckerman weaves her experiences, interviews and anecdotes so masterfully Bringing Up Bebe is nothing short of a parenting page turner.