Monday, April 08, 2013
book talk: french kids eat everything by Karen Le Billon
I enjoyed every page. So much I actually slowed my reading towards the end because I didn't want the book to finish.
Aside from the tips and rules for encouraging children to eat well, it was Karen's humorous anecdotes of what it was like to be a North American living in France with a young family that had me hanging on her every word.
Karen convinced her French husband, Philippe, that it would be a good idea to move their young family from their Canadian home to live for one year in the small village in northern France where Philippe grew up. Her idea was met with resistance from Philippe and her in-laws who impressed upon her that living in France was not like holidaying in France.
Undeterred, Karen was thrilled when the time came to pack up with Sophie age four and Claire a toddler and immerse themselves in the French way of life.
One of my favorite moments in the book is when they arrive in France and attend an information afternoon at the early learning centre that Claire would attend. Karen describes in detail the trays of amuse-bouches "(a term used for cocktail nibbles that literally means "entertain the mouth")", she dived in and as she was enjoying each bite looked around to see the French parents watching her quizzically. The impeccably prepared food, featuring a selection of vegetable purees atop delicate puff pastry, was in fact...for the children. This was to be the first of many cultural learning curves Karen was to slide down.
I admired Karen's resolve to take every opportunity to embrace the French way of life even when her daughters were upset and it would have been momentarily easier to give in and hand them a North American style snack.
The book contains 10 rules for raising happy, healthy eaters but Karen also takes us into her interior world when she has many times throughout the year that she wishes she was back in Canada. The focus of the book is on children and food but it is also Karen's story of being a mother and wife and trying to find her way in France with her in-laws and socially.
Aside from the 10 rules, there were two considerations that stood out to me in the book. In France, the approach to food centres around appetite and pleasure, they go together. Without appetite, there is no pleasure in eating and one of the biggest appetite suppressants is snacking. As Karen learned, French mothers do not carry around snack packs for their children because the French don't snack and their children are taught that from a young age "it is ok to be hungry between meals". The only exception to this is the gouter which roughly translates as "snack" and is served to children in the afternoon at around 4.30pm. This may sound like a rigid approach but in reality what happens is that because there is no snacking children have great appetite for their meals and eat well at meal times.
Pleasure is a major consideration in the French approach to eating. The pleasure of thinking up the menu, of shopping at the market, selecting the produce, preparing the food, the pleasure of sitting together to share food and conversation and finally the pleasure of actually eating. As Karen learned, this sits in stark contrast to the associations of guilt and stress that accompany food for many North Americans (and may I add many others eating outside European traditions). Karen shows us that because the French diet is varied and balanced and sweet indulgences are kept in perspective there is no need to feel guilty about enjoying chocolate mousse or lemon tart on occasion. And the stress that Karen had felt about meal preparation when she lived in Canada soon melted when she changed her attitude and decided to focus on enjoying each aspect of menu planning, cooking and eating with her family.
These are the 10 rules that Karen wrote out and stuck to their fridge in France:
1. Parents you are in charge of food education
2. Avoid emotional eating - no food rewards or bribes
3. Parents schedule meals and menus. Kids eat what adults eat. No short order cooking
4. Eat family meals together. No distractions (television, computers, mobile phones)
5. Eat your veggies. Key: think variety
6. You don't have to LIKE it but you do have to TASTE it. Say this at every meal
7. No snacking. It's ok to feel hungry between meals
8. Slow food is happy food, as in - eat slow
9. Eat mostly real food. treats and special occasions ok
10. Remember eating is joyful - relax
At the end of the book you will find a selection of family friendly French inspired recipes to start your family on the way to ending fussiness and embracing the pleasure of eating real food including vegetables!
When I have chatted to friends about this book a couple of them (who haven't read it) have had the same response, "Oh the French they think they are so superior and it is all well and fine to have French rules in France but I doubt they will work outside of France." That my friends, is where you are wrong. There is much to be learned from this book and Karen writes about how she adapts what she has learnt in France when they return home to Vancouver where short lunch breaks, snacking and fast food dominate.
To read more about Karen and her book go to her website. Bon appetit!