I recently read Pamela Druckerman’s book, Bringing Up Bébé. Druckerman is an American, married to a Brit, and raising her children in Paris.
(WARNING – This is a long, text-heavy post, so if you can’t make it to the end, at least scroll down to the lunch menu from a French elementary school. You won’t believe what they serve for lunch in school in France. Your taste buds will turn green with envy!)
The author introduces us to the methods of French parenting that result in babies sleeping through the night, kids who eat well-rounded meals, and children, even teens, who are well-mannered and pleasant.
This is not a comprehensive book review. It is not even an incomprehensive book review. It is merely a discussion about the way we think about food for our children. Druckerman covered many other topics, but I am going to focus strictly on her views of the food and eating habits of French children. Because I like food. Especially French food. And eating. And I like to focus on it!
Set Meal Times – Julia Child said, “In France, cooking is a serious art form and a national sport.” The quality of their food is vitally important, as are their fixed meal times. They eat a light breakfast, followed by lunch at noon, a goûter or snack at 4:30, and dinner at 8:00. Mealtime in France is a social, leisure time, allowing people to enjoy their food, family, and friends, and to savor each delicious, French bite.
Snacking – According to Druckerman, all-day snacking is non-existent in France, for the adults and for the kids, too. On the contrary, in America, children don’t go anywhere without snacks. There are snacks during school. Snacks at soccer practice. Snacks in the car. We wonder why our kids don’t want to eat what we’re serving for dinner. Maybe, after so many snacks, they’re simply not hungry. If they come to the table hungry, perhaps they will be more apt to try new tastes, new textures, new foods.
Socializing at Meal Time – What constitutes a meal? In America, it is often cafeteria food, fast food or a pre-packaged, frozen meal laden with sodium and artificial flavorings with little nutritional value. Often, the family does not eat together. And the food is consumed quickly. That is one of my biggest challenges – getting my kids to linger after dinner. If you have thoughts on how to keep them at the table to socialize when they’ve finished eating, short of tying them to their chairs, I’d be happy to hear from you.
Taste Everything – At our table, you don’t have to eat everything, but you must taste everything. If you don’t care for the main course, then you fill up on the vegetables and the side dishes that are served. But you still have to try everything, because, although you didn’t like it last month, this is a new month, and your tastes may have changed. Perhaps this is the day that you will begin to like beets or Brussels sprouts!
Kids’ Meals – In the US, there are special meals for kids, at restaurants and at home. In France, Druckerman reports that the children eat what the parents eat. They are taught to appreciate fine foods from a young age. I am a firm believer in this policy. I will make dinner, but I am not a short-order cook. Nothing special will be prepared for picky eaters. Ask my kids. They’ll tell you. I’m a mean mother.
Vegetables First? – I always try to place the vegetables and/or salad on the table first. At dinner time, the kids should be hungry. Let them start eating the vegetables as soon as they are seated. They’re happy because they’re eating. I’m happy because they’re eating vegetables. Everybody’s happy! Tout le monde est heureux!
School Lunch – Below is last week’s lunch menu from the schools in Ville-Romans, located in the Rhone Valley of southeastern France. I wanted to be certain that the wonderful school lunches Druckerman references in her book were not limited to the Parisian children, and it appears that they are available throughout France. I want to eat lunch with these kids. Every day. For the rest of my life! And the beverage choice? No hormone-filled milk. No sports drinks with artificial sweeteners. No choice. Just plain and simple, healthy water!
Somehow, this post went from a book discussion to a full rant on my preferences for feeding my children. Druckerman and I both make generalizations. Not all French children eat well-rounded meals. Not all American children eat snacks all day long and fast-food for dinner. I will be first to admint that occasionally, I feed my family fast food or pre-packaged goods, but we try to make that the exception and not the rule.
Although I may be a Francophile, I do not believe that simply because it is French, it is better. However, Druckerman’s cross-cultural examination of the way we feed our children and cultivate their attitudes about food and meals has convinced me, that in this case, the French way may be the healthier way, nutritionally and emotionally.
America is a fast-food nation. France is not. Not yet, anyway.
Food – the taste, the nutrition, and the social/leisure aspect of meals – the French simply care more about it than we do.
Back to the Bringing Up Bébé, the impetus of this lengthy discourse. If you have any interest in discovering what life is like in Paris with children, and learning how parents in another country raise their kids, it is an entertaining, fast-moving, easy-to-read book.
I have to run along now. I’m off to McDonald’s for lunch. Just kidding! Lunch is leftover Shrimp Scampi. Recipe to follow tomorrow, if I can finish the laundry in time.