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The story of our precious little girl's 17 months of life with Trisomy 18 (July 4, 2010 - December 15, 2011) and of us, re-learning to live "after Lilly."
"I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made ...." Psalm 139:14

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Book Recommendation: French Kids Eat Everything

When I was little, I remember my dad making a comment that French men were "wimps."  I asked why and he responded "they have to be, with that accent."  I accepted that and went on with my day.  Years later, I was doing a lot of research on WWII.  When I came to accounts of the Nazi invasion of Paris, I read about the total lack of resistance the French soldiers.  That confirmed to me what Dad had said about French men being wimps.

All photos from 1994, taken with a 35 mm camera, in the pre-digital camera age!

me in front of the Arc De Triomphe
In August of 1994, I traveled with some of my family to Europe.  We went to Switzerland, France, and Italy.  Switzerland was clean and beautiful.  Italy (Venice) was fascinating.  Paris, France was ... dirty!  There was dog mess on the streets and sidewalks, cigarette butts everywhere, black exhaust spewing from the cars, scaffolding covered the old buildings as workers cleaned the outside, etc.  It was not the beautiful city I had imagined it to be.  In fact, when we arrived on the train, the station walls were covered with posters featuring an ad for some play or movie that had a woman's big nude derriere on it.  (We saw this poster every where we turned it seemed.  It became the butt of a joke, pun intended.)

When I purchased something in a shop, I gave the clerk my best "merci."  He looked at me scornfully and said "You're welcome."  After we left, my stepsister C. (who had spent time in France) explained to me that everyone there knew I was an American.  She pointed at my white Reebok hightops.  Oh.  I suddenly noticed that only the American tourists wore sneakers.  Proper French people wore leather shoes.

On our way to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower
One of my first meals in Paris was at a sidewalk cafe.  I ordered a hamburger.  The waiter brought it and put it down in front of me with a flourish.  I looked at it in horror.  There was a fried egg on top of the burger!  My stepsister noticed my expression and explained that it was supposed to be like a jockey riding a horse.  I didn't get that one at all.  But I ate the egg first - by itself - then enjoyed my burger.

(Before all you France lovers get too angry with me, I assure you I still found the city of Paris interesting.  Napoleon's tomb was one of the most amazing things I have seen in my life.  Ever.  And when we later stopped in the town of Lyon, I found the people to be friendly and the area simply beautiful.)

Entrance to Napoleon's Tomb
On my April Book List I mentioned that I found the book French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon to be utterly fascinating.  (The subtitle is: "How our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banned snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthy eaters.")  This book totally gave me a new picture of the French.  Not only about their food, but about their whole culture.  (So interesting that I am going to have Tabby read it as a school assignment!)

Karen Le Billon, the author, is from Canada and married to a French man.  She convinced him to move back to the little town he came from in France for a year.  They took their two little girls with them.  It quickly became apparent that Karen and her daughters did not fit in with they way they ate.

Le Billon noticed that French kids not only seemed to enjoy eating, but ate a huge variety of foods.  They are expected to eat everything they are served uncomplainingly.  They eat well. Their obesity rate is one of the lowest in the developed world.  Le Billon's quest to understand these differences later became this book.  Note that there also a bunch of recipes at the end of the book.

I've  been sitting here for 30 minutes writing and have realized this post will be way too long if I were to write about everything I found interesting in the book.  So I'm going to jump ahead and tell you that Le Billon came up with 10 rules to get children to eat well.  I am not going to list those here, because I don't want any copyright issues, but I will tell you they are all summarized on the back cover of French Kids Eat Everything and discussed in detail in the book.  As Le Billon began to apply these rules to her children - and herself! - they all began to eat better.  As an anti-most-vegetable-eater myself, I was fascinated to read how they began to like vegetables.  To the point that the children now list beets, broccoli, and creamed spinach among their favorite foods!  Now that makes me feel like I did eating veggies when I was a kid - I want to gag.  But I also want to learn to eat them better.  I hope to apply a lot of what I read to my husband and I and Hunter.  Tabby likes way more veggies than we do.  And Solomon likes a variety of foods so far.  Of course this book isn't just about eating veggies.

My brother P. at the Musee Des Invalides (we like doing goofy stuff like this)
The French treat food differently than we do here in the U.S.  They take a long time to eat meals, savoring the food.  A small portion of a delicious dessert savored is the norm rather than the huge portions Americans gobble down.  Children are taught to eat - and enjoy - a variety.  Now that doesn't mean they like everything from the start - but instead of giving up that a child hates something, the parents persist and will serve that food again.  They say things like "Oh you just haven't learned to like that food yet."  The French do not like to eat by themselves.  They do not eat in a rush while driving or walking.  They don't give their kids baggies full of snacks to munch on in the stroller.  Kids eat ONE snack a day.  Food presentation is important - they eat off real dishes and always use tablecloths.

How about school lunches?  The French National Ministry of Education states:  "School is a privileged place in which children are better educated about good taste, nutrition, and food culture.  Good taste must be taught and learned, and can only be acquired over time."  The children are served hot meals on real dishes at tables covered with tablecloths.  "Vegetables had to be served at every meal: raw one day, cooked the next.  Fried food could be served no more than once per week.  Real fish had to be served at least once per week.  Fruit was served for dessert every second meal, at a minimum; sugary desserts were allowed--but only once per week." (Le Billon, p. 42)  A nutritionist and committee of parent volunteers oversee meal planning.  And, instead of asking their children "how was school today?" parents ask "how did you like your lunch today?"

Notre Dame - with the annoying for picture taking scaffolding in front of it
Food is an experience to be enjoyed and shared with others.  That thought alone is different for me.  I did not grow up in a house where we placed much emphasis on food - other than it should be healthy.  In fact, my mom would lament that she would rather just swallow a pill than eat because food was such a hassle.  I know I often feel annoyed when it is time to stop what I am doing to prepare food, yet again, for my family.  (Rotten attitude I know.)  I have some "foodie" friends and am always amused when they get excited about different foods they can make or want to try. ( Now I realize - that is really one way they can bless their family.)  I don't care a lot about food variety.  In fact, I ate the same breakfast everyday for 20 years!  But I know that everyone else in my family, except Hunter, do like a variety.

This book has inspired me to "change my food ways". To help me further on this quest, I have just purchased Le Billon's newest book, Getting to YUM: The 7 Secrets to Raising Eager Eaters and look forward to reading that to gain additional tips and recipes.  Though I don't know much about it yet, at Le Billon's website,, she offers both a baby taste training plan and a toddler taste training plan.  (What about ME?  How about an adult taste training plan?)

What about you?  Do you have a family full of picky eaters?  Are you one?  Would you like to change that?  If so, reading French Kids Eat Everything is an inspiring place to start!

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  1. I love food. I love eating. I love cooking. IF ONLY SOMEONE else would clean up my messes.... :)

    1. I would much rather clean up the messes than cook! Maybe we can work something out. ;)

  2. Interesting! I have heard of that book I will have to read it. We do like a variety of food but we are bad about eating our breakfast and lunch in the kitchen or outside or other places. We always have dinner together though:) Some of my kids are picky but I feel pretty relaxed about it and that eventually they will learn to like other stuff. Thanks for sharing about the book!

    1. Thanks for your comment Tesha! I like your relaxed attitude about food. :)