I recently started reading “French Kids Eat Everything” by Karen La Billon. In the book, Karen Le Billon was able to alter her children’s deep-rooted, decidedly unhealthy North American eating habits while they were living in France for a year.
It was eye opening.
Caleb isn’t necessarily a picky eater but he doesn’t eat as well, or have as varied of a diet, as I would like. We fall into the same rut as most parents in the United States – chicken nuggets, french fries, snacks at their demand.
But it doesn’t feel right to me. I know in my gut that he should be eating better. He needs to be eating better. I keep flashing back to my relatives who absolutely refused – and still refuse – to eat anything other than french fries). But I don’t want to make eating a chore or force eating. That doesn’t go well. I love food. I love cooking. I love trying new things.
And I want my son to have that same love, passion, and appreciation for food.
While I do find fault with some of the practices of the French (particularly when it comes to breastfeeding as France has the lowest breastfeeding rate in the western world), there are some takeaways from the book itself that I am implementing.
Here are some of the things that I’m taking from the book and incorporating into my home:
- Creating a ritual out of mealtime. The book only briefly talked about this, but I want to create more of a specialness around mealtime. The author talked about special music, dressing the table, lighting, and I want to add that into my home. I’ve purchased a lovely tablecloth for our dining room table, along with a child-sized glass set of tableware, and a child-sized set of silverware.
My goal is to, and this will be Caleb’s job after the first few times, set the table – pull the tablecloth out, set the plates, the silverware, add a candle – then I will be in charge of lighting the candle and clearing the table. The tablecloth will only come out during mealtime to really set this up as our family rhythm.
I’m hoping this will also trigger in Caleb’s mind that mealtime is special. I want it to be a moment where he calms down, sits, and converses with me about his day.
- Ending mindless snacking. The author wrote about how there were 4 set periods when French kids eat during the day – and snacking in between was highly discouraged. There was breakfast, lunch, a snack around 4 p.m., then dinner later in the evening.
In our household now, we snack more than we should – pretty much all day. To be fair, my son is usually snacking on fruit but that also means that when a meal is served, he isn’t as hungry. I’d like to cut down snacking to once per day and then, hopefully, he’ll eat more at mealtime.
- Meal plan. I’ve tried to meal plan multiple times, but I’ve never stuck with it. My taste buds dictate what I eat in a day and what I’ve planned usually isn’t what I’m craving. But I need to meal plan. Not only to help me budget my money better but allow a greater diversity of food into our house. Meal planning allows me to visualize what we are eating each day and see if we are having too much of something, for example, if we’re eating spaghetti three days a week.
The book talks about how you should try to avoid repeating things – like if you have chicken for lunch, don’t have it for dinner that day. Or if you have chocolate for dessert, then have fruit the next day. By meal planning, I can stay more mindful of that.
I’ll also be more mindful of what new foods we are eating and be able to make a greater effort in introducing new items.
- No more fast food. This is always my biggest struggle. It’s so easy for me to swing through a drive-thru and order something (breakfast is where I struggle the most). I know that fast food is unhealthy. It’s also a waste of money and setting a bad example for my son.
But I haven’t been able to stop myself. It stops now. Meal planning will help, I think, as I’ll be better prepared for when mealtimes come around. Banning fast food, with only the occasional treat when grandma comes over, will also help keep meals tied to our dining room table. Going along with that, I’m putting a stop to eating in the car, eating standing up, and eating in front of the tv.
So, even though my child isn’t French, I’m going to try these things. Maybe instead of “French Kids Eat Everything” it’ll soon be “Caleb Eats Everything”.
What would you like to change about the eating habits of your family?