So how much can the French teach us about how our kids should eat?
Plenty, according to US author and journalist, Pamela Druckerman, who observed French parenting philosophies at close quarters while raising her three young children in Paris.
She says she couldn’t help but notice French children were so much calmer and better-behaved than her own and so decided to find out why.
The result of those interviews and observations was her best-selling memoir, French Children Don’t Throw Food, and the latest follow-up French Parents Don’t Give In, 100 parenting tips from Paris. Both books have sparked debate over whether the French really do have the edge on other nations’ parents!
Pamela has provided her top five tips for M&B on creating healthy eating habits and appetites in your little ones, gleaned from her French observations.
We also asked nutritionist and M&B expert Dr Joanna McMillan gives an Australian perspective on the French way!
1. Just one snack a day
French kids typically eat four times a day: at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and the afternoon snack (called the gouter). It turns out that if a child doesn’t snack much, she’s actually hungry at mealtimes. It starts a ‘virtuous’ cycle.
Joanna says: “I couldn’t agree more. I believe we snack far too much in Australia and it all starts as children. Kids learn that the minute they are hungry, or even just feel like eating, they can. They must learn to wait and be truly hungry by mealtimes and yes then lo and behold they will eat more! My only qualifier is that most Aussie kids will also have a mid-morning snack at recess.”
2. Serve food in courses, vegetables first
Present a hungry child with a steaming bowl of broccoli, or a bowl of sugar-snap peas, before anything else. She is more likely to eat them this way, rather than as a side dish alongside pasta.
Joanna says: “I see this potentially working with younger kids, but older kids will see right through it. I prefer not to make too much of a fuss over the veg and present them as something that is just part and parcel of the meal, not something to be tolerated or forced down on the side. But give it a shot!”
3. Just one taste
Tell your child she has to take at least one bite of every dish that’s on the table. Explain that this is how she’ll learn to enjoy all kinds of foods. Serve a new dish alongside something she already likes. Be calm and even playful about the tasting rule. You don’t want her to eat an entire artichoke once, under duress. You want her to gradually learn to like artichokes.
Joanna says: “I totally agree. I have always had a rule with my kids that they don’t need to finish everything on the plate, but they must taste everything. Neither can they say they don’t like something before even tasting it.”
4. Talk about food
Treat food as an endless conversation starter. When the cake collapses or the stew is a disaster, laugh about it together. At the supermarket, take a walking tour of the produce department, and let your child choose some vegetables – which you later cook together. Above all, keep the food chat positive. If she abruptly announces that she doesn’t like pears anymore, calmly ask what she’s decided to like instead.
Joanna says: “We don’t do enough of this. Food and mealtimes should be positive experiences and if you continually allow mealtimes to be a battle over the vegies, you’ll miss the pleasures of family dinners. I always tell my kids that dinner is my favourite time of the day – when we get to sit together and chat about our day.”
5. Keep it short and sweet
Dinner is not a hostage situation. Don’t expect young kids to stay at the table for longer than 20 or 30 minutes. When they ask to be liberated, let them go. With age comes longer meals.
Joanna says: “I do agree but there is a fine balance. My six-year-old would yo-yo up and down from the table if he were allowed to. I do set of rule of, once you leave the table dinner is over.”