What do your kids eat for breakfast? Why the American way might be better…

Much of what I have to say on this blog praises the French approach to food, which I generally find fairly inspiring. Their meals are quite healthy, and they eat a good variety of food, but they still like their treats (although they rarely snack). It’s a ‘middle way’ approach that seems balanced.

But not everything about the French approach is perfect. For example, one thing I’m not so fond of is French breakfasts. Most French people tend to have a ‘Continental-style’ breakfast: juice, baguette (white flour) with butter (or jam, or honey). Coffee or (cafe au lait) is usually the choice of hot beverage for adults; kids might have milk (or even chocolate milk). As a treat, the French sometimes eat pastries (like croissants or a yummy pain au chocolat), but usually not every day. Fresh fruit appears sometimes, but the classic ‘American breakfast’ standards–like eggs and bacon, or oatmeal–aren’t customarily eaten. In fact, the French word for breakfast (petit déjeuner) sums this up: petit means little, and déjeuner means lunch, so breakfast is like a (very) ‘little lunch’.

Our family tends to have ‘American’ breakfasts, as I find them to be more nutritious and filling. In winter months, especially, I feel better sending my kids off to school having had oatmeal with blueberries, or scrambled eggs and whole-grain toast.  In fact, I wonder how the French habit of breakfast developed; it seems so much less nutritious than their other meals. Maybe it’s because they have such large lunches (40% of daily caloric intake, on average), whereas we have relatively smaller lunches.

No one country has the ‘perfect’ approach to eating. But we can learn good ideas from different cultures. I do think the French approach to school lunches is better than the average American approach (but so too is the Japanese). However, our family breakfasts will continue to be proudly ‘American’.

10 thoughts on “What do your kids eat for breakfast? Why the American way might be better…

  1. Interesting. In Israel a typical breakfast includes Israeli salad (chopped cucumbers, tomatoes and parsley, lightly dressed with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper), a hard boiled egg, fresh feta cheese, and yogurt or cottage cheese. Usually accompanied with a slice of pita bread or nowadays people have moved over to healthier whole wheat bread. Who says you can’t have salad for breakfast? My kids love Israeli salad since it’s easy for them to eat and is light and refreshing.

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  2. Your family has the hearty breakfasts because nutritious lunches cannot be counted on in north america. I prefer the french way because I’m not really that hungry at breakfast having just woken up. Grains are grains in many ways and North Americans eat too many of them. Portion size is important and eating bacon for breakfast is a stunningly unhealthy way of beginning a day. I like eggs or salmon for lunch. I never ate better in Paris – an omelette so soft and buttery, their crispy and soft croissants, even the coffee. Back in North America there’s just no comparison, although Toronto has a lot of options. Now, how can north american children switch to those healthy french lunches??? Even in highly regulated Canada it seems unlikely that the government would mandate it – I have too many bad memories of pizza and poutine.

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  3. Ha! I loved this post, because as much as I’m willing to bow to the gastronomic superiority of the French in many matters, I don’t love their idea of breakfast. I’m Romanian born (reared in Canada), and my husband is German, and I’ll take Romanian or German breakfasts any day! The Romanian breakfast is typical of the Balkans — generally some combination of bread, feta cheese, yoghurt, salami or other cold cuts, soft or hard-boiled eggs, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, onion (at least for me!), olives, spreads, and so on. It could be as simple as a pretzel with butter or dipped in yoghurt, or the full mezze spread. But in general, it is filling but also light and fresh tasting, unlike cooked American breakfasts. I like the German breakfast for its higher proportion of whole grains, both in the bread they buy, and in the muesli. I like both for their treatment of eggs, since boiled or poached eggs seem lighter to me than fried or scrambled.

    And even though I had cereal as a child in Canada, often still do, I actually really don’t like sweet breakfasts. I find they don’t taste like real meals, and don’t keep me going for very long. (Hence: snacking!) I prefer to eat savory leftovers for breakfast, or even soup (as in Asia). The one time I had to deal with a French breakfast for several days in a row was on a trip to the Provence… we stayed in the most delightful bed and breakfast, the owner lovingly made us fresh crepes daily and presented us with gorgeous baskets of delicious bread and containers of various exquisite jams, and my body felt sluggish and heavy the entire time. To my horror, two days back in Germany, with their whole-wheat seed-filled dark-brown sandpaper bread, and I felt wonderful again. Sigh.

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  4. Excellent post Karen! I agree…I don’t think one country has it perfect which is why we’re so lucky that we can take the best from countries all over the world!

    Have I mentioned that I can’t wait for your book to come out?! LOL!!! I just love your writing style and your approach to talking about food and eating! Thanks for your fabulous blog!

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  5. Vegetables for breakfast! I love this idea, Julia! http://smartparentprogram.blogspot.com/2010/07/vegetables-for-breakfast.html

    It’s quite common in south-east Asia, I know. And it actually makes a lot of sense. Although I think they tend to eat them cooked rather than raw. I don’t think salad for breakfast would work in our house, even for me (a die-hard salad lover)! ;)

    Actually, the French used to eat vegetables for breakfast…in soup. A classic breakfast dish was ‘bouillon’ (broth — either meat, or vegetable, or both). That might be something worth reviving!

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  6. You’re right, Ben that white flour is positively addictive! I know my kids love nothing better than fresh whiter-than-white baguette! However, I keep serving whole grains (although it feels like a losing battle some days, I have to admit). Actually, we’re lucky in North America, because we have a really great variety of whole-grain breads to choose from; there’s something for everyone (my older daughter likes ‘kamut bread’ better than whole wheat, for some reason). In France the bread choices tend to be more limited, especially in smaller towns and villages. But that’s changing…even over the past 10 years I’ve noticed more whole grain breads in the bakery in our village. Even my in-laws have started to eat them!

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  7. Great post. I like that you’re taking the best of both cultures.

    Some Asian cultures, like Korea, go one step further and serve vegetables for breakfast, usually with rice in a stir-fry. European/American cultures seem to think certain foods are for breakfast and others are for lunch and dinner. Most cultures just see food as food.

    Here is an article I wrote on serving kids vegetables for breakfast. http://smartparentprogram.blogspot.com/2010/07/vegetables-for-breakfast.html

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  8. yum …. French breakfasts …. fat, starch and sugar … the key to making the pastries is the special 00 French white flour which is whiter than white … should be a class A drug really …. and I still make French style cafe-au-lait (much better than the scorched Italian version) ….

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