Overhauling a toddler's eating habits: Jackie's success story!

Jackie (October Moon.net) wrote me after reading French Kids Eat Everything, with this inspiring story. Thanks Jackie! Your niece is lucky to have such a devoted aunt! :)

Jackie’s Story: As a pastry chef and an avid cook, most of my brain is channeled to all things food. So browsing in a bookstore one day, it was no surprise that the one book to catch my eye was ‘French Kids Eat Everything.’ However, I didn’t realize how much it applied to my life until I started reading it, and I’m glad I stumbled across this book at the time that I did.

Jackie’s sister and her daughter

I am a proud auntie to my two-year-old niece, and ever since she was in my sister’s belly, I called dibs on making her baby food. I researched, got tips and tricks, and when the time came, nothing could make me prouder. While other babies ate unidentifiable jarred baby foods, my niece ate homemade pureed carrots, green beans, beets, parsnips, peas, and sweet potatoes, all of them fresh and organic from the local farmers’ market.

As she moved on to solid foods, she was introduced to white rice, white bread, and pasta, and all her amazing veggie-eating habits flew out the window. Because I wasn’t the only one who fed her, I couldn’t control what she ate and who fed her what.

Needless to say, I started getting frustrated with cooking dinner, because I wanted her to eat better, but I would succumb to making her a separate dinner with pasta or bread just so that she would eat something. Anything!

Right when I was ready to give up entirely, I started reading ‘French Kids’ and realized how much I could relate to Karen’s situation. (Minus the moving to France part, of course!) I found myself nodding and agreeing to what Karen wrote, and I was immediately inspired to try harder. Just because I wasn’t the only cook in my niece’s life didn’t mean that I shouldn’t try on the nights that I did cook for her!

So armed with my newfound knowledge, I eagerly started to plan a weekly menu. I decided to go slowly and work on one rule at a time. First off, the most important rule was that kids and adults eat the same thing. No more making two different meals! (This, of course, also means less work for me!)

I started off by reintroducing pureed soups that featured one vegetable. Basic and simple. She wouldn’t go near a cauliflower puree, but she smacked her lips with her first taste of pureed tomato soup. She ate a few bites of butternut squash soup and then pushed it away, but the butternut squash and sweet potato puree garnered a tiny thumbs-up.

In between soups, I would still feed her her favorite carbs, but with vegetables thrown in. She devoured her spinach and egg fried rice, but she deliberately picked out the bok choy from her miso noodle soup. And I applauded her for trying a green bean on her own, even though she immediately threw it back on the plate right after it touched her tongue! We are taking things slowly after all.

The next step was to tell my sister that we should not give my niece any alternate options. If she did not eat her meal, she got nothing and would have to wait until breakfast. If she was hungry, we would give her the same food. Luckily, this only happened once so far. My sister and I felt bad, thinking that she was going to go hungry, but then we realized that not eating one dinner was not going to harm her. She’ll just go to bed and have breakfast when she woke up.

Feeling as if we were making a bit of progress, I went on to the next step – eating together at the dinner table. This is perhaps more my fault than anyone else’s. Reading about how the French ate together at the table was like a scolding to me. In fact, if I were to eat in France, I would be completely shunned.

Guilty of standing up while eating, I complete meals in 10 to 15 minutes, as I rush to tend to other things. During dinner, I eat at the same time that I wash dishes and clean up the kitchen. But I figured that my niece might be more willing to eat if we ate together, and if she saw us eating and enjoying the same food that she was eating.

It was practically torture to leave the dirty dishes in the kitchen, but I kept going. Everyone’s plate was prepared before I brought them to the dining table. Napkins, silverware, drinks were ready, as I was determined that I would not leave the table until everyone was done eating.

Sitting at the table with my family, I felt myself start to relax. I pushed the messy kitchen out of my mind and started to enjoy the food more. True, my dinner and kitchen time is now longer than my usual 15-minute dine and dash, but taking the extra time out to spend it with my family and appreciate my meal has made a huge difference. I might not be able to get in that hour of work on my computer, and the laundry would have to wait for the next day, but you know what? It’s okay. My niece has no excuse to get up from the table in the middle of dinner, because we are right there encouraging her to join us and to eat.

Whenever my niece finishes her dinner, I round off the meal with a platter of fresh fruit for all of us to share. My take on the French cheese and dessert courses!

While each meal is a hit or a miss, the successes have motivated me to continue with what I learned from reading ‘French Kids.’ The next step is “No snacks an hour before dinner!” It’s a little daunting, but I’m positive we can do it. Wish us luck!

Getting to Yum: Book cover

For those of you interested in the “behind-the-scenes story” behind book publishing, I thought I’d post this image. I’m working with teams at HarperCollins (US and Canada) and Little Brown (UK); we’re done proof reading and copy-editing is done, but we only recently finished making some last minute changes to the cover, reflecting some endorsements for the book that have just come in. I’m really excited…hope you like it! ;)

French Kids Eat Everything – Reading Guide

Little did I know when I moved to France with my family that our experience would end up being the subject of a university sociology class! But that’s exactly what happened after Professor Judy Randle read French Kids Eat Everything last year.

Judy decided to use the book in a sociology class she teaches at Santa Clara University; the students read the book, wrote a journal on their own eating habits, and reflected on how culture shapes our expectations about how, when, what, and why we eat.

As Judy wrote to me: “French Kids Eat Everything perfectly demonstrates how eating practices are not simply a matter of individual tastes, genetics, willpower, etc. but a product of social rituals and structures. So many lightbulbs go off in my students’ heads as they become aware of how they/we have been trained to eat as Americans. Their feedback indicates that reading the book is a perspective-changing and inspirational experience for them. This book is perfect for Intro Sociology courses because it touches on so many of the foundational concepts that are taught in that course, including culture, structure, socialization.”

Wow! I am truly humbled by this — it’s very exciting to think that it is useful in a university classroom. ;)

Here’s the “French Kids Eat Everything Reading Guide and Assignment” that Judy used with her class; it has some great questions that will be useful for teachers, or book clubs.


Fun "food art" for kids: One amazing Malaysian mom's story

A great way to encourage reluctant eaters is to make food visually appealing. .
One of my favourite examples is Samantha Lee, a Malaysian mom who makes stunning “bento box” style dishes for her children, like the one pictured here. Check out a video of her amazing “food art”, here, or visit her wonderful blog: eatzybitzy.com. She’s an amazing artist — and has attracted worldwide attention with her work (check out her blog for food art interpretations of Lady Gaga, Brave, and the Eiffel Tower!).

My attempts tend to be more mundane, but successful nonetheless. Simple happy faces are much appreciated in the Le Billon household! Bon Appétit! ;)Happy Face Salad

The Flavors That Connect Us

Thanks to Dr. Maya Adam for this wonderful guest post!

November and December are busy months in our kitchen. In the space of six weeks, we celebrate Diwali, Chanukah and Christmas, sometimes without stopping for breath. And in our family, celebrating means cooking!

As a child, I remember waiting impatiently for the samosas and sweet meats that my mother would make on Diwali. The smell of tiny oil lamps being lit still mingles in my memory with the scent of freshly crushed cardamom and the swishing silk of the saris that were worn on that special day. After marrying my dad, my mother learned to make German Christmas cookies and Marzipanstollen as a way of recreating his childhood memories. But something else happened too. By replicating the ceremonial foods of two very different childhoods, she ended up passing both traditions on to us. The holiday specialties she cooked weren’t exact replicas of the original, but they became authentic for us. Like a family scrapbook, the collection of familiar goodies that graced our table, at about the same time each year, helped record and pass on the story of our family.

When I married a Jewish South African, I learned how to make latkes and sufganiyot (jelly donuts) and our list of “soul foods” expanded yet again. The range of our holiday specialties grew slowly over the years as I learned to make things like matza ball soup and warm loaves of challah to celebrate the end of each workweek. Sometimes I learned to make things because I had to: making tasty gluten free challah after one of our children was diagnosed with Celiac Disease was a try-and-try-again project. But we’ve got it down pat now, and that bread will live on as the “authentic” challah of our children’s Friday night memories.

Different families have different ways of passing on traditions. Some involve attending services or religious studies. I have an uncle who meticulously updates a family tree that goes back five generations. These are all wonderful ways of letting our children know where they come from, that they are connected to others and that they are loved. Cooking and eating together can do the same.

Imagine if we could teach our children to enjoy the foods of many different world cultures? Even if that was their only connection to otherwise unfamiliar traditions, could it make them more accepting of the unknown? They say that “humanizing” the unfamiliar can make us more open-minded and compassionate. What better way to feel connected to our fellow human beings than by sharing traditions through food?

Feeling inspired? Register for Dr. Maya Adam’s free 5-week online course through Stanford University, Child Nutrition and Cooking 2.0. Keep in touch on Facebook and Twitter (@justcookforkids).

About the Author
Maya Adam is a medical doctor who teaches courses on child health and nutrition at Stanford University. She is the Founder and Executive Director of Just Cook For Kids, a non-profit organization trying to inspire a return to simple, economical home cooking for families everywhere. As a mother of three young children, she is also proud to be the family cook and chief party planner.