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: 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.

A family fantasy…kids that happily eat everything!

Courtney wrote to me recently (I love it when people do that), to let me know how much she enjoyed French Kids Eat Everything. When I heard about her experiences, I asked her to write a guest post. Thanks so much Courtney!

Just like any other housewife, I fantasize on a regular basis. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my fantasies are undeniably colorful and juicy. I often daydream about a fairy tale land where my family gathers around a well-dressed table at dinner, where I serve gourmet, delicious, healthy dishes that my children happily gobble up using real utensils in their chubby fingers with smiles across their round faces. My fantasies look much like the Hidden Valley salad dressing commercials, where kids not only eat their vegetables; they can’t get enough of them.

So when a good friend of mine recommended French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon, it was like delving into my own personal 50 Shades of Grey. I couldn’t put it down. Like a curious teen with a naughty magazine, I poured over the pages at night while the rest of my family slept. The faraway land in my fantasies wasn’t a mirage; it was France. And the kids in the Hidden Valley ads were actually skipping along the streets of Paris to their fancy schools where they would salivate over cauliflower puree and beet salad.

My reality was the opposite. My husband and I would coax, bribe, serenade, and threaten our toddler in fruitless efforts to get food—any food—into his tight-lipped trap. I couldn’t remember the last time my son had eaten a vegetable, unless ketchup counts. But I was instantly hopeful after reading Le Billon’s story that maybe, just maybe, it was possible to change our dining room scene. I completely engulfed myself in her book, to the point where I actually started to feel French. I bought more than my fair share of baguettes and began to turn up my nose at the boxes of processed junk littering the grocery store aisles. Americans! I’d think to myself in disgust.

But where in the world did we actually start? I was doing everything wrong! I was serving the wrong foods, at the wrong times, in the wrong places, with the wrong attitude. I was hopeful, but completely overwhelmed. And of course, when I told my son we were going to start eating like the French, he just gave me a blank stare and asked for a cookie.

So I began with the easiest of Le Billon’s 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthier eaters (yes, I memorized the back cover): Make eating joyful. So, I stopped coaxing, nagging, bribing, threatening and forcing food onto my son. Instead, I sang “Apples and Bananas.” I let him sprinkle cheese on veggie pizza. I moved him from his high chair to a real chair at the table, and instead of spreading his food on his tray to grab with his fingers, I served it on a real plate with a fork. I cut his sandwiches into stars. I started treating him like a person.

This was perhaps the most important change we could have made. The whole atmosphere of mealtimes changed from chore to community. Not to lose momentum, I picked another rule: Eat meals together. Evenings have always been a chaotic mess of stepping over random toys on the kitchen floor while I frantically whip up something to eat in between feeding our baby his bottle and keeping our toddler away from the hot stove. My husband would come home from work to a zoo, with me resigned to serving pancakes for dinner. From a mix. Again.

Now, we eat dinner later. I feed my toddler a snack when he wakes from his afternoon nap, and dinner is served between 7 and 7:30. The evening events follow a logical, peaceful order, so I don’t have to scarf down my dinner while the baby’s bottle is warming or wait until after baths and bedtime to eat a reheated plate in my room.

Then came the actual menu transformation. Changing what my toddler eats has required a lifestyle change on my part, but it’s been worth it. I stopped feeding him separate meals buffet-style; his plate looks exactly like ours now, whether he actually eats what’s on it or not. (I still cringe a little if he goes to bed with nothing but milk in his system.) I make more frequent trips to the grocery store and spend more time planning our meals and cooking, but the result is fresher food and more produce. I’ve stopped giving our son a mid-morning snack, so he actually eats lunch.

Have we cured his picky eating? Ehhh…Not yet. His picky phase started at 18 months of age, and since he’s just over two now, there’s no reasoning with him to try what’s on his plate. Yet. But we’ve set a nice framework to encourage healthy eating and happy meals (not Happy Meals) from here on out. Maybe my fantasies can be realized. Thanks to French Kids Eat Everything, I have hope that mine will, too.

Taste Canada food writing award…so thrilled to be a winner!

I’m so thrilled that French Kids Eat Everything was just awarded one of  Canada’s food writing awards — very inspiring!

In fact, all of the short-listed books were inspiring. Check them out at Taste Canada — for a cookbook devoted to kale, an ode to Canadian whiskey, and maple syrup-infused recipes, plus some amazing Middle Eastern-Canadian fusion cooking.