Many readers have written in asking for tips from French Kids Eat Everything–in particular, ideas for implementing the 10 Food Rules used by French parents to teach their children to be happy, healthy eaters.
The French believe that picky eating is a phase (much like the terrible two’s), and the strategies they use at home (backed up by ‘taste training’ at school) help cure and even prevent children’s picky eating habits. (This view is backed up by scientific research.)
‘French Kids Eat Everything‘ contains over 100 tips for implementing the French Food Rules. But for those looking for some highlights, here they are:
1. Don’t label your child as a ‘picky eater.’ The French believe that taste is a skill that can be acquired (and should be taught), much like reading. In other words, picky eating isn’t (barring medical issues) innate, but rather learned. They believe that children can learn to eat, and like, all kinds of food. And this is what they tell their children! Try telling your children: “You’ll like that when you’re a bit more grown up.” Expect kids to develop a wider palate and — eventually — they will (particularly if you model this yourself!). The French know this takes years, so be patient!
2. Ask children to taste everything you’ve prepared, even if they don’t eat it. Scientific research shows that children need to taste a new food, on average, anywhere from 7 to 12 times before they will accept to eat it. Looking at it isn’t enough — they have to taste it! Positive peer pressure (particularly from other children who like the foods you’re introducing) also works wonders.
3. Introduce your child to new foods before you serve them. Sounds silly, but often works wonders. For example, show your child a raw beet (better yet, go to the local market and let them choose one to take home). Let them touch it, and smell it. Cut it open, and let them look at the intense colour. Then try a variety of ways of introducing beets to your family. Beet popsicles are a family favourite, as is beet salad!
When a child says “I don’t like that food”, they often mean “I don’t know it.” The above exercise helps increase familiarity, and thus acceptance.
4. Talk less about health, and more about good tastes. In France, parents don’t cajole with nutritional information (such as explanations that a food has a lot of iron or calcium). Parents say: “Taste this, it’s really yummy”, rather than “Eat this: it’s good for you.” They believe (and tell their children), that good-for-you foods taste good. Healthy eating habits are a happy byproduct. Broccoli? Yum!
5. Stick with a schedule (and limit snacks to one–or at most two–per day). French children have three meals a day, and one snack (yes, even the teenage boys): breakfast, lunch, goûter (late-afternoon snack) and dinner. Snacking is forbidden at school (no vending machines, and no fast food either!), and parents wouldn’t dream of putting their kids in activities during the dinner hour (nine out of ten French families eats a sit-down dinner together every night). Children are hungrier at mealtimes, and tend to eat better; serve energy-dense foods, and they won’t feel hungry until their next mealtime. (For a sampling of the types of meals French children eat, check out the French Kids School Lunch page, where I post menus from different French schools every week).
Hope these tips are helpful, and look forward to your comments!