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.

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4 thoughts on “A family fantasy…kids that happily eat everything!

  1. I was just checking out the freebies section here on Smart Canucks and came across a great thread by Freebiechick. She has compiled a list of 19 Canadian restaurants where your kids can eat for free! She has even included the days of the week that the free kids meals are offered and the restrictions, if there are any.

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  2. Hang in there! It’s true that when you miss that pre-15 month-ish time frame, you’re kind of in struggle-city until 3, but keep that routine. His taste buds are changing, even if his attitude is not. I read Karen’s book 2 summers ago, instituted the changes one by one, and we’ve never looked back. We still start many dinners with a vegetable, and I still light candles on a white tablecloth on busy Monday nights. I can proudly say my 6 and 8 year old daughters EAT EVERYTHING. Sending you much joy for your journey!

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  3. I *do* have children (now 11 and 14) who will eat most vegetables (sweet potato seems to be the only one they completely dislike, for some reason!). We’ve made it a habit to have 2-3 vegetables at lunch and dinner and the kids were served tiny portions (1T) of each. If they ate it, we’d add extra servings, if they didn’t we’d ignore it.

    As they got older, say ~4-5, we started asking them to eat a “thank-you bite” of each food on their plate – again, if they didn’t care for it, we didn’t pressure. They’ve happily eaten so many vegies that kids usually avoid (brussels sprouts, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, turnip, etc.) that I’m in awe of them, since I was a major vegie avoider. But then, my mom would put a half cup of one type of veg (usually boiled to death) on my plate and not let me leave until I’d gagged it down, hence my change in strategy!

    I love reading about how French families eat, and how American families are adapting it to their lives. I think it’s very sensible, and I love the way they have communal tables (with teachers!) and regular plates, silverware, and courses(!) in their school lunch rooms. Our kids get less than 25 minutes to get through the line and eat, and mine always take a long time in the line because they load up on salad bar items…

    Anyway, thanks for the interesting post, and I enjoy reading the blog, too 🙂

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