France has one of the lowest rates of child obesity in the developed world, and is the only country in which child obesity rates have remained stable in the past decade, in stark contrast to the rapidly rising rates elsewhere. In fact, American kids are three times more likely to be overweight than French children. And while child obesity rates are rising quickly in many countries, they have remained unchanged in France for over a decade. Why?
It’s certainly not because the French know more about nutrition than we do. A survey earlier this year revealed that the French know much less about basic nutrition than we do (for example, 40% of French people didn’t know the fat content of whole milk, versus 4% of Americans).
The French are also less anxious about food than Americans, as Paul Rozin (a University of Pennsylvania psychologist) and Claude Fischler (a French sociologist) found out when they collaborated on a series of cross-cultural surveys. Of the four countries surveyed (the US, France, Japan, and Belgium), the US stood out: Americans tend to associate food with health, not with pleasure, and worry more about food than people in any other nation surveyed. When shown a picture of a chocolate cake, the most frequent responses from Americans were ‘guilt’, and ‘calories’. The French response: ‘celebration’ and ‘pleasure’. The French associated a picture of ‘heavy cream’ with the word ‘whipped’, whereas the Americans described it as ‘unhealthy’.
This ‘pleasure principle’ complicates an already heated debate about the ‘French paradox.’ In a nutshell: French adults spend twice as much time as Americans eating, and they consume dairy and meat products in large quantities, yet are less overweight or obese, and have lower rates of heart disease than Americans. Various explanations have been offered: smaller food portions, less snacking, cigarette smoking (although rates have declined substantially in recent years), and red wine consumption. Whatever the explanation, this seemingly unfair fact of life is unchanged: the French, it seems, can truly have their cake and eat it too.
The way French kids eat is equally paradoxical. French children spend one hour more per day eating than American kids do, partly at the expense of ‘screen time’ (they get, on average, 2 hours less per day). In the ‘classic’ French household (and I’m aware I am over-generalizing here), children eat the same food the adults do–and are expected to do so uncomplainingly. The (admittedly anecdotal) proof can be found in the lunches served in French schools every day: French school children regularly eat things like radishes, grated carrot salad, endive, all sorts of fish, and even stinky blue cheese and grilled guinea fowl (see the amazing school lunch menus I documented for a year in French communities of all sizes at the French Kids School Lunch Project).
Most astonishing of all (as I can attest, being married to a Frenchman, and having our two daughters attend school in France): French kids not only eat this food, most of them like it.
Why? In part, it’s because French school lunches are used as a pedagogical tool, introducing a broad range of dishes, fresh vegetables, and fruits. Strict Ministry of Education regulations ensure that fried food is served no more than once per month, children drink only water at lunch; instead of flavored milk, traditional cheeses or yogurts are served. Ketchup is served a maximum of once per week–and only with foods with which it is traditionally used as a condiment, such as steak. Portion sizes are limited (one piece of delicious baguette per child, at my daughters’ school). And vending machines are banned in all schools. Yes, that means no soda pop, no processed food, and no fast food. Kids learn to like the taste of ‘whole food’. This doesn’t mean deprivation, but rather moderation: sweet treats (like Cherry Clafoutis in cherry season, or Chocolate Mousse) are served once a week. So French kids learn to ‘treat treats as treats’, to use Michael Pollan’s phrase.
The French example suggests that part of the answer to our obesity epidemic lies in food culture: the routines, rules, and rituals through which we teach our children how and why (as well as what) to eat. French teachers and parents believe that children can be taught to eat—just like they are taught to read. And they believe that this is one of the most important skills acquired in early childhood. So they have a series of teaching tools and techniques, built into common-sense routines, that they use at home and at school, to teach children to eat well.
I summed these up in my book French Kids Eat Everything as the ’10 French Food Rules’: healthy eating routines which govern how as well as what French children (and adults) eat.
Take, for example, French Food Rule #7: No random snacking. French government policy and pediatric advice are clear: children should eat three meals per day, plus one scheduled afternoon snack (the goûter). TV ads for snack foods even carry health warnings (like cigarettes here)! In the US, the increase in snacking over the past 3 decades–from an average of once per day in the 1970s to three times per day currently–is associated with an increase in caloric intake (and hence with higher obesity rates). Snacking has also increased in France, but is still much more rare than in North America.
Of course, many other factors are relevant to a discussion of obesity: poverty (France has one of the lowest poverty rates in the G8) and food insecurity, exercise rates, food deserts, genetics, and obesogenic chemicals. But how much we eat is undoubtedly a factor (scientists term this a ‘positive energy balance’: too many calories in, and too few calories out).
For example, French parents ask their children: “Are you still hungry?” rather than “Are you full?” — a subtle, but important distinction. And because they don’t randomly snack, French children get used to waiting between meals. They learn that that it’s OK to have a comfortably empty stomach—which enables them to eat reasonable quantities of the energy-dense foods served at mealtimes, so they don’t feel hungry until the next meal—creating a virtuous cycle.
And here’s French Food Rule #6:’You don’t have to eat it, but you do have to taste it’. Research has shown that children have to taste new foods at least 7 times (on average) before they will accept to eat them; and further tasting is necessary before they’ll learn to like them. Knowing this, French parents are enabled to teach kids to love the tastes of ‘good-for-you’ foods (rather than telling our children that ‘good-for-you’ food tastes bad and then forcing them to eat it). Although they love fries and pizza as much as any kid, French kids also learn to like ‘healthy foods’.
I saw the transformative effect of this Food Rule with my own daughters: picky eaters when we moved to France several years ago, they soon learned to love foods like spinach. The younger one (now 4) loves Roquefort. The older one loves mussels and sardines. Quite the change from the ‘beige food’ diet they were used to back in North America. (It was so inspiring that I unexpectedly became an author and a somewhat accidental food activist!)
Of course, we didn’t do it on our own. My children were taught to learn how to eat, and thus to grow out of the picky eater phase, through ‘tasting lessons’ at school, food lessons in the curriculum, a school garden and varied school lunch menus (combined with positive peer pressure – as all of the children eat the same thing, and no one brings lunch from home). A two-hour lunch break ensured the French students had enough time to eat their four-course, freshly prepared meal properly, and then play—so they were recharged for the afternoon. Food was the highlight of the day; often, the first thing parents would ask at pick-up was: ‘How did you enjoy your lunch’ today?
So French schools support parents in teaching children about healthy food culture—whereas here at home, it often seems like the opposite is true. And a range of other measures –incentives for fruit and vegetable producers, food industry regulation (including a soda tax), and controls on food marketing to children – are also in place.
Of course, the French approach is not perfect. School lunches vary in quality, for example–and aren’t reflective of the country’s ethnic diversity (particularly when it comes to kosher and halal foods). And as in other countries, obesity rates are higher amongst low-income groups, and the gap is widening.
Nonetheless, we can learn from the French approach to child obesity, for at least four reasons.
1. The French take a positive rather than punitive approach to food—teaching their children to love healthy food. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t picky eaters in France (of course there are!). But many pass through the ‘picky eater’ phase more quickly, and so are better equipped to make the right food choices—about how much as well as what to eat. Note: some research, like that of Brian Wansink at Cornell, suggests that providing children with extensive nutritional education is not sufficient to enable them to consistently make healthy food choices. Nutritional education is important, but the French ‘pleasure principle’ is different: French kids (and adults) aren’t learning to eat healthy food because they have to, but rather because they enjoy it, and because it’s part of a routine they’ve followed since early childhood.
2. The French have taken a comprehensive approach to preventing child obesity–including many initiatives that medical professionals have long been demanding in the US. And this has measurable effects. Many of the policies describe above have only been in place over the past decade—initiated when the French government became alarmed by an increase in child obesity rates (albeit low by international standards). Since then, child obesity rates have leveled off.
3. Government support is crucial, but the French approach to food education is not solely top-down or government-led. French school lunches, for example, are entirely funded by local municipalities (there are no national subsidies, unlike in the US). Social solidarity within communities enables this to work; for example, income-related cross-subsidies between families ensure that all kids have access to the same healthy meals—so that middle-class families in Paris pay $3 per meal, but lower-income families pay only 20 cents. Policy change (revising SNAP, the Farm Bill, and the National School Lunch Program) is important – but so is bottom-up change, teaching kids (and their parents) to demand healthy food, and creating the conditions in which they can organize themselves to provide it. Luckily, we have great examples here at home: like Chef Kate’s ‘Cook for America’, which shows schools how to save money and improve lunches by scratch cooking ‘real food’ meals.
In response to the often divisive American debate over whether ‘government’ versus ‘personal responsibility’ matters–the simple answer is: both.
4. Finally, while healthy eating starts in the home, food education should also be part of the school curriculum. Food can be integrated into everything from science to social studies. ‘Taste Training’ lessons start in kindergarten in France, and culminate in Grade 4 with a ‘Tasting Week’ (complete with certificate!). There are lots of great local initiatives across North America (including Project Chef in Vancouver, where we now live), but these are ad hoc and often under-funded. What about supporting and replicating these initiatives, or celebrating Food Day in American schools?
These strategies might not be the solution to our obesity epidemic, but (properly adapted) they might be part of a solution. Admittedly, change in schools and government policy won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, however, parents can accomplish a great deal by applying the ‘French Food Rules’ at home – and creating their own family food revolution.
Bio: Karen Le Billon is a Professor and Chair at the University of British Columbia. A Rhodes Scholar with a PhD from Oxford University, she was named one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40 in 2011. Her work has been featured on Good Morning America, the New York Times, the Sunday Times, the Toronto Star,Dissent, the Globe and Mail, and the Independent. The author of French Kids Eat Everything(HarperCollins 2012) and a Real Food Advocate for the Jamie Oliver Foundation, Le Billon blogs on France, food, and parenting at FrenchKidsEatEverything.com.
 Data Source: International Obesity Task Force: http://www.iaso.org/publications/world-map-obesity/?map=children
 Saulais, L. et. Al. (2012) « Consumer knowledge about dietary fats: Another French paradox?” British Food Journal114(1), 108-120.
 P. Rozin, C. Fischler, S. Imada, A. Sarubin, and A. Wrzesniewski, “Attitudes to Food and the Role of Food in Life in the U.S.A., Japan, Flemish Belgium and France: Possible Implications for the Diet–Health Debate,” Appetite33 (1999): 163-180.
 Fischler, C.
 Neilsen (2012) “State of the Media Trends in TV Viewing—2011 TV Upfronts” • Kaiser Family Foundation (2012) “Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8 to 18 year olds.” • Eurodata TV Worldwide (2012) “Kids’ TV Trends” • Insee, enquête Emploi du temps 2009-2010. • Strasburger VC, et al “Policy statement — Children, adolescents, obesity, and the media” Pediatrics 2011; 128: 201–208.
This blog post was originally an invited article on NewYorkInFrench.net
41 thoughts on “French Kids Don't Get Fat: Why?”
We can learn something from the French here in Canada as 1 in 5 Canadian youths, aged between 12 and 17, were determined to be overweight or obese.
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‘For example, French parents ask their children: “Are you still hungry?” rather than “Are you full?” — a subtle, but important distinction’.
Of course the parents wouldn’t ask their children if they were full if the parents wanted to know if the children had had enough to eat. That’s because “are you full?” – “êtes vous/es tu pleine?” – is a French idiom for asking if you are pregnant. So asking if the children are hungry makes far more sense, since otherwise they just wouldn’t get what their parents were driving at. It’s not a subtle way of getting a different agenda over at all. And French idiom usually avoids the “are you …” forms for sensed personal states anyway, instead going for “do you feel …” (with the less direct “ressentir” generally preferred to the more physical “sentir”, e.g. “je me ressens tellement fatigué” for “I feel [am] so tired”), or “have you …” forms in the case of hunger and thirst etc.
I like books like Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and biochemist Mary G. Enig, PhD( alsoo author of Eat Fat Lose Fat) and its absolutely clear to me, why French children are not obese.
You seem to totally overlook the fact that France is one of the only countries that would not approve legalizing the use of hormones in their animal feeds; this means the French are one of the few populations in today’s “advanced countries” who are not being exposed daily to the build up of excessive hormone levels from eating livestock whose meat is laced with hormones to “build fat fast” on chickens, beef, pork, etc. This same toxic increase in levels of hormones is building fat on the human populations in countries where hormones are permitted in animal feed to allow faster fat buildup on livestock in order to process meat faster for production & consumption. This same introduction of hormone-laced livestock feed has also contributed to a 50% reduction in sperm count in males over the past 25 years, has caused a drop in the age of onset of puberty (a fat-triggered process in humans) in girls over the past 20 years, & is causing breast buds to develop on male children entering puberty & is reducing their body hair development during puberty. These trends are also only seen in those countries who now allow hormones in livestock feed. All these hormones are increasing estrogen levels in the populations where they are permitted, are being stored at toxic levels, & are causing humans to “fatten up” just like a veal calf. We now also see increasing levels of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer in these same countries & an ever increasing level of obesity in infants under the age of 6 months in those same populations. France is to be commended for resisting all the pressure from their agricultural industries to try to force them to use hormone feeds for their livestock in order for businesses to make a faster “buck” off meat processing procedures. By artificially increasing estrogen levels, meat processors can ready livestock for market-weight in half the amount of time it USED to take to grow a chicken, pig, or cow big enough to butcher & sell. The world wide obesity epidemic is not occurring in France because France has protected its citizens from toxic hormone levels by restricting the use of hormones in meat production. My hat’s off to them & I wish people would do the research to identify the association of the introduction of hormone animal feeds & the emergence of obesity & estrogen increases in a country’s human population. Now even our babies are being impacted & becoming obese just from the damage done to their parents’ endocrine systems, sigh….so sad. Hurray for France! Keep blocking those hormone feeds & you’ll STAY slim.
Loved your book and enjoy your blog.
We are Americans living in Poland and now have a 13-week old daughter. The Polish pediatricians all seem to follow similar guidelines for introducing foods like the French, at 6 months, but they don’t introduce grains until 8 months- 1 year! Polish kids aren’t fat and even at restaurants there are no “kids menus”…they simply eat off their parent’s plate or eat something brought from home.
One big difference I have seen is that strollers (prams) in Europe don’t have the “tray” attachment like most strollers do in the States for toddlers and preschoolers. I think that the tray encourages snacking on the go between meals.
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What I can add is that in France, children are introduced to a lot of kind of food since their very young age, and parents are told by the family doctor what kind of food is good to be introduced in the child’s diet and when. It allows to reduce the risk of having food allergies.
hmm, not bad, a bit long, Mia, my 9year old was born in Paris, has never lived in the US, and has always been in the French school system (Paris, Manila, Barcelona). She is a very healthy eater, but that comes from home and travel, and was never given pain au choco for le gouté. She only became a picky eater when she started eating at the canteen, where she saw other kids´ behavior. Many parents at her school depend on the canteen to ensure their own kids eat a balanced diet, which I suppose they don´t enforce at home, since the monitors don´t let them play until they eat. And I´m often annoyed with her french side who teaches Mia to use way too much sugar and butter and drink tea for breakfast…
I have not yet read your book but plan to do so!
I have loved french culture ever since I visited France as an undergrad studying art. I remember feeling so at home there and so much was familiar to me. I later realized that my comfort with the culture came from my beloved grandmother who traveled there often and filled her home with all things french, and managed to cook three meals a day from scratch her entire life.
Anyway, I am such a believer in the over-snacking being a problem in the US! I have packed a simple snack for my son– a hardboiled egg, he loves them. He gets picked on by his friends for eating this because they all have energy drinks and chips for snack. Ugh. I pack my son’s lunch everyday now, mostly because he does not like what is served at school but partially because I am horrified at the amount of food that is THROWN AWAY in our schools! It is such a travesty! He tells me “Mom we don’t have enough time to eat!”
I think this is why the snack has become paramount in our schools. The schools would rather give the kids 15 minutes for lunch, they are not allowed to talk during that time or socialize, when time is up they are all instructed to toss it in the garbage. No worries, if they are hungry later they can have their snack! Its not working, kids are getting fat, food is being wasted and test scores are still lacking.
It is really interesting to hear how French people introduce a variety of foods to their children from a young age and it is something I did with my own children, even though I am from the UK. I do admit; however, to incorporating vegetables into ‘gravy’ for the meat and potatoes, but I would put some of these vegetables on the plate and encourage them to just eat one, e.g, one pea, one carrot slice, one brussel. Consequently, my grown up children now eat all vegetables.
I am currently in France now and it goes without saying that hardly any French people are overweight. In fact, by UK and USA standards, many would be classed as ‘skinny’.
I am also a Weston A Price member, have been involved for about five years now. Before traveling I now Google WAPF chapters to see what each is up to and ask for some food tips on eating out, where to shop, etc. I am going to Paris in June so googled WAPF for France but found only one or two chapters in all of France and not in Paris, so I’d say the French aren’t in general aren’t familiar with Weston Price’s work.
Question Karen. Why do you suppose the Italian and Spanish children are getting heavier (by the chart at least)? I was not surprised of course to see the US, Canada and The UK leading the pack, but surprised by those two countries. Are they slipping away from traditional foods in favor of processed and is there a lack of exercise there also?
BTW, loved your book French Kids Eat Everything and though my own children are grown and gone, am applying some of the tips to my husband and myself, especially on snacking. When you eat traditional, nutrient dense foods as recommended by WAPF, you don’t feel hungry and don’t really need to snack. I always thought something was wrong with this “Eat every two hours to keep your blood sugar up,” thing that’s been going around for at least the past decade or two. Yes, you keep it up, but them crash and need more food contributing to weight gain!
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What a wonderful article and thanks for the comment on butter. I follow the guidelines of nutrition from the book Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon and find that my kids are healthier and fall sick a lot less. After some searching I found that in my Indian family, saturated fat such as cream and ghee was almost revered. My grandmother would tell me that raw milk, with the cream on top ( not low fat or fat free!) would give extraordinary health to children-I now know that it must come from healthy, grass fed cows.
As for my children`s eating habits, I was lucky to have a firstborn who was an enthusiastic eater. He is now 10, and still is as happy to try out new things. His younger brother, who was picky, eventually followed his brother`s example, but it took years, and I wish I had read your book! there is still a lot I can get from it, but i am happy that both my kids love most vegetables, fish, organ meats such as liver, brain and kidneys. I actually get requests for more. My older son wants to try sushi which makes him better than me!!
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Thank you for your article. i found this very interesting and a huge help for my assignment.
I am doing a nursing diploma and am currently researching childhood obesity, difference between English children and french children. my partner lived in France for 3 years i therefore no bits and pieces about their eating habits but you have helped me tremendously on my research.
Thank you again
From 1976 to 2000, in the French American program for fifth graders traveling to France and to the USA, it was possible to follow the morphological changes between French and American 10 year old children. Charts are given in a book in English: ” French American class, It’s a long way to France. Already in 1976 the difference was obvious between the number of fat children in the American classes and the French classes participating.
The book will explain why because the children were fed the American and the French ways.
Beeing in the opposite siuation, French mom living in the US, I would like to share with you my opposite experience.
It is very hard to eat “normally” in the US. First thing it is very expensive to find quality food. To find here the same quality at the same price as in France I have to go to Costco. It is very hard to find plain food and the already made food is cheaper than the non-cooked food, but not healthier (the opposite than in France). Even sodas are cheaper than water! In every place you go with your children you pay $5 the little bottle of water, compare to $1 the unlimited refilled soda!
It’s true that in France eating is a pleasure, but cooking too! We teach our children how to cook very young simply by doing with them their favorite receipe, they love that!
If they know how to cook, they know what they eat. They know how many fat there is in a cake, compare to bread. It is not a conscious knowlegde, more a culture one. You said that French don’t know better about food than american because they didn’t answer correctly about the fat in whole milk, but 85% of consumed milk in Fance is low fat milk. Even if they don’t know it consciously, it is part of the culture to avoid it.
Just to give you an exemple, when I arrived in the US 3 years ago, I took some English lesson. I asked my teacher about cheese cake, what kind of cheese is it made of? She didn’t know! It was so surprising for me. If you don’t know what you eat, you can’t eat healthy!
One last thing, in the French curriculum biology is a real class since 1st grade, they learn what their body are made of, how it works and what their body need to be healthy. In the US curriculum biology is just a little part of Physical Education.
So in my opinion the 3 most important things to decrease obesity in US are:
2- learn to cook (means take the time and maybe organize a place to cook at work. The distance are not the same in the US and in France)
3- improve school cafeteria and teach biology
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I think it’s the quality of food too. It is all of what you mentioned, but it’s also using nutrient dense food. So you have the French “rules” and the desire for good quality coupled with using meats that we have shunned here in the US. Have you read anything about WEston A. Price and the book Nourishing Traditions? This was a dentist who went around the world studying the diets of other people’s and their caries or lack thereof and what he found was shocking. There were certain characteristics that they all shared even though some groups were almost all meat eaters (Masai, Inuits) and some more varied. I think that it’s interesting that the almost exclusive meat eaters were fine. They would eat the organs and glands of the animals, which I believe “fed” the glands of the people. And the French do all of the “icky” parts which are very good for you. And no GMO’s, thank the Lord!
Excellent article and fascinating project you are doing with the school lunches. I keep hearing kids and parents complain about our new school lunch program that has been implemented in the US this school year.
They are saying that the kids are starving when they come home from school because they are “BIG” and growing. It makes me wonder if part of our culture is about making sure our kids get enough to eat and forgetting about the amount of processed foods.
Have you mentioned the impact of the ban on GMO’s in France and how that plays out in terms of obesity or health related problems?
Great article, Karen, fascinating findings about US vs French reaction to chocolate cake and heavy cream, and the guilt vs pleasure issue. I was just in France and noticed that all children in the families we stayed with, had some sort of chocolate cereal for breakfast, for example, something that would be frowned upon as “unhealthy” in the states, whereas it’s clearly to get kids excited about breakfast. All in reasonable quantities of course. Also very interested in the high satiety factor, which justifies completely (nutritionally speaking) the fact that we (the French, that is) eat cheese after the meal, as if to make the veggies and proteins eaten prior last til the next meal…
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I’d love to hear more about the ‘healthy food’ law that Chile is applying — and the ways in which you overcome some of that resistance!
Gran artículo, coincido plenamente en la visión incorporada en educación y desde el punto de vista cultural. Saludos desde Chile donde tenemos una ley sobre alimentación saludable, pero que estamos en etapas iniciales de su aplicación, con la resistencia y codicia de la industria alimentaria.
Jaime García Biron
Coordinador Capítulo Chileno de Alainza Global contra Obesidad y Complicaciones
Love this story! It’s not the first time that I have heard of French children refusing to eat foods considered ‘delicious’ by American standards. Proof that what we consider to be ‘edible’ and ‘tasty’ is strongly influenced by culture. Which is a hopeful idea — because cultures can evolve and adapt–which I think is urgently necessary in North American kids’ food culture!
I too raised our Franco-American children mostly in France and concur 100% with your findings.
What shocked me most when we moved briefly to the USA was 1) the constant snacking by adults and children and 2) the idea of “kids’ menus” (not to mention the appalling offerings of the kids’ menus).
Once in the USA, I was contacted by my child’s kindergarten teacher. Apparently my son was refusing to eat the school snack. I asked what sort of snack we were talking about and she answered, “Jello fingers”. I replied that no French child has ever seen or eaten a Jello finger and anyway, I did not want him eating school snacks as this interfered with our bfast-lunch-gouter-dinner eating schedule. She thought we were odd but respected my wishes to leave my son alone about school snacks.
Great stuff! I wish Australians would stop following the USA & all the celebrity rubbish that accompanies their way of life! I don’t have kids and I’m in awe of the way Australian parents & grandparents encourage their offspring to be guilty about food from a young age, yet also encourage them to eat all the junky, obesogenic things as “treats”. The French kids comply with the “norm” they know- try everything and eat while you’re hungry & it would be great if they did the exercise thing as well (dream on…). I’m pretty much alone in not knowing the caloric value of anything I eat and never knowing my exact weight, but I don’t FEEL like dessert after a decent meal out containing a bit of meat or fish, but my significantly obese friends all giggle & hoe into huge slices of lemon pie and chocolate cake. Afterwards they invariably say- “I’ll have to starve myself tomorrow” and never do. So many adults won’t eat spinach or broccoli or Brussels sprouts, but I regularly serve them up & eat them- hiding them in delicious soups for my partner sometimes! I also don’t know WHY people buy “treat” foodstuffs & keep them in the pantry and then complain that their kids eat it all then won’t eat their dinner! Parents seem to have handed over control of the household to kids amidst fears of alienating them. Kids then grow up and blame their parents (quite rightly IMHO) for making them fat! It’s all mad- and I’m not smug about my own situation, but despair of what’s going to happen in a decade or two.
OH, and one of our favorite “fast food” meals was an English cucumber, eaten from one end down like a corn dog or an ice cream cone. Another lovely hot summer day snack!
I’m not French, but this is how I raised my daughter. We homeschooled, so “food education” was part of our daily lives. Yes we ate junk sometimes (macaroni & cheese out of a box – ugh!), but she mostly grew up helping Momma grow veggies in the garden and going out there for lunch with a bucket of water and “grazing” fresh from the garden for our lunch in the summer time. Sugar snap peas, baby spinach, cherry tomatoes and nasturtium leaves make for a delicious, healthy and FUN lunch on a hot summer day. =)
My sweet girl is now 19 years old, slim, healthy and beautiful – she bakes her own whole wheat bread, eats veggies first at every meal, and enjoys the occasional treat when she’s in the mood – and she bakes them herself rather than buying junk in a box at the story.
Great article, I think there are a few contributing factors based on the time I spent in France:
-less is more, a demitasse of espresso vs. our venti, it’s the experience rather than the quantity.
-walking culture rather than driving, I saw so many people stroll to their destination and those who drove or used mass transit took advantage of walking every chance they had.
-Children ate what their parents ate – no mac and cheese/bland/beige food but vibrant, flavorful options from very early on create a more sophisticated palate and create a more balanced variety.
-Quality ingredients – better to have a slice of Clafouti (fresh, made of known and natural products) rather than mass produced items with impossible to pronounce chemical names as the first few ingredients. I’ll take a fresh bakery item any day of the week over a sugary snack I find in the store.
I think part of the problem with obesity is that the sugary foods are the least expensive for people to buy . For example, it is far cheaper for me to buy a thing of margarine than to buy some butter at the grocery store.
So glad you enjoyed the book!
What a fascinating comment. Much research has been done on ‘high satiety’ foods that give people a ‘satisfied’ feeling. It turns out that having a bit of fat with your meal increases the overall satiety rating, and so you will indeed full more full, for longer, if you eat fat with your meal.
I’ve really noticed this effect in France. I simply don’t feel hungry in between meals. Having a small piece of cheese after the main meal achieves this effect — so it doesn’t need to be a large amount of food. Ditto with butter.
Thanks so much! Glad you enjoyed it. I’d love to hear about the reaction in your class (or on FB).
I hadn’t been planning on doing the lunches again this year but your email makes me think that I should!
Regarding allergies: with a medically certified allergy, children can either bring their own lunch or (usually in bigger towns that have ‘cuisines centrales’) a separate lunch is made for them. Both are stored separately. Allergy rates were lower in France in the past (anecdotally) but are now growing, as is awareness — inspiring much debate as to the causes.
I have read your book twice, and I feel the two largest factors that reduce childhood obesity in France are the “no snacking” mentality and also not having a fear of fat. Fat in foods give you a feeling of satiation, therefore you can last until the next meal. For some reason, here in the US people think eating fat makes you fat. (As mentioned in the above article, heavy cream is described as “unhealthy.”)
I think the government “war on obesity” is going the wrong direction in declaring that low fat is best. Especially in snack/junk food the fat is replaced with sugar. Fifty to sixty years ago when we did not have a problem with obesity, people ate butter not fake margarine, restaurant french fries were fried in beef tallow, and now it’s replaced with vegetable oil. (I am prejudiced against vegetable oils also. Their usage is more recent and I think they are unnatural.) I do not think saturated fats are evil. How long have people been eating bacon, butter, etc. compared to canola and other vegetable oils?
Karen, this is a fabulous post. I’ve read your book and all your posts but this one is well stated, articulates the major points and the focus is centered on the core beliefs. I am going to use this article as a basis for discussion in my French conversation class and post it on Facebook.
Are you planning on doing the lunches again this year?
One question I still have: how does the French school lunch program handle kids with allergies? Many children have severe food allergies, even life threatening and it can’t be that France is exempt from this crisis. Love to hear about this too.