Connecting with your kids at the family table: Social eaters are better eaters

One of my favorite books on kid’s food is Laurie David’s The Family Dinner: Great ways to connect with your kids, one meal at a time. Full of simple strategies for making mealtimes more enjoyable, Laurie makes a key point that is often overlooked in the kid’s food debate: how we eat is as important as what we eat.

As I realized after our family moved to France, Americans spend the least time of any country in the developed world on cooking (30 minutes per day, whereas the French spend, on average, 48 minutes). But the real difference is in how much time we spend eating: less than an hour per day for Americans (and well over two hours per day for the French).

What’s the point of spending all of that time at the table, you’re probably wondering? Well, research shows that people who eat alone tend to eat more overall, and also tend to eat poorer quality food. Research also shows that children are more likely to try new foods if their parents are sitting with them, and try them too (the ‘do as I do, not as I say’ effect!). So we know that children will eat better if they eat with other people.

But Laurie David’s book captures another important issue, that is more rarely discussed. Children’s emotional relationship to food (which is so central to healthy eating when they become adults) is fostered at the table in interaction with other adults. If the family table is a serene haven in a busy day, then a positive relationship is fostered.

Admittedly, with two very busy children (3 and 7), the table doesn’t feel very peaceful all of the time. But I’ve found that conversation is absolutely critical to capturing my daughters’ interest, and keeping them at the table. One of my earlier tactics was to make up stories, but I soon ran out of repertoire. Here’s where Laurie’s book was helpful: it has lots of great suggestions for conversation starters, games, and other tips and tricks for keeping children interested and happy at the table. Many of these ideas are commonly used by French families, by the way.

Is it hard to make time in our busy lives for eating together? Definitely! Both my husband and I work full time, and we don’t have any help at home. Cooking when we get home from work is always a scramble.

But despite this I’ve taken Laurie David’s message to heart, and we’ve cut back on kid’s after-school activities, in order to make sure we eat together as a family most nights of the week.

So thanks, Laurie, for an inspirational book!

Favorite Books on French Food…perfect for cocooning this fall

Some people have a weakness for shoes. Some can’t stop buying earrings. I admit to going slightly overboard in my search for the perfect winter hat (I own a lot of chic woolen hats that look amazingly similar).

But my real addiction is books. And lately I’ve fallen in love with books about French food. I should put this in context, and explain that (until recently) I only owned a single French cookbook: La Cuisinière Bretonne, which my French husband gave me years ago in hopes I’d suddenly turn into a Canadian version of Julia Child, cooking up his traditional Breton dishes with flair. It never quite happened: we had kids, I was working, and life was too busy…

It was only after we moved to France and I discovered French cuisine that I stumbled across all of the wonderful books out there about…moving to France and discovering French food. Turns out it is a well-worn theme in the foodie literature. Still, there are some gems out there, and today I thought I’d share a few. It’s raining hard and just above freezing here in Vancouver, and the only thing I want to do is curl up in bed with a good book. So here’s a selection from my fall reading list of favorite books about French food…the cookbooks I’ll leave for another post.

~ Adam Gopnik is a New Yorker columnist, and one of my favorite writers on all things French. His Paris to the Moon (about the years spent living in Paris as the New Yorker correspondent), published a decade ago, is still one of the best books I’ve read about living in France. His new book, The Table Comes First: Family, France and the Meaning of Food, is a collection of food articles from the New Yorker (with a few new gems, apparently). Can’t wait to read this.

~ Having spent years as a pastry chef in Alice Water’s Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, David Lebovitz decides to pack up and move to Paris. The result is a light-hearted treat, packed with dessert recipes and amusing stories: The Sweet Life in Paris. Reminds me of those meringue-filled macarons that the French love so much: sweet, breezy, light, and just right. Just finished this!

~ La Tartine Gourmande is a fantastic food blog by Beatrice Peltre, a French expat living in the US. Her new book is like a hybrid between a memoir and a cookbook (for which she composes the recipes and takes the photos…all the while parenting the lovely Lulu — how does she do it?). Nice to read about someone traveling the other direction, when most of the books on French food have us heading ‘across the pond’.

~ Lunch in Paris, With Recipes is a smart and sassy love story about Elizabeth Bard’s romance with a decidedly unconventional Frenchman. (Like Elizabeth, I also fell in love and moved to France with someone from Brittany, so this book felt sometimes uncomfortably close to home). Quirky recipes, a love story (with a slight tinge of Cosmo girl), and amusing asides into French culture; who could ask for more?

Happy reading! And I’d love to hear your thoughts on the books!

Connecting with your kids (and the planet) at the family table

This week several family food blogs are collaborating to celebrate Food Day by hosting a virtual progressive dinner party (see my post from yesterday).

Today, we’re in New York: Grace at and Kathleen at are providing the side dishes: flavorful wok broccoli (ingenious recipe), and sweet potato souffle. By coincidence (or perhaps not?) these are two of our family’s favorite vegetables (kale, which Bettina served yesterday) being a close third. Yum! Can’t wait to try them!

Now, why stretch out Food Day to an entire week? As Laurie David (author of The Family Dinner: Great way to connect with your kids, one meal at a time)) points out in her guest post on recently, eating family dinners together is an integral part of the broader food movement (she titles her post ‘Family Dinners and the Food Revolution’).

How do family dinners connect to the food revolution? Laurie argues that there are two reasons.

First, family dinners create stronger families. As Laurie writes, “Family dinner is one of those rituals that connects us, enriches us, nourishes our minds and our bodies. It’s where we learned how to listen and debate and discuss. It is our first participation in a community. We should be holding on to it for dear life, not tossing it away and replacing it with one-minute meals cooked by a microwave or eating on the run, next to our kitchen counter or in our car.”
The kitchen table is an important place for children to learn life’s lessons, and to bond with their families.

Second, what we eat is directly linked to broader issues of social and environmental justice. We may feel (and, as a mother of two young daughters, I often feel) too busy to focus on these issues in our day-to-day routines. But through the choices we make about eating and shopping for food (or growing our own), we can make positive contributions to reforming the food system.

So this week’s virtual #DinnerParty is about creating new habits and patterns in our family that will be good for us, and also good for other people and the planet. Why not try Meatless Mondays, for example? Or start a compost? Make a commitment to set aside a certain part of your grocery budget for organic food?

Making resolutions should (in my opinion) be an integral part of Food Day (sort of like New Year’s resolutions). What resolution can you make that will change your family’s eating habits year-round?

ps Laurie’s book and Family Dinner blog have lots of practical ideas for how to make family dinners more fun. Check them out!

Good food is for everyone…not just foodies!

Adam Gopnik, one of my all-time favorite writers (and a long-time staff writer for the New Yorker), spent several years living in France in the 1990s. His New Yorker essays from that period were published in Paris to the Moon (still one of my favorite books about France).

Gopnik is publishing a new book this month, titled “The Table Comes First: Family, France, and the Meaning of Food.” This is mainly a collection of some of his New Yorker articles, with some new, additional material. His main argument is that our current obsession with food culture has gone astray. As the French (and many other traditional food cultures) know, it’s not only what is on the table that is important, but also who is around the table. Breaking bread together is one of the most important things we can do to build healthy communities (as well as healthy bodies).

That’s precisely what we found when we moved to France. In the little village where we lived, eating well was something that everyone did. We were many hours (and, culturally, light years) away from Paris, so this was not about ‘big city’, elite food culture. Rather, eating well was about celebrating people and place, friends and family, and life together. That spirit is what motivated me to write ‘French Kids Eat Everything’: the realization that good food is for everyone, not just foodies!