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!

What French Kids are Eating For Lunch….this week in Grenoble

Nestled in the foothills of the southern French Alps, Grenoble (population 150,000) is known as the “Capital of the Alps”. Palaces, museums, and a lovely ‘old quarter’ attest to its long history as a Roman town, and as the crossroads between France and Italy for centuries. Today, Grenoble is a university town, an international scientific centre, and a city for outdoor lovers.

So, what are French children eating in Grenoble this week? It’s easy to find out, because all over France the menus are posted online for parents to see.

This week’s menu (titled “I am improving my eating habits”) actually has 4 courses (although some would be served at the same time): Entrée (starter), Plat (main dish) and Garniture (side dish), Fromage (cheese), and Dessert.

Monday November 7th
Beet salad with vinaigrette, organic bread
Organic roast chicken
Organic creole rice
Plain yogurt (with sugar)
Organic fruit

Tuesday November 8th
Green salad, organic bread
Veal saute with ‘hunter’s sauce’
Zucchini casserole
Brie cheese
Couscous cake (yummier than it sounds!)

Wednesday November 9th
Tabouleh salad, organic bread
Ground beef
Green peas ‘a la francaise
Cheese: Carre de l’est (a square-shaped cheese from Lorraine)
Fresh fruit

Thursday, November 10th
Tomato salad with vinaigrette, organic bread
Fish ‘brandade’ (fish with vegetables, cooked in a savory) sauce
Croc’lait (bite-sized milk chocolate filled with praline and puffed rice)

Friday, November 11th
Remembrance day (holiday)

How much do families pay for this? On a sliding scale (according to family income), the lowest price is $1, and the highest price–for the wealthiest families–is $7 (similar to prices in Paris). Most families pay around $3 per meal.

How much would you be willing to pay for meals like these?

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!