Should kids be allowed to randomly snack? The French would say definitely not! Here’s why…

We’ve heard a lot lately about the dangers of snacking–but is it really such a bad idea?

Some argue that regular snacking means that kids aren’t hungry enough to eat the nutritious foods served at mealtimes. Others argue that snacking has benefits (balancing out blood glucose levels, for example).

I only let my kids have one snack a day. But before we moved, I let my kids snack several times a day. Whenever they said they were hungry, they got a snack (except in that half hour before mealtimes, and even then I sometimes gave in). However, I learned some things during our year in France that convinced me to change our family’s snacking habits.

The first thing I learned is that French kids don’t snack randomly at home. They just never think of doing it. Astounding but true. I’ve been going back and forth between France and Vancouver for 10 years, staying for long periods with extended family and friends, and I have never once seen a child open the fridge or cupboard and dig around for a snack, or demand a snack from their parents in between mealtimes. Not once. I kid you not.

The second thing I learned is that banning snacks is OK. If it’s a habit, and if everyone follows the same routine, it’s not a problem. French kids never complain about it, because it would never occur to them to eat at the ‘wrong’ time. Life goes on, and even without snacking their kids are just as well-behaved (or even more well-behaved) than ours. And they do just fine at school (even with much longer school days).

There is one exception to the snacking rule, which is called the goûter. French kids DO eat after school. But it’s a mini-meal rather than a snack, eaten sitting at the table, with real foods – like bread and butter, fruit, yogurt. Then, French kids don’t eat anything until the evening meal at 7:30 or 8 pm. No bedtime snack.

The result? You guessed it: French kids eat much better at mealtimes, because they feel hungry. And the foods at meals tend to be more nutritious. So their diets are healthier.

My kids (4 and 8) follow the French approach on weekends. It works really well for us. They are used to the pattern, eat well at mealtimes, and I don’t have to worry about spoiling their dinner by giving them a snack. It was definitely a big adjustment at first. But the French have a lot of routines and great tips they use for teaching kids how to eat. (When we applied them, the results were so successful, and I was so inspired…that I wrote a whole book about it (French Kids Eat Everything), which will be published in April with HarperCollins!)

The French approach at school is also interesting. French kids can’t snack at school, even if they wanted to. They are not allowed to bring food from home, and there are no vending machines (they’re completely banned in all schools). Most French kids don’t even want to snack, because the lunchtime meal they’re offered is so tasty. As the menus on my French Kids School Lunch Project blog suggest, French kids’ school lunches are tasty, nutritious, and highly filling. They eat a lot of foods high on the ‘satiety index’ at lunch, because the expectation is that lunch is the biggest meal of the day.

No snacks!? This might seem shocking to North American parents. What if my child is hungry? I used to think. Should you really deny you child a snack, even if they say they’re hungry? That’s so controversial, to say the least.

Here’s my view, based on what I learned in France–but also based on commonsense. There is a difference between feeling hungry and being hungry. No one wants a child to BE hungry. But the French think it’s OK to FEEL hungry. What does that mean? It means being comfortable if your stomach is empty, and being able to wait until your next mealtime–even if you do feel hungry. Otherwise, the French believe, you create a culture of ‘unregulated eating’….with all of the health problems that arise from that. And I think that we see the signs of this all around us here in North America.

No culture is perfect, and there are lots of things I wouldn’t want to adopt from France, but I do think they have some great ideas about how to feed children–ideas we could definitely learn from.

France's new tax on soda pop: Should we tax 'bad' foods?

Earlier this week, the French government passed a new law introducing a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks which will apply to soft drinks (both sugar and diet) and sweetened juices. Public health campaigners are delighted. But the tax–a minimal 1 cent per container–has been criticized as ‘discriminatory’ by manufacturers, who have threatened to increase prices significantly (some newspaper articles talk of 20 to 30% rises) to offset lost profits.

France joins a number of other European countries (Denmark, Hungary) which have implemented so-called ‘sin taxes’ or ‘fat taxes’ over the past few years. Critics argue that the low levels of such taxes won’t deter necessarily consumption. But they will bring in a lot of revenue: an estimated $150 million for the French government–which will be welcome in the current economic climate.

In the US, the debate over ‘fat taxes’ heated up in the 1990s following a New York Times op-ed by Kelly D. Brownell (director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale). He argued that the lower cost of unhealthy food creates an incentive to consume it:  more calories for your buck. Other food writers like Michael Pollan have gone further and argued that government subsidies (notably via the Farm Bill) keep the prices of unhealthy food artificially low. But proponents of ‘personal responsibility’, from Sarah Pailin to Rush Limbaugh, have argued against government meddling in food choices (and personal decisions of any kind).

The French see it differently. They feel that a healthy food system and healthy eating depend on both personal responsibility and on social responsibility–supported by government regulation as appropriate. In my opinion, and as I’ve blogged on my French Kids Lunch Project, this has resulted in better nutrition for children–both at home and in schools.

What do you think? Is taxing soda the right thing to do? Is better food a question of personal responsibility, or social responsibility, or both?

 

 

France’s new tax on soda pop: Should we tax ‘bad’ foods?

Earlier this week, the French government passed a new law introducing a tax on sugar-sweetened drinks which will apply to soft drinks (both sugar and diet) and sweetened juices. Public health campaigners are delighted. But the tax–a minimal 1 cent per container–has been criticized as ‘discriminatory’ by manufacturers, who have threatened to increase prices significantly (some newspaper articles talk of 20 to 30% rises) to offset lost profits.

France joins a number of other European countries (Denmark, Hungary) which have implemented so-called ‘sin taxes’ or ‘fat taxes’ over the past few years. Critics argue that the low levels of such taxes won’t deter necessarily consumption. But they will bring in a lot of revenue: an estimated $150 million for the French government–which will be welcome in the current economic climate.

In the US, the debate over ‘fat taxes’ heated up in the 1990s following a New York Times op-ed by Kelly D. Brownell (director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale). He argued that the lower cost of unhealthy food creates an incentive to consume it:  more calories for your buck. Other food writers like Michael Pollan have gone further and argued that government subsidies (notably via the Farm Bill) keep the prices of unhealthy food artificially low. But proponents of ‘personal responsibility’, from Sarah Pailin to Rush Limbaugh, have argued against government meddling in food choices (and personal decisions of any kind).

The French see it differently. They feel that a healthy food system and healthy eating depend on both personal responsibility and on social responsibility–supported by government regulation as appropriate. In my opinion, and as I’ve blogged on my French Kids Lunch Project, this has resulted in better nutrition for children–both at home and in schools.

What do you think? Is taxing soda the right thing to do? Is better food a question of personal responsibility, or social responsibility, or both?

 

 

Recipe of the Week: French White Bean Soup

‘White Beans’ are one of the most popular beans eaten in France. And one of the most popular ways to eat them is as a soup.

In France, they come in two varieties: coco variety is used in soups and the traditional cassoulet stew, and the longer michelet variety is more frequently eaten fresh. For this recipe, you can substitute cannellinni, great northern, or navy beans; but if you can find the rich, creamy French white cocos, this soup will be even more delicious.

Spread beans in a single layer on a large sheet tray; pick through to remove and discard any small stones or debris and then rinse well.

2 cups of white beans (cannellini, navy or great northern)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled (whole)
2 dried bay leaves
6 cups of water
4 tablespoons crème fraîche (or substitute sour cream)
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
Optional: 2 strips of pancetta bacon, finely diced, for topping

Soak the beans using one of these two methods:
Traditional soaking method: In a bowl, cover beans with 4 inches of cold water, cover and set aside at room temperature for at least 8 hours.

Quick soaking method: In a large pot, cover beans with 3 inches of cold water, then bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, then remove pot from heat, and allow to sit, covered, for 1 hour.

Drain soaked beans and transfer to a large pot (discarding the cooking water).

Add 6 cups of cold water, onions, and garlic. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add bay leaves, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender (about 1 hour). Skim off and discard any foam on the surface.

When beans are tender, discard bay leaves, add the crème fraîche, and mix (I use a hand blender). Depending on how thick you like your soup, you may want to add more water.

Ladle into bowls, and sprinkle 1/2 tsp of lemon juice on the top of the soup. Optional: sprinkle with pancetta bacon just before serving.

Note: the French often add other things to the mix, like stalks of parsley (leaves removed!), celery sticks, or shallots. These can be added with the bay leaves, and removed at the same time. They add a subtle, wonderful flavor to this soup.

Bon Appétit!

Yummy French Kids School Lunches…this week in Chartres

The town of Chartres in northern France is perhaps best known for its medieval Gothic cathedral, which has fascinated artists and writers since its completion early in the 13th century (most recently, the secrets hidden in its intricate carvings played a pivotal role best-selling Da Vinci Code).

School lunches in Chartres (population 40,000) follow a pattern similar to that elsewhere in France: a starter, main dish, side dish, cheese, and dessert. And the nutritional balance of meal is overseen by a nutritionist, so that children are always offered one raw vegetable, one dairy product, one protein-rich food (meat, fish, eggs, or beans/pulses), and one carbohydrate-rich food (necessary energy for kid’s busy bodies).

So, what are children eating this week in Chartes?

Monday, November 14th

Grapefruit
Cheese omelette
Baked potatoes with butter and fresh parsley
Fruit compote

Tuesday, November 15th
Green salad with French vinaigrette
Filet of hoki (Blue Grenadier fish) with lemon
Steamed vegetables julienne (julienne means cut in thin strips)
Fruit velouté (creamy cooked fruit sauce)

Wednesday, November 16th
Wheat berry salad à la provençale (olive oil, garlic, and chopped tomato)
Cordon bleu (a rich casserole, with chicken and bacon, topped with cheese and breadcrumbs)
Steamed carrots
Goat cheese
Seasonal fresh fruit

Thursday, November 17th
Cucumber salad with creamy dressing
Sausage de Toulouse (a town in southern France)
Lentils
Gouda cheese
Seasonal fresh fruit

Friday, November 18th
Themed Menu: Chinese food
Soya, corn, and carrot salad
Minced Turkey à l’impériale
Rice Madras
Creamy yogurt (Petit Suisse)
Chinese dessert

As is the case with some schools in France, food is made in a central kitchen, and transported by truck to each school for distribution. This keeps prices affordable, and enables even small schools (like kindergartens) to have hot lunches.

Bon Appétit!

How to tell if baking powder is still good…and French chocolate macaroons…courtesy of @davidlebovitz

David Lebovitz is one of my favorite food writers (and, no surprise, he is a big fan of French food). After a long stint working for Alice Waters in her famous Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, he moved to Paris, where he immersed himself in French cooking — and especially desserts.

David’s blog is a treasure trove of yummy recipes (all adapted for North American cooks), and other useful tips. Here’s a useful one from his blog on on how to tell if baking powder is still good.

While you’re on his blog, I’d recommend trying out some of his amazing recipes. This weekend, I’m going to try making (daunting, but delicious) French macarons with my two daughters! His French Chocolate Macaron recipe looks very tempting…I’ll let you know how it goes!

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)
Applesauce

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?