French Taste Training Tip of the Week: The Lunch 'Surprise Box'

Introducing new foods in a fun, pressure-free way is a key part of the French approach to kids’ food. In the school lunches served in France, this happens on a regular basis (for example, schools don’t repeat the same dish more than once every two months). They can do this because kids get a fresh, scratch-cooked meal at the ‘school restaurant’ (the name says it all).

Sounds good, you’re thinking. But how to do this when your kids pack a lunch from home (which is what we do now that we’re back living in Vancouver)?

Here’s one simple idea: designate one of the compartments in your child’s lunchbox the ‘Surprise Box’ (we use ones from EasyLunchboxes). We chose the smallest compartment, into which I pack fun, unusual things (fruits, vegetables, or even sweet treats). We talk about the new foods when the kids get home — they love sharing their reactions. And I make sure to put in rare favourites (like out-of-season fruit) from time to time, so they have really positive associations with the Surprise Box.

Some recent suggestions from our Surprise Boxes: pomegranate seeds, very thinly sliced endive (French ‘chiffonade’ style), cubed mango, tiny baby carrots (from my neighbour, who was thinning her new carrot plants), a basil leaf, and (my personal recent fave) a macaroon (on National Macaroon Day, bien sur!).

If you do try it, let me know how your kids like it! And I’d love suggestions about other things to include as Surprises.

Fussy Eater or Picky Eater — what's the difference? And what to do about it?

Many parents report difficulty in feeding their children at some stage. Often, children refuse to eat specific groups of foods (like vegetables, or fruits), resulting in worried parents and stressful mealtimes.

I spent a lot of time trying to get my children to eat better, and wondering how much of their resistance to new foods was due to power struggles (and therefore negotiable) versus a real resistance to/difficulty in eating new foods (much less negotiable). One helpful insight I learned in France is the difference between a ‘picky eater’ and a ‘fussy eater’.

Picky eaters are very selective about what they eat. They probably have a degree of what scientists call “food neophobia”, which is generally defined as the reluctance to eat, or even sample, new foods. Children with neophobia often reject many ‘new’ foods. This can result in children eating a limited variety of foods. But the good news is that this is usually a temporary phase. Gently encouraging children to continue trying new foods is the key. Researchers have found that tasting foods repeatedly (anywhere from 7 to 15 times) will usually result in acceptance of a new food. Note: this doesn’t mean forcing a child to eat, but rather gently, calmly encouraging them to taste something. So we say to our kids: “You don’t have to like it, you just have to taste it.” This method has worked for lots of foods (broccoli, beets, salad, cauliflower, lentils) which our kids now happily eat. (This works for French kids too; check out the amazing French Kids School Lunch menus from schools all over France).

Fussy eaters, on the other hand, will reject foods that they like one day, but then happily eat them the next. This sometimes happens with my younger daughter, who ‘likes’ her breakfast oatmeal one day but then (frustratingly) won’t touch it the next. Inconsistency is apparently a consistent pattern in toddler behavior, so when my children were younger I let it slide. But now (and especially with my older daughter) I’m firm: if they’ve liked it in the past, they have to eat it now.

The French don’t tolerate kids’ fussiness about food–which often arises because kids are testing limits, and turning food into a power struggle. Being firm and consistent avoids these power struggles. Above all, no short order cooking! At lunch (at the school cafeteria) and at home, only one menu is on offer. The kids soon adapt — and everyone is happier as a result.

Can a child be both picky and fussy? Yes, they can! This was the case with our older daughter. We’ve been working hard over the years at encouraging consistency (so that she eats the things she has already tried and liked), and adventurousness with new foods (still sometimes a challenge, but a lot better than it used to be). If my kids don’t like something, I simply tell them: “That’s fine, you’ll like it when you grow up.” I believe it, and I think they believe me!

So, are your children picky eaters, or fussy eaters, or both? And how do you deal with it?

Fussy Eater or Picky Eater — what’s the difference? And what to do about it?

Many parents report difficulty in feeding their children at some stage. Often, children refuse to eat specific groups of foods (like vegetables, or fruits), resulting in worried parents and stressful mealtimes.

I spent a lot of time trying to get my children to eat better, and wondering how much of their resistance to new foods was due to power struggles (and therefore negotiable) versus a real resistance to/difficulty in eating new foods (much less negotiable). One helpful insight I learned in France is the difference between a ‘picky eater’ and a ‘fussy eater’.

Picky eaters are very selective about what they eat. They probably have a degree of what scientists call “food neophobia”, which is generally defined as the reluctance to eat, or even sample, new foods. Children with neophobia often reject many ‘new’ foods. This can result in children eating a limited variety of foods. But the good news is that this is usually a temporary phase. Gently encouraging children to continue trying new foods is the key. Researchers have found that tasting foods repeatedly (anywhere from 7 to 15 times) will usually result in acceptance of a new food. Note: this doesn’t mean forcing a child to eat, but rather gently, calmly encouraging them to taste something. So we say to our kids: “You don’t have to like it, you just have to taste it.” This method has worked for lots of foods (broccoli, beets, salad, cauliflower, lentils) which our kids now happily eat. (This works for French kids too; check out the amazing French Kids School Lunch menus from schools all over France).

Fussy eaters, on the other hand, will reject foods that they like one day, but then happily eat them the next. This sometimes happens with my younger daughter, who ‘likes’ her breakfast oatmeal one day but then (frustratingly) won’t touch it the next. Inconsistency is apparently a consistent pattern in toddler behavior, so when my children were younger I let it slide. But now (and especially with my older daughter) I’m firm: if they’ve liked it in the past, they have to eat it now.

The French don’t tolerate kids’ fussiness about food–which often arises because kids are testing limits, and turning food into a power struggle. Being firm and consistent avoids these power struggles. Above all, no short order cooking! At lunch (at the school cafeteria) and at home, only one menu is on offer. The kids soon adapt — and everyone is happier as a result.

Can a child be both picky and fussy? Yes, they can! This was the case with our older daughter. We’ve been working hard over the years at encouraging consistency (so that she eats the things she has already tried and liked), and adventurousness with new foods (still sometimes a challenge, but a lot better than it used to be). If my kids don’t like something, I simply tell them: “That’s fine, you’ll like it when you grow up.” I believe it, and I think they believe me!

So, are your children picky eaters, or fussy eaters, or both? And how do you deal with it?

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?

 

 

What French Kids are eating for School Lunch…this week in Lourdes!

Lourdes is the largest Catholic pilgrimage site in France (an increasingly multifaith country, with followers of Islam and Buddhism now making up nearly 10% of the population). It’s a surprisingly small town tucked into the hilly country just north of the Pyrenees (the mountains separating France and Spain). The pilgrims converge from all over the world — many arriving on foot along the many pathways through the surrounding mountains and countryside.

After the festive Christmas season, it’s perhaps normal to settle back into a ‘lighter’, healthier eating pattern for a while. Maybe that’s why this menu is so, well, healthy! With the exception of that yummy ‘Galette des Rois’ (the traditional frangipane and puff pastry cake served at Epiphany) on January 6th. Yum yum.

Tuesday, January 3rd
Corn salad
Roasted pork
Sauteed vegetables
Vanilla yogurt

Wednesday January 4th&
no school

Thursday, January 5th
Beet salad (a classic for French kids)
Garnished couscous
Galette des Rois (literally: ‘King Cake’)

Friday, January 6th
Rice salad
Breaded fish with lemon
Green beans
Yogurt with fruit

I don’t know what your kids are eating for school lunch this week, but mine definitely aren’t being served beet salad (which, by the way, they love) and green beans. However, when they were in school in France they quickly learned to eat just like those little French kids (it was amazing how quickly they adapted).

I’d love your thoughts. Would you serve these menus to your kids? And would they eat them?

This blog post is part of my French Kids School Lunch Project. Every week, I post the school lunch menus from a different village or town in France, where three-course, freshly-prepared hot lunches are provided to over 6 million children in the public school system every day. These meals cost, on average, $3 per child per day (and prices for low-income families are subsidised). My hope is that these menus (together with my other blog posts about the French approach to kid’s food) will spark a conversation about what children CAN eat, and how we can do better at educating them to eat well.

Best Kids Food Books…Great Holiday Gifts!

For those of you who love healthy eating, and love to share this with children and the families around you, here are some of my favorite books for kids.

I’m planning to give all of these books as gifts this holiday season (no, I don’t get any endorsements–I’m just a book lover at heart)…and I know I’m looking forward to reading them as much as I hope my kids are!

Eating the Alphabet (Lois Ehrlert, Harcourt Brace, 1996) (preschoolers)

I Can Eat a Rainbow: A Fun Look at Healthy Foods and Vegetables (Annabel Karmel, Dorling Kindersley, 2009) (preschoolers)

Alexander and the Great Food Fight (Linda Hawkins, Heart to Heart, 2004) (5 to 8 years)

Did You Eat Your Vitamins Today? (Ena Sabih, Heart to Heart, 2011) (5 to 8 years)

The Vegetables We Eat (Gail Gibbons, Holiday House, 2007) (8 to 12)

The Omnivore’s Dilemma: The Secrets behind What You Eat. Young Reader’s Edition (Michael Pollan, Dial, 2009) (teens)

Chew on This: Everything You Don’t Want to Know About Fast Food (Eric Schlosser, Houghton Mifflin, 2006) (teens)

Happy reading!