Liking a variety of food is not innate - it takes education and practice.
Lunch Hour Lesson #45
About 10 years ago I read a book whose author’s story really stuck with me and changed how I thought about children’s eating habits. I read it again a few years later, and it was still a fun and enjoyable read.
So today I want to introduce this book to you and share a few things that I remember the most.
The long title of this book is: French Kids Eat Everything: How our family moved to France, cured picky eating, banned snacking, and discovered 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthy eaters.
To make an understatement, the French people care a lot about how and what food is prepared and eaten, and there are a lot of ingrained routines. It is not a casual subject, and they take it seriously. So much so that UNESCO has declared French Cuisine to be “world intangible heritage”, which basically means that it is a cultural practice worth preserving in an official way.
Because of this, the French public school system teaches children how to eat food as part of their overall educational experience. The sit-down lunches at school are when children are introduced to new flavors, textures, and ways of preparing simple ingredients.
They have professional chefs at the schools who cook for the children, who are are served the food like at a nice restaurant. This practice isn’t teaching the kids how to cook, but simply educating their palates so they can learn how to enjoy the food.
Not all children like each meal, obviously, but the idea is that with repeated exposure and various preparation methods, even foods like beets and leeks can be desired by young children.
“By the third week, my energy was really steady, I had a lot less inflammation in my body, and I felt emotionally resilient.” -Bevin, Seattle, WA RESTART participant.
The author describes how one day, the new food that the children were “learning”, like beets, would be prepared in a soup, and then a different day they’d have it prepared in a soufflé, or a salad. The children would get used to the taste of the new food over time as their palates adjusted and learned to appreciate the new flavors and textures. Just like practicing math equations, the children were practicing eating!
Research does show that it will take kids up to a dozen or more tastes before they consent to eat something new, and this is normal. Karen realized that she, as well as other parents, shouldn’t rush to make assumptions about their child’s food preferences after only a few tries.
This is true for adults as well. I had a hard time learning to like sardines, for example, but I knew they were so healthy and important in my diet that I made an effort. It probably did take about 12 tastes before I started liking them, and now I really do!
Karen eventually distilled her cultural learnings about French food education into 10 simple habits and routines. These may be helpful for you, if you wish your children would appreciate a greater variety of flavors and textures. I’m just going to list them exactly as she presents it in the book:
- You are in charge of your children’s food education.
- Avoid emotional eating. Food is not a pacifier, a distraction, a toy, a bribe, a reward, or a substitute for discipline.
- Parents schedule meals and menus. Kids eat what adults eat: no substitutes and no short-order cooking.
- Food is social. Eat family meals together at the table, with no distractions.
- Eat vegetables of all colors of the rainbow. Don’t eat the same main dish more than once per week.
- For picky eaters: You don’t have to like it, but you do have to taste it.
- Limit snacks, ideally one per day (two maximum), and not within one hour of meals. In between meals, it’s okay to feel hungry. At meals, eat until you’re satisfied rather than full.
- Take your time, for both cooking and eating. Slow food is happy food.
- Eat mostly real, homemade food, and save treats for special occasions. (Hint: Anything processed is not “real” food.)
- Eating is joyful, not stressful. Treat the food rules as habits or routines rather than strict regulations; it’s fine to relax them once in awhile.
This book was fun and educational for me, and I think you’d like it as well. She includes some simple recipes for introducing kids to new foods, and of course, they almost always include butter. For that alone, I say bless the French 🙂
Think of a food that you’d like yourself or your kids to eat more of. Find a simple recipe online that highlights this food, rather than tries to hide it. Make a small batch and serve it at your next meal. Everyone can try it, with no pressure to specifically like it, but have a conversation about what it tastes like, what the texture feels like in your mouth, what it smells like. Treat it as an educational experience and move on. Eventually you could decide to prepare the same food in another way to see it in a new perspective.
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