I`ve just had The Talk about the Big Turning Point of Diversification with our midwife couple of days ago, and what seemed to me before as a stressful, all-bio-greens-boring-shit kind of upcoming event in our lives, actually turned out to be quite comforting and I am now looking forward to starting it. And even though Sasha is only 5 months old now, I want to be ready to start feeding him in a modern and French style.
First of all, we chose our midwife according to our personality, so being relaxed and modern, her advises match our way of raising Sasha, and this is a huge thing. Cause the opinions are so varied and go from “feed your baby 40 grams of blended carrot and cauliflower 3 times a day for 3 years before adding salmon and yogurt”, to “teach them to only eat chunks of stuff from the very beginning so that they don`t end up eating only purees when they`re 5”. In few words, it`s a mess out there. I can`t get myself to read any of this stuff, and we just do as we feel it`s best for the baby and for us.
Now everybody knows that French kids do everything oh so very perfectly, and eating is one of the things they are the best at, apparently. There is even a (great) book on this, called French Kids Eat Everything. Karen Le Billon reminisces about how her “family moved to France, cured picky eating, banned snacking and discovered 10 simple rules for raising happy, healthy eaters”.
So here are the main points that matched our midwife`s and the book`s rules approach and our own style as parents. 3 in 1. 🙂
- Kids eat what parents eat. Three times a day.
Le Billon`s daughters went to French school and the menus there were different and amazing: Raw radishes! Saute de beuf! Alaskan hake! Blue cheese!!! Country pate with pickles! They were exposed to strong and diverse flavors. Le Billon talks about seeing a nine-month-old baby happily gumming a piece of Roquefort cheese! French kids eat three meals a day plus a snack at 4 pm. Parents make up the menu and there are no substitutions.
2. Family meals are an event and a reason to get together, talk and enjoy the meal; they should be special.
Let the kids be part of an everyday “ceremony“. “The French never, ever, eat without putting a tablecloth on the table,” she writes. “They even have a special phrase for setting the table: dresser la table.”, Le Billon says. Candles, pretty plates, playful napkins, “It immediately puts them on their best behavior,” she says. How fun and magical for little ones.
3. Food should not be used as a reward, bribe or punishment.
We want children to have a deep respect for food, and not just to be offered food whenever they are bored, upset or do something good – like you reward puppies for handing the paw. Also, you should not make them eat when they are clearly full or simply don`t want to anymore. The “lucky last bite” from the plate is just a myth used by our ancestors-grandmas to make us eat every last crumb from the plate, so we don`t lose any weight god forbid. Instead of offering snacks when they are sad for leaving the park, make them look forward to playing with the dog at home, or going to see daddy.
4. Veggies! Key: think variety!
French are smart- they typically serve veggies first at a meal, when kids are hungriest. Mix up a different exciting meal each day- think variety! Grated carrot salad. Sliced cucumbers with vinaigrette. Beets and oranges. Endive salad with Emmental cheese and croutons. Veggies should be layered out on the plate as craziest and creative as possible, and should be not seen as a side dish for meat or chicken nuggets. Experiment, get creative!
5. You don’t have to like it, but you have to taste it.
French parents don’t fuss over food too much. The dinner table should not be a battleground. “If the child refuses to eat, the parents simply take the food away without too much comment.”, says Le Billon. Interestingly, our wise midwife advised us the same – Refrain from begging, or even asking them to eat, and also, do not praise them for eating. Keep the conversation positive and interesting, so that the kids will want to stay at the table. This is the whole point of a meal – getting together, no TV, no cartoons on iPads or playing on your phone when you finished eating. How eye-opening! This is so common for grandparents especially, to encourage kids to eat and then praise them for swallowing every single bite. How exhausting and foolish this seems now! And trust me, the kids will eat more happily and – by themselves-, if you just talk about other things and not make them the issue of the dinner table.
Still, if your child does not want to eat something, they at least have to taste it, say the French. According to nutritionists, most children have to taste new foods 7-15 times before they willingly agree to eat then! So encourage them to always try out new things and you may be surprised.
6. No snacking! It’s ok to feel hungry between meals.
Ever since I was breastfeeding Sasha, I always wondered if he was getting enough milk to get his weight up, and then when I switched to formula, I continued assuming that he should be constantly satiated. But why? As far as kids are concerned (not babies!), it’s ok to have feelings of hunger between meals. “Hunger is the best seasoning”, says the French. Also, kids will eat more “real”, healthy foods when they’re hungry, instead of filling up with snacks. However, if you give them a fruit snack between breakfast and lunch or some nuts before dinner, it works just as well, especially if the kids are having daily activities, like sports.
7. Slow food is happy food.
By government decree, French kids spend at least thirty minutes at the lunch table – even when they’re tiny. And it should be like this in the family as well. Meals are not just about eating, but also socializing. Teaching children to patiently sit through meals and enjoy conversations with loved ones is such an important life skill. I for one, don’t want to end up following Sasha all around the house begging him to swallow, and ending up in his tent with chicken bites in my hand.
8. Remember: eating is joyful! Relax!
This might be the craziest of them all. After all this no snacking, no junk food, no iPads and no running around the house at dinner, this is the rule that makes all other rules actually work! It’s a matter of attitude. Karen found that when she was relaxed and tried to make food about exploration and joy, the kids were a lot more receptive! And this is what I’m planning to do as well!
(Photo by Elliott Erwitt for “French Kids Eat Everything”)
You can get the book here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0062103296/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=acoj-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0062103296