Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Book Review: French Kids Eat Everything, by Karen Le Billon

My love for the French goes way back. As a child, I adored the adventures of the little orphan, Madeline, and the elephant king, Babar. I took French language lessons in high school and served as president of the French Club. I joined my classmates on trips to Montreal and France. My favorite Impressionist painter has always been Pierre-Auguste Renoir. I like to think that the French would be pleased to know these things, but there’s one part of my life at which I’m certain they would be appalled: my family’s eating habits. I learned this after reading the new book, French Kids Eat Everything, by Karen Le Billon.

A Canadian married to a Frenchman, the author moved with her husband and two young daughters to northern France for a year. However, she was totally unprepared for the culture shock she experienced when it came to food. She discovered that French children, almost without exception, do not eat unscheduled snacks, behave impeccably at the table for hours at a time, and eat almost any food! Le Billon’s daughters, on the other hand, were typical North American children (like mine) -- turning their noses up at new foods, begging for snacks all the time, and misbehaving at the dinner table. When she enrolled her oldest daughter in preschool, the author discovered that the children ate a well-rounded hot meal for lunch, and everyone ate the same thing -- and liked it! And food was never used as a reward or treat for the children. Needless to say, it was a tough adjustment for the family!

Food appreciation is a deeply engrained part of French life that often results in healthier eating habits, easer weight control, and even better manners on the part of children. Most Americans would find it very difficult to suddenly switch to the French way of eating and serving meals, but Le Billon was determined to try. In the process, she came up with 10 simple rules for families that include items such as: “Eat mostly real, homemade food, and save treats for special occasions. Hint: Anything processed is not ‘real’ food” and “Parents schedule meals and menus. Kids eat what adults eat: no substitutes and no short-order cooking.” Through a gradual adaptation of the rules, Le Billon was able to turn her picky eaters into excellent eaters. Of course, that was easier to accomplish in France when societal norms supported this way of life. But could Le Billon sustain this progress when her family returned to North America? (I’ll let you read the book to find the answer to that question!)

French Kids Eat Everything is an honest and highly enjoyable read. The author admits to feelings of guilt and inadequacy in feeding her children, which I can relate to, and acknowledges that life in France was much more difficult than she had anticipated. But with the rising rates of obesity, especially among children in North America, I think we could learn some valuable lessons about feeding our families from the French -- with adaptations for life in North America. Like any new way of doing something, changes must take place gradually and with flexibility. But by adapting at least some of Le Billon’s food rules in French Kids Eat Everything, we may begin to see more enjoyable meals, healthier bodies, and fewer food battles at home.


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Author's blog: http://karenlebillon.com
About the Book: http://karenlebillon.com/books
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/karenlebillon
Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/karenlebillon


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