Book Review: French Kids Eat Everything

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If you deal with picky kids (or even spouses) I highly recommend reading the book French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. Several readers recommended it to me, and I am so glad they did. First of all, this book is very inspiring. Whether you are able to apply every single tactic to your life or not it gives you the confidence that kids do not have to be so limited when it comes to food. I know I am not the only one who often wonders why so many think that kids will only eat and enjoy “kid food” like pizza, chicken fingers, plain pasta, hot dogs, and macaroni & cheese.

Now I will say, as motivated as I felt after reading the book, there’s one huge component we’re lacking here in America. Apparently, in France, their schools, governments, and communities all work “together to create food and education systems that support parents in feeding their children well.” I don’t know about you, but I oftentimes feel like others are working against me (not with me) when it comes to feeding our next generation well. My daughters eat more junk food at school than I would ever dream of giving them at home. I can’t imagine how much easier things would be if everyone in our society was on the same page like they appear to be in France.

But rather than waiting around for that to happen we must just take matters into our own hands. And what I have learned from my own children is that converting a picky eater requires a gentle, yet persistent approach and LOTS of patience! Winning over a picky eater is not something that will happen overnight, but if you really make it a priority in weeks, months, or even a year I guarantee you will start to see some of the dramatic changes you are hoping for. And in the end it will of course be worth the effort.

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10 great takeaways (the “French Food Rules”) from the book French Kids Eat Everything:

  1. Parents: You are in charge of your children’s food education.
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    Apparently the French think us Americans cram our schedules so full with activities (like sports, art, music, dance, etc.) that it leaves little time to teach our children “some of the most basic, important things they need to know, like the proper way to prepare, cook, and eat healthy food.” You have to admit it’s hard to argue with that criticism. And I just love the analogy the author uses when she says, “French parents think about healthy eating habits the way we think about toilet training, or reading.” If your child had trouble learning to read or using the potty would you just give up? Same should go for eating a variety of healthy foods…I know, they are right and it stings.
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  2. Avoid emotional eating. Food is not a pacifier, a distraction, a toy, a bribe, a reward, or a substitute for discipline.
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    I feel like we are so far down this rabbit hole it might be hard to get out, but let’s face it they have a good point here! Food is for nourishment, hunger, and nutrition…not for being a good listener.
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  3. Parents schedule meals and menus. Kids eat what adults eat: no substitutes and no short-order cooking.
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    If this were a reality for everyone it would certainly make life a lot easier!
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  4. Food is social. Eat family meals together at the table, with no distractions.
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    How
    you eat can be as important as what you eat.
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  5. Eat vegetables of all colors of the rainbow. Don’t eat the same main dish more than once per week.
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    I agree that variety is extremely important, but I am personally a little stumped when it comes to the second half of this rule. We love leftovers at our house and feel they are such a time saver…but that certainly means eating the same main dish more than once, or in some cases, more than twice per week!
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  6. For picky eaters: You don’t have to like it, but you do have to taste it.
    For fussy eaters: You don’t have to like it, but you do have to eat it.
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    When considering these statements it’s also VERY important to remember that “you’re not going to convince the kids to love food by being too strict with them. It has to be enjoyable. Not necessarily loads of fun, but simply pleasurable.” This takes us back to that “gentle persistence” I mentioned above.
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  7. Limit snacks, ideally one per day (two maximum), and not within one hour of meals.
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    Now, I know out of all the rules on this list that “no more constant snacking” will likely cause the most uproar. But according to the author it’s okay to feel hungry in-between meals and guess what…your kids might eat a better dinner if they are actually hungry!
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  8. Take your time, for both cooking and eating. Slow food is happy food.
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    “North Americans associate food most with health and least with pleasure. The French are at the opposite extreme: they are the most pleasure-oriented and the least health-oriented about food.” And ironically enough “20 percent of kids in the United States are obese, but only 3 percent in France.” Now if that doesn’t send a message, I don’t know what does.
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  9. Eat mostly real, homemade food, and save treats for special occasions. (Hint: Anything processed is not “real” food.)
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    See…I am not the only one preaching this statement! :) But “so much of what French people eat is, by default, ‘real food‘” so I’d have to say they don’t exactly face the same challenges we do when it comes to encountering junk food on almost every corner. The French do have an admirable approach though when it comes to the processed, junk food their kids may want to eat on occasion. They do not police their children’s food intake (or ban all junk food), but instead attempt to “train their children to eat a balanced diet and to realize how much healthier they feel if they eat mostly ‘real food.’” I’ve always said that if my daughters only avoid processed food “because mommy said so” then it’s not going to get us very far.
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  10. (The Golden Rule) 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 a while.
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    I couldn’t agree more with the importance of this rule, but striking the perfect balance between “good nutrition” and “relaxing the rules” is no easy task. And maybe that’s because most American children are faced with processed, junk food on a regular basis (at birthday parties, friend’s houses, church events, soccer practice, school celebrations, etc.). As I mentioned above, our society is (unfortunately) not exactly working together on these issues like they are in France. Regardless though, I agree it is not “healthy” to constantly be stressed out about the food you eat.

In addition to this list of rules there were so many other startling facts and insightful statements that I took away from this book. I wish I could share them all here, but since that’s not a very practical idea I will instead just highly recommend that everyone go out and read the book yourselves! I promise you won’t regret it…not to mention there are a handful of kid-friendly recipes in the back.

*THIS CONTEST IS CLOSED*

The winners are: 

  • Ann – “I abide by the kids eat what adults eat rule and don’t offer other options. We also stick to real foods, minimal sugar. So I think that helps kids eat real food without complaint.”
  • Emily – “My husband can be a picky eater, so my trick is preparing the same food a number of times. He may not like everything, but perseverance pays off!”
  • Nicky – “Rule #6 is the big one in our house….even if you’ve tasted it 50 times, taste it again!”

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2,961 comments to Book Review: French Kids Eat Everything

  • Aunnie

    Never coming back to this blog……women mistreating women……yuck

  • krissy

    It is ecouraging and didheartening to hear of so many super women. I try to be a perfect mom and work and go to school and eat and prepare healthy meals and i admit I often fail. I am tired. I think Joy is frustrated jealous and confused. I often marvel @ women that seem to be able to pull off the juggeling act. I thought it might be really cool for somebody to write a book and enterview these “perfect moms” just to find out exactly how they do it. I want to see schedules, I want to know how every second is spent cause I don’t know how to do it and I am tired of eeling “not good enough” all the time. It is so exhausting. We shouldn’t judge eachother we should help eachother and stick together; being a woman is challenging no matter what your choices or
    circumstances.

  • Julie

    I really do NOT care what the French are or are not doing and am sick of Americans really caring so much about them and CELEBS for that matter! I do usually love and agree with most of your blogs, sorry this one annoyed me!

    • Jose

      You do realize that his was a book review, and really had virtually nothing to do with the French, right? The idea of “French kids…” Is simply a vehicle through which the author shows that it is possible to have children with healthy eating habits, and for us to be good models for them. Way to intentionally miss the point with what is likely politically minded drivel.

      Not only that, but you should really travel to France. It might make you realize that there is much to be learned from other cultures, and hey, good wine, cheese, and a 35 hr work week aren’t bad either.

  • Tamara

    First and foremost, don’t let your kids rule you! You are the parent, they don’t dictate to you what they will and will not eat. If they honestly don’t like something OK, but if they don’t want to eat something because they want something else, or just don’t want to eat that, then they don’t eat at all. Parents should not have to negotiate with their children to eat something, or break down and give them somehting else that they want. When I was a child I had what was put in front of me, if I didn’t like it, I didn’t eat. If more parents did that type of parenting, I think they would find that their children will eat most things.

  • Lauren

    I enjoyed the post! I don’t understand why anyone would get upset, it’s just an alternative perspective. Agreeing to disagree is okay!

  • Carla

    Love these rules!

    However, I would never be able to completely ban the no snacking -a body needs a different amount of calories and nutrition from day to day, depending on what one is doing (physical labour v.s. relaxing infront of t.v.) I really think a healthy snack is necessary sometimes (not to mention people with health conditions where certain levels of nutrition need to be kept up). I wonder how well French children concentrate at school without snack time? Maybe just fine or better, but I have trouble believing so.

    Also, emotional eating. Being really nervous or anxious is tiresome on the body and some extra food might be doing some good on some days!

  • Alex

    I am French and I am also a little tired of all those books that show how the French do it. I feel writers get this romantic idea of how things are done and tend to depict a really black and white picture. Let’s face it many French children are very picky eaters and parents make them special meals, every day. French kids are in school from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm. So when it comes to snacking, they snack around 10:00 am and then again after school. That is of course in addition to actual meals. I’ve never come across any child who did not snack.

    • Dawn

      Thank you Alex!~

      Here in Austria its the same. Kids go to school with a snack. I know I pack one every day for both kids…there isn’t a kid in the class without a snack. It may be a sandwich,a piece of fruit,a pastry,jogurts,nutella bread or pretzels , to be honest I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen picky Austrian kids, picky French kids, and picky American kids.

  • H

    My daughter has been going to French cooking classes after school and went to camp this summer. She is learning so much, eating everything she makes and is more open to trying new foods. The teacher is firm and adheres to this sort of expectation about meals and food. I am grateful for the exposure my daughter has had to another culture. The tenants followed in the French school are invaluable.

  • Liza

    I recently saw a movie on Netflix called “Food Beware- The French Organic Revolution” and even though it goes thru many of the tactics that this book is talking about I found that the parents in the movie was also struggling with what their children should eat or not. As a mother of 2 teens and 2 elementary school children getting my children to eat organic, or healthy, everyday is challenging even though I live in NYC. As mothers, we can just do our best and hope for the better. Kiss our children and love them because they grow up so fast.

  • [...] and blogs on this topic to learn other ways to approach the situation.  A girlfriend posted this recently and I found it to be somewhat valuable. [...]

  • Jennifer

    I have a 23 month old and she does not eat processed food and I buy organic and cook all of our meals, but I am having a hard time getting her to eat what we eat. She is being very selective in what she wants, and I feel very frustrated when she will try it and tell me she doesn’t like it. Just wondering when some of the others post that if their kids don’t like it or say they don’t want it, then they don’t eat, how old are your kids? I just don’t think that I can tell my daughter that she then gets nothing else…

    • Jessie Gadbury

      Always give your child options that she will like. If you give her a few options with a couple that you’re sure she’ll like the she’ll eat the regular foods and just make her try the new foods. That way she won’t be starving. 2 years olds are just beginning to open their minds or taste buds to new foods. Keep giving everything to her. If it makes her gag, or you can tell it is disgusting to her then of course do not force her to eat it. But if she just pushes it ways or gives a little “yuck”, believe me, she will like it further down the road. And when she’s hungry enough (2-3hours later). She might eat those iffy foods.

  • [...] and don’t obsessively add up numbers like we do. According to Karen Le Billon in her book French Kids Eat Everything, in France “Enjoyment is the goal of eating. You can’t enjoy yourself if you are … counting [...]

  • Hi,
    I’m French and I have been living in austin for 16 years. Our cultures are different so you can’t compare. Kids do not eat everything in France (:)) but one thing for sure, there is a time to eat and it is the same for the whole family. We seat down at the same time at the table and nothing special for the kids. You eat what is on the table or you don’t. When we get up from the table, it is over. No snacking in front of the tv!
    I freaked out the first time I saw the chips alley! Crazy!
    Eat fresh and simple everyday, you will feel so much better. And no soda nor juice as we all know, they are loaded with sugar! Stay healthy my friends!

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