Masthead header

Category Archives: French Kids Eat Everything

French Kids Eat EverythingPIN

The other night I made Caramelized Fennel, a recipe from Plenty. It was delicious, sweet, crunchy… I may have licked my plate. It’s a beautiful dish: the fennel is sliced into fans, seared in hot butter, and caramelized along with fennel seeds, until it’s a deep, rich brown. I put it on the table, served it up for all of us and without hesitation, Gigi gobbled it up. When Kyle and I were getting ready for bed that night I remarked how proud I was of her. She’s eaten fennel plenty of times but I love that she has learned to trust that what we put on her plate is good, even if it’s a very “adult” dish like the caramelized fennel. I realized it’s been a year since we began our French Kids Eat Everything approach to feeding our family, and she’s come such a long way. She loves kale, broccoli, radishes, pine nuts, spinach, squash. It’s taken a ton of work but it’s been so worth it, and I’m so proud of her.

We had a big dinner recently with lots of friends and their kids. It was a fun, busy dinner. G chose to eat her dinner with the grownups, and when she was done, she asked to be excused. It made me feel like the method was really working because, essentially, we are asking her to eat like an adult. I was so proud of her in that moment because she really surprised me. Expecting her to eat like an adult when we are eating dinner together as a family is a lot easier to do than when we are out at dinner, eating at a friends house, or have a house full of people.

For the most part she does eat like an adult (except for when she occasionally uses her fork as a magic wand, pretends to be a pirate at the table or eats broccoli like the cookie monster). We have worked so hard, and asked so much of her, and she has risen to the occasion as kids do when you raise your expectations. Here we are, a year later, and slowly but surely she has come to eat the way we do. The consistency is the hard work, but the trust aspect of the process is the most rewarding part. I really can’t express how proud I am of our girl… and of us, really. It’s been a whole family project. Next week, Baby Lu will join the fray. A whole new adventure.

I’m really proud of G when she follows the very strict rules we have set up for her around everything to do with food. We are in no way perfect, have many off days and failed meals, but overall she has really risen to meet our expectations and for that I’m really proud. I’m proud of her, and proud of us for sticking with it.

*I offended a couple of people with the way the post was previously written. I did not intend for it to appear that I was comparing G to any other children. I’ve changed it to accurately express my feelings. I sincerely apologize if I hurt anyone’s feelings.

I wrote a guest post for What To Expect about our choice to use/success with this method, you can read it here.

Get the French Kids Eat Everything book here.

French Kids Eat Everything Author Q&APIN

I had a Q &A planned for this week as a follow up to my post about French Kids Eat Everything, but I couldn’t answer all of the questions on my own so I sent the author, Karen, an email to see if she’d like to participate! So here you have my answers along with advice from French Kids Eat Everything author Karen Le Billon, and my sweet cousin Aurélie who lives just outside of Paris with her two girls! Thank you for all your great questions! We are giving away a copy of French Kids Eat Everything… see the end of the post to see how to enter!

GENERAL:

THE FRENCH APPROACH SEEMS REALLY OVERWHELMING. WHAT’S THE BEST WAY TO MAKE THESE MAJOR CHANGES?
Kacie: My advice would be to start with one of the “rules” at a time. Start small – cut out snacks, then move on to the next rule. For us we really did a major overhaul all at once and that worked great for us, but it you feel overwhelmed give yourself, and your children time to adjust bit by bit. Karen’s book really chronicles her journey of reforming her kids’ eating habits over time… it’s a process that you can approach step by step.

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO READ KAREN’S BOOK?
Kacie: I would highly recommend reading it. While I have a lot of information from the book/my experience on the blog, it’s just my opinion. Her book is a best-seller for a reason! It’s well written, honest, encouraging and inspirational. (We are giving away a copy today… you can enter below!)

WHAT DOES A TYPICAL FAMILY MEAL LOOK LIKE IN YOUR HOME?
Karen: Three courses: a simple vegetable starter, a main course (usually a ‘starch’ like rice, potatoes, couscous or quinoa; a protein (fish, or lentil soup are current favorites), and another vegetable (whatever is in season); fresh fruit for dessert.

Kacie: We sometimes have a vegetable starter (I’m working on making this more consistent. If it’s a new veggie we serve it first to encourage Gigi to eat it or try it). We then have a main course in which I try to include a protein, a vegetable, and sometimes a carbohydrate. Depending on how dinner goes, we will have some yogurt with jam, a piece of fruit, a little piece of chocolate or ice cream for dessert. We always have water to drink with dinner. I never serve milk at meals.

Aurélie: a starter which could be a soup, raw endives, grated carrots, … (in winter time) or tomatoes, cucumber, melon, … (in summer time)
a main meal : spinach and cream and prosciutto, pasta and ham, cauliflower with béchamel sauce and eggs, …
and a dessert : yogurt, home made cake, chocolate porridge, rice pudding, fruits, …
and WATER …

DO YOU FEED YOUR KIDS ON A SCHEDULE?
Karen: Yes! Three meals per day, and one healthy afterschool snack around 4 pm. No random snacking otherwise.

Kacie: Yes. our daily schedule is… 
7:30 breakfast
12:00 lunch
3:30 small snack and 1/2 cup milk
6:00 dinner (bedtime is at 7:30pm)

Aurélie: We try do make them eat between 19h30 (7:30pm) and 20h (8pm) every night but we do not respect it when we have guests (once a week !)  at noon, during the week, the canteen (school cafeteria)  is quiet on schedule but during the weekend they eat between 12h and 14h.

IS IT WISE TO NEGOTIATE WITH YOUR CHILD AT THE TABLE?
Karen: French Food Rule #1: Parents are in charge. This means no bribing, threatening, or negotiating. Gentle encouragement is fine (and fun)! A simple way to think about it: Parents decide when meals are served, as well as what is served. Kids can decide whether and how much to eat. No substitutes or short-order cooking. That way, kids gradually learn to try everything on their plates, and also learn they can’t whine to get alternatives. Remember: they won’t starve with this approach. If they don’t eat a lot at one meal, they’ll eat more at the next.

FEEDING BABIES:


DO YOU FOLLOW THE FRENCH KIDS APPROACH FROM THE START?
Karen: It helps if you do so, and that is what French parents do.

Kacie: With Gigi we did not, but I sure wish we had. We got stuck on rice/oat cereal, purées, and too much formula/milk. It was kind of a nightmare. We will definitely be skipping the cereals this time and are planning to try to find a balance between purées and the Baby Led Weaning approach. If you have a tiny babe at home right now, start the French Way and then it will be easy. I loved the advice “start as you mean to go on”. With Gigi we followed this in everything expect our introduction of food – which is really the only area that we had trouble with.

Aurélie: Here in France, we’ve been applying this way of eating for our first daughter (and now our second) since she was born. If my memory is right, our older daughter has been eating the same thing as us since she was 9 months old. First we mixed our food, then we squished it and after gave her small pieces … For our younger daughter, we gave her some pieces before she got her teeth… no matter, her gums were strong enough (if you doubt, put your finger inside your baby’s mouth and you’ll see!)

WHEN THEY WERE BABIES DID YOU GIVE THEM SINGLE FOODS (JUST APPLES OR SQUASH) OR WERE THE PUREES ALWAYS MIXES OF DIFFERENT FOODS?
Karen: Single foods to start with, and then mixes of different foods. French parents tend to be very adventurous in trying different mixes of flavors. For example, French Kids Eat Everything has a great recipe for pear-leek puree. Trust me, it’s delicious!

Aurélie: No rule, it depends on our desire, on what is in the fridge but the main rule is that we cook the same thing for them than for ourselves. Maybe if you want to introduce a new food, introduce it with one your baby loves  … so you can switch from one to the other. (one spoon of this, one spoon of that ….)

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON BABY LED WEANING (no broths/purées)?
Karen: This may work for some children who are developmentally ready to chew at an early age. But not all children will be ready so early (my second child had her teeth come in very late, and was slow to learn to chew). So baby-led weaning may work for some babies, but purées may work for other babies. However, ‘graduating’ them to solids as soon as they are able to handle them is a great idea–for tooth development as well as acquiring ‘eating skills’. The key to the French approach is maximum exposure to different flavors at an early age. It’s fun for babies!

VARIETY:

ANY HELPFUL HINTS ABOUT HOW TO ENCOURAGE KIDS TO TRY A BIT OF EVERYTHING ON THEIR PLATE?

Karen: Serve small portions and treat it as an ‘experiment’ rather than forcing them to eat everything on their plate. Ask them to describe the food – not just react with ‘yuck’. My new book (Getting to Yum, which will be published with HarperCollins in 2013) has a detailed set of suggestions for how to do ‘Taste Tests’ with children.

Kacie: We always ask Gigi to try everything. We gently (not forcefully) ask, “did you taste your _____?” Sometimes a taste is a lick, a tiny bite… we don’t judge her process of tasting and testing. It’s taken a while for her to embrace trying everything. I feel like a lot of it is about her learning to trust us at the table. The older she gets the easier it is to get her to embrace the process. We can talk about foods more, and she gets excited about tasting new foods.

Aurélie: Sometime we arrange the food in the plate to make it looks like something funny or nice.

DID YOU FIND YOUR KIDS GOT BETTER/BRAVER AT TRYING NEW THINGS AS YOU WENT ALONG IN THIS PROCESS?

Karen: Definitely! They began to define themselves as ‘good eaters’ and ‘adventurous eaters’, and were always willing to try.

Kacie: Yes! Last night I served artichokes and I wasn’t sure how she’d embrace them but she loved it! She got to eat with her hands and dip the leaves in aioli. Sometimes I’m surprised by what she’ll eat! Part of it has been setting aside my own judgements about what I think she will or won’t eat. I think here in the U.S. we are taught to believe that kids won’t eat/like certain things, and the further we get along in this process, I’m finding that’s simply not true!

DID YOU FIND IF YOU KEPT PUTTING NEW FOODS IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILD ENOUGH TIMES THEY WOULD EVENTUALLY TRY IT?

Karen: Yes. Mostly. But kids also have natural food preferences (as do adults) which must be respected. If there are one or two foods they don’t like, that’s OK. They can try them from time to time, to check.

Kacie: It’s also taken a long time for her to embrace squash and potatoes but she loves them now. There were definitely some very frustrating meals/weeks where I felt that she’d never eat something, but eventually she did and it was all the more rewarding for having continued to put the effort into it.

WHAT DO I DO IF MY CHILD HAS A PARTICULARLY STRONG AVERSION TO A SPECIFIC FOOD? FOR EXAMPLE, POTATOES, OR PROTEINS, RAW VEGETABLES vs. COOKED VEGETABLES? DO I SERVE IT ONLY IN THE FORM I KNOW THEY’LL EAT IT OR DO I KEEP TRYING DIFFERENT APPROACHES? ANY CREATIVE IDEAS HERE FOR TASTING FOODS IN VARIOUS FORMS?
Karen: For older kids, keep serving it in different forms. Vary the texture (softer is better for meat, for example). Try fun games! Getting to Yum has lots of these (for example – creating ‘potato volcanoes’ works wonders!).

HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO ALWAYS SERVE SOMETHING THAT KIDS LIKE ALONG WITH NEW FOODS?

Karen: Very important. It reassures them. And scientific research shows that the ‘favorite flavor’ tactic actually creates positive associations with the new food. Limit quantities of the favorite food, though.

WHAT IF MY CHILD ONLY FOCUSES ON THE FOOD THEY LIKE, OR CARBOHYDRATES AND STAY AWAY FROM THE NEW FOODS? IF THEY KEEP FILLING UP ON THAT ONE THING DO YOU CONTINUE TO SERVE THEM THAT FOOD OR TELL THEM THEY MUST TRY THE OTHER FOODS TOO?

Karen: See above – limit quantities of the favorite foods to reasonable portions. Kids have to at least taste the new food before getting more servings of other foods.

Kacie: We tell Gigi she needs to eat some of everything before she has more pasta, for example. When she’s eaten more of her other foods, we will give her a little more pasta… but only a little bit. We try to keep it really balances. Also, I do limit the quantity of pasta or bread on her plate to start off with. I know she’ll start by eating that so I don’t want her to fill up on it. Since we ask her to eat 2-3 bites of everything, I only give her 2-3 bites of pasta along with the other food. We also try to follow the same rule ourselves!

Aurélie: We teach our older daughter to finish the dish with what she likes best. She also has to finish her plate before having some more pasta for example.

HOW DO YOU ENCOURAGE TASTING/TRYING WITHOUT CROSSING THE LINE INTO A TODDLER BATTLE ZONE/POWER STRUGGLE?
Karen: Good question! Adults should taste the food first, with pleasure (scientific studies show this really works)! And then make it clear your child has a choice, and never force. Most importantly, don’t react if they refuse. If you don’t, then there is no power struggle. Your kids should quickly give up antics at the table.

Kacie: I always try to keep in mind that we don’t want to have a power struggle so we never make her do/eat anything. If she says no to something we don’t make a big deal out of it. We eat it and show her how delicious or fun it is to eat, but we don’t try to draw a ton of attention to it. She’ll usually give a try at some point throughout the meal.

DO THEY REFUSE FOODS SOMETIMES?
Karen: Yes! The best response is no fuss or stress on the part of the parent. Rather, you should share your optimism that they will eventually learn to like it, and praise them (but not too much) when they do.

Kacie: Yes. Often. But she’ll usually give it a taste or try. She’s starting to learn that she needs to taste it in order to have the next course (dessert).

Aurélie: They refuse food, but they always have to taste.. Children have to eat 3 forks (to taste) if they want to have the dessert. If they don’t want to eat, the meal stops and they go out of the table (It is possible for us because this happens rarely)…. but for toddlers it’s more complicated, we give them the rest of the meal (and bread to compensate) and try it at another time.

HOW LONG SHOULD I EXPECT MY CHILD TO SIT AT THE TABLE?

Karen: As a rule of thumb, toddlers can sit for at least 5 minutes, preschoolers for 10 minutes, primary school children for 15 minutes. Getting to Yum has lots of great ideas for extending ‘table time’ in a fun way.

Kacie: Gigi starts to get anxious after 15-20 minutes. We tell her she can get down and play but we are still eating. She has to entertain herself while we finish dinner. In the beginning we forced her to stay at the table until everyone was done and it was pretty challenging. If we are at a restaurant she has to stay in her chair and we bring coloring stuff for her, or a book.

Aurélie: They sit at the table for 20 minutes, time for them to eat all the menu.

AT WHAT AGE DO YOU THINK KIDS CAN TRULY UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF “IF I EAT THIS, I ALSO GET TO HAVE THIS/MORE OF THAT?”

Karen: Right from the start! Toddlers are good at logical consequences, and food is a great way to learn this at a young age.

DO YOU ALWAYS MAKE YOUR KIDS EAT THE SAME THING YOU’RE EATING AT BREAKFAST AND LUNCH, OR PRIMARILY AT DINNER?
Karen: They eat what we eat, at every meal. It’s never a problem, because it’s our family habit. They don’t even question it!

Kacie: I’m working on this. Often Gigi’s breakfasts and snacks are different from what we are eating. We always try to sit with her during these meals. I eat lunch with her, and we all eat dinner together as a family. I think it’s mostly about consistency.

MANNERS:


DOES MY CHILD GET TO DECIDE WHEN THEY’RE DONE EATING? WHAT IF THEY HAVEN’T TRIED EVERYTHING ON THEIR PLATE?

Karen: Our kids sit with us until everyone has finished their main course. They always have to try everything on their plate. If they finish dessert earlier, they can ask to be excused. But we encourage them to stay at the table with us until everyone is finished.

Kacie: We ask Gigi to stay at the table until we are done with the main course, but sometimes she is all done. If she asks to be excused we will let her get down and play. If we are having dessert she has to stay at the table and wait while we finish our dinners. If she chooses to leave the table, she is not allowed to come back for more grazing/dessert. When she’s done, she’s done.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO ADDRESS BAD MANNERS/BEHAVIOR AT THE TABLE? FOR EXAMPLE, STANDING UP IN THEIR CHAIR, THROWING FOOD ON THE FLOOR?
Karen: For throwing food: the food is removed, and the meal is over. If you follow through on this consistently, it only takes one or two tries for them to get the message, and to nip this behavior in the bud.

Kacie: Gigi sometimes throws a handful of food on the floor to let us know she’s done. We make her get down and clean it up, then get back in her chair and ask to be excused. We remind her that that is not the way to let us know she’s done.

Aurélie: My 2 girls love eating, so when they do something bad, like throwing food or getting up on their baby chair, we confiscate the food until they have seated or they have cleaned up the floor (we do that even with Chloe who is 16 months, but don’t expect to have a clean floor!)

DESSERT:


DO YOU LET YOUR KIDS HAVE DESSERT IF THEY DIDN’T TRY EVERYTHING ON THEIR PLATE?
Karen: Our French Food Rule is: ‘You don’t have to like it, but you do have to try it!” It’s ingrained, so they always do.

Kacie: No. If we are having dessert I’ll remind her that she needs to taste everything before she can have dessert. We’ll ask her, “Did you taste that ____? If you’d like to have dessert, you need to eat some of it.” I try to look at it as a natural consequence as opposed to a bribe. She has the choice.

Aurélie: We have to blackmail a little bit! “Mum can I have a chocolate?” “Yes after your pear!”

WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN YOUR KIDS NEGOTIATE WITH YOUR OVER “HOW MUCH OF THIS DO I NEED TO EAT TO GET DESSERT”?

Karen: I serve small portions (small kids need to eat smaller quantities than we often think) so this is rarely an issue. A general rule of thumb: one spoon/bite for every year of age (up until school age, when this shouldn’t be an issue anymore).

HOW DO YOU HANDLE CHILDREN OF MULTIPLE AGES AT ONE TABLE? IF ONE CHILD EATS EVERYTHING, AND THE OTHER CHILD DOES NOT, DO BOTH KIDS GET TO HAVE DESSERT? NEITHER OF THEM?
Karen: 
Each child gets their own ‘logical consequences’ of their actions, and lives with them. Just like in real life!

Kacie: If we are eating with friends, we make sure to let Gigi know that if she chooses to be done, or doesn’t try everything, she won’t get to have dessert with everyone else. Sometimes she makes the choice to skip dessert! I think the key is that the power is in her hands.

SOCIAL:

HOW DO YOU HANDLE SOCIAL ASPECTS THAT ARE DIFFERENT HERE THAN IN FRANCE? FOR EXAMPLE, GRANDPARENTS, FRIENDS, NEIGHBORS SPOILING KIDS WITH TREATS, SNACKS, JUNK FOOD, AND FEEDING THEM OUTSIDE OF MEAL TIMES?
Karen: I politely explain to the kids that if they are handed a treat, they can save it for dessert at their next meal. They now follow this routine happily.

Kacie: If someone gives Gigi a treat, I will tell her she can have it for her snack after her nap, and I put it away. When we are at a friend’s house, I let her follow the rules at that house… unless it’s close to a mealtime in which case I say no to any snacking. For long family trips, Kyle and I discuss what will be the best approach for the trip – let go of the rules for a few days, stick to the rules as if we were at home… depends on the trip/holiday/event. We try to remember that food is social, and there are some things we can participate in for a short time because we have set up our foundation of good eating at home and we know we will return to it.

HOW DO YOU HANDLE HAVING GUESTS OVER FOR DINNER OR EATING OUT? MY CHILD SEEMS TO HAVE MUCH WORSE BEHAVIOR WHEN WE HAVE COMPANY OR ARE OUT TO DINNER? DO YOU STICK FIRMLY TO YOUR RULES EVEN IF IT RESULTS IN A MELTDOWN?
Karen: My kids love having people over, as we usually have special meals with things they love to eat. So they tend to behave better. I do make sure to gently remind them how to behave before our guests come over. And sometimes we have a little fun time after the meal (for example, they get to stay up a bit later). Finally, I make sure to serve at least one thing they like at the meal, and not to fuss over their food choices. It’s my job to serve the food, their job to eat it and behave–which they do. I find if I don’t focus too much on them, but rather on my guests, things go more smoothly.

Kacie: Gigi loves having company over. She often eats less when other kids are over because she wants to play. We’ve noticed that she’ll be done when her friend(s) are, even if she hasn’t eaten much. Sometimes we’ll give her a glass of milk at bedtime on these days to supplement. When it’s all adults, she actually tends to eat more! We just recognize it’s not the norm and go with the flow, knowing we will return to our normal eating habits the next day. For behavior we require the same manners from her as when no one is there. If our friends witness a tantrum or meltdown, so be it. Eating out can be a bit of challenge too but it’s getting easier… it’s all about sticking to our behavior rules. It’s natural for kids to test boundaries when things are different.

Aurélie: When we are eating with friends and that for sure the meal is going to last, we give the same meal as us to the kids before we eat ourselves. Then they can play and we can eat peacefully!

CONSISTENCY:


WHAT IF YOU ONLY SPEND HALF (OR LESS) OF YOUR MEALS WITH YOUR CHILD? DO YOU HAVE ADVICE FOR HANDLING THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN A PRESCHOOL/DAYCARE (EAT ON DEMAND/MINIMAL ADULT SUPERVISION) AND HOME (THE FRENCH APPROACH)? WHAT ABOUT MULTI-HOME INCONSISTENCIES?
Karen: Good question. Breakfast and dinner are both good learning occasions. It’s hard to enforce behavior at daycare, so I wouldn’t try to single out one child. But the preschool may be receptive to new approaches for all the kids. One preschool in New York, the Alphabet Academy, was so excited about the ‘Getting to Yum’ approach that they tried out ‘taste training’ for all of their kids–which helped them try lots of new foods. So perhaps giving a copy of ‘French Kids Eat Everything’ or ‘Getting to Yum’ to the preschool/daycare will help them see how they could make changes.

Kacie: I think getting others (your school our your spouse) to participate would be great! But ultimately you can only control what happens in your house at your table. I was a nanny for 10+ years and found that the kids would respect rules with me that they would often ignore with their parents because I was really consistent on certain things. Your kids will learn what your rules are vs. someone else’s rules (or lack of rules). Kids are really smart!

FINAL THOUGHTS:
ANYTHING ELSE YOU’D LIKE TO ADD?
Karen: My final message: There’s hope!! You can really make a positive change at the family table.

Kacie: This is definitely a process, it is sometimes challenging but overall it’s incredibly rewarding. We spend so much of our time eating as a family and it should be fun, enjoyable, and wonderful. It’s so worth the effort!

Auríelie: Food has to be good, to change one time from another, to involve kids into cooking, … eating with our kids has always been a pleasure even if it’s a lot of care and time.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE PART ABOUT EATING AS A FAMILY?

Karen: Mealtime chats – which are the highlight of my day. When eating is going smoothly, the family is free to focus on telling stories, sharing ideas, and having fun together –which brings a family closer together. Meals are a highlight of the day rather than a source of stress (which was not always the case in our household).

Kacie: I love everything about it! The older Gigi gets, the more fun it is. She has so much to contribute to conversations… sometimes we spend the whole meal giggling. I truly look forward to our family dinners every single day.

Aurélie: Eat together …no ?  It has always been like that, so I have never imagine something else.

There you have it! I hope these answers to your questions help you on your family’s journey to enjoyable eating!

 

french kids eat everything follow upPIN

First off, I want to say THANK YOU all so much for your fantastic feedback on my French Kids Eat Everything post. Clearly we weren’t the only family trying to figure out how to make eating with our kid(s) a pleasurable experience. Everything in this post has been added and incorporated to the original post, so if you prefer you can just read that!

Since posting, I’ve been accumulating some of your questions for a big Q&A post, including some of my own questions that I emailed to my cousin in France!

If you have questions, please leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them all next week!

A few updates…

Setting the table…
I mentioned briefly that we set the dinner table every night for dinner. I wanted to be more specific about that. We have Gigi help us set the table. She picks out her place mat, plate, fork/knife/spoon, and cup and puts them on the table. Some evenings she’s more excited about helping than others but she usually eagerly participates. We always ask her to use the appropriate utensils while eating. She struggles with successfully using the utensils with every dish and usually uses them and her hands, but she’s learning.

Patience…
In the book French Kids Eat Everything the author, Karen, talks a lot about how important it is for kids to learn to wait patiently. That’s part of the reason we all wait until we are seated and have said what we are grateful for. Last night we were all starving (dinner was a bit late) and I said to her, “Wait, what are you grateful for.”, and she looked right at me and said, “No Mama. I can’t.”, and started eating! Actually I was right there with her! But most of the time it’s a great opportunity to ask a small bit of patience from her… occasionally she even stops us from taking the first bite by saying, “WAIT! I grateful…..” These little “grateful” moments have become some of my favorite Gigi quotes. The other night she said, “I grateful…. maybe…. PENIS!!!” Ha. She’s learning about anatomy.

The point is, I find that she’s been getting more and more patient as a result of these little moments. I find that I can say, “You can have this when we get home.”, or “We can do/have/read/see that in a little bit.” I think it’s a lot about building trust. She knows that I will follow through with it.

Vegetables before dinner…
In my original post, I mentioned that we don’t always do the veggie course first. Usually it’s a part of the meal. I thought I should give some specific examples. If our dinner is veggie heavy (like veggie lasagna) than we don’t normally have another veggie before dinner. But If I’m introducing a new vegetable, or if the vegetable is likely to get ignored in favor of pasta, than I will serve it first. I also am sure not to give her too much pasta. We are trying to follow the rule that she has to at least try/taste everything on her plate before she can have more pasta. We ask that she eats three bites of everything before she can have more of something she’s finished (usually pasta or bread which almost always gets eaten first)! And then it’s only a few bites worth of the pasta. For example, I love making Penne with Butternut Squash, Goat Cheese and Prosciutto for dinner but when I serve it up for her I make sure to only give her a little pasta along with everything else. That way she’s “forced” to eat other things before she can have more pasta. In other words, we try to keep everything in balance. If she has a few bites of everything she can have a few more bites of pasts. Sometimes we don’t giver her any more pasta until her plate is (mostly) clean. I do this when I know it’s a dinner she loves. With the Butternut Squash pasta dish, I know that she has learned to love the squash, the goat cheese, the prosciutto, and she’s working on the basil and red onion. So, I know that there is plenty of food on her plate that she enjoys.

This is what our current eating schedule looks like…
7:30 breakfast
12:00 lunch
3:30 small snack and 1/2 cup milk
6:00 dinner
7:30 bedtime

Snack time…
I was finding at times the Gigi didn’t seem totally hungry at dinner time so we cut back the quantity at snack time, we try to keep to about six bites. She’ll have half a piece of buttered toast, a few bites of yogurt and a couple slices of apple, one cookie. I try to avoid protein as much as possible.

Eating together…
When I did the original post, we were mostly focusing on dinners, I was planning and making breakfast and lunches but we weren’t really eating them together regularly. But, over time we saw that Gigi was acting out a bit at those meals. Dropping food on the floor. Spilling her water on purpose. So we determined that having someone sit with her and eat with her would be a good thing, for all of us! Kyle and I both usually skip breakfast, or I would find that I wanted carbohydrates around 10am because I didn’t eat something healthier in the morning (I’m blaming pregnancy for part of this). Now we usually sit down together and have a bit bowl of fruit and yogurt or eggs and whole grain toast. The social eating aspect of the French approach really does make a big difference. Now she eats at all meals and is getting better at telling us when she’s all done (as opposed to “showing” us by smearing food on the table).

For those of you who mentioned getting your babies with few teeth to start eating solid foods, I would recommend reading Baby Led Weaning. I haven’t read it myself but it’s been recommended by a few friends and my sister has had great success with it. Her nine month old eats everything (seriously, everything). The concept is essentially no purées. I’m ordering a copy to read before our daughter is born!

A few thoughts on dessert…
We don’t have dessert every night. But if Gigi has had a particularly great meal and tried everything on her plate, I’ll often cut up an apple for us all to share, or we will each get five or six chocolate chips, or a little ice cream. I don’t think of it as a reward and I don’t tell her that it’s because she ate everything. It’s simply because I think she earned it. She doesn’t get to the end of each meal and ask for a treat but when she does it’s a good opportunity to say: “Yes. We all tried everything and I think it would be fun to have _____.” or “No. We aren’t going to have dessert tonight because we didn’t try everything on our plate.” She seems to understand both answers. One thing to keep in mind too is that she has no idea or expectation about what dessert entails. The other night Gigi asked me, “We have a treat?” and I told her, “I got nothin’!”, and she got so excited and squealed, “OH BOY!” It was so sweet, I got up and found a little something. But it taught me that, she doesn’t know of care what’s for dessert… it’s just the idea of having earned something.

Being patient…
This has been and continues to be a process with ups and downs. We try to enjoy every little success and not get caught up with “failures”. I feel really proud that G has learned to eat and love squashes, cucumber, potatoes, zucchini, kale, carrots, radishes (and those are just a few the vegetables) and willingly tries everything from broccoli to eggplant. Sometimes they go in, get chewed a bit and come back out but we don’t say anything or make a big deal out of it… I think it’s a success that she’s trying it and I’m confident that things will make it to her stomach eventually. She seems to be outgrowing her “sensitivity” to texture. I find it really helpful to talk about new foods, at the store, while being prepared, while being served. For example: At the store: “These radishes are pretty! What color are they?” While preparing: “This radish is white on the inside! Can you help me put it on our salad?” While eating: “What does it taste like? Is it crunchy like an apple? Maybe it’s a little spicy?” The more she’s in an exploratory state of mind the more she seems to eat! I still cannot get her to enjoy green peas on their own (it’s fine if they’re mixed into a dish)… tasting these usually means licking one… but I am confident we’ll get there eventually. But I don’t worry too much about it. I also feel comfortable that if she decides she really does not like green peas, then that’s her choice. She’s eating enough variety of vegetables that I don’t worry about it. She does have her own individual tastes, as we all do. We will all measure our little successes differently since our kids are all different. For me every time she tries, eats, enjoys, says “that’s tasty!” to a new food, I feel proud and I count that as a success.

I hope this is helpful! Please post your questions and I’ll answer them next week along with some answers from France!

French Kids Eat EverythingPIN

When we were on our trip to Europe this summer, I read French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. It was eye opening for me because, although we encouraged Gigi to eat and try “our food” we were missing the main point! “Our food” is also her food! I felt that we were asking something extraordinary of her to eat exactly what we were eating and we’d often follow up an offer of “our food” with something more “kid friendly”. She’s always been low in weight so we were concerned that she wasn’t eating enough and would always whip up something (after dinner) in order to ensure she got enough.

Before reading this book Gigi’s typical day was filled with scrambled eggs, quite a few snacks, milk, a tiny lunch, some of our dinner food (most of which ended up on the floor) or a customized toddler dinner (most of which ended up on the floor). We didn’t often eat together. Most of the time we gave Gigi dinner earlier in the evening and then we ate after she was in bed.

After reading French Kids Eat Everything I was a total convert to the idea that kids eat what adults eat. Period. I read, re-read, took notes and came home from our trip with a plan to change our ways. We’ve now been eating the “French” way for five months so I feel confident in sharing our experience with you. The rules are simple and following them has made a huge difference in the way we all eat.

The French Kids Eat Everything Rules
…and my thoughts on applying them at home…

1. Parents are in charge of children’s food education.
I simply talk to Gigi a lot more about food, she cooks with me more. We bought her these veggies, fruits and fish sets from Ikea and she cooks in her little kitchen. We ask her to make us dishes using specific toy food. She’s only two but as she gets older these conversations and games will change. We’ve started to talk about color, texture, and flavor as well.

2. Avoid emotional eating. Food is not a toy, a distraction, a bribe, a pacifier, a reward, or a substitute for discipline.
This rule brought on a wave of mom-guilt. Before reading this book I constantly used food as a toy, distraction and pacifier. Fussing in the car? Here’s some crackers in a snack catcher. Bored on a walk? Here’s a squeezy pack of baby food. When I realized that I was teaching Gigi that “food is the answer” to boredom, crankiness, etc. I felt really guilty. What kind of food habits was I setting her up with? We ditched the squeezy packs which are now in the emergency bin in the car for emergency only or reserved for long trips, and the snack catcher is now a bath toy.

3. Parents schedule meals and menus. Kids eat what adults eat: no substitutes and no short-order cooking.
This took surprisingly little adjustment on Gigi’s part! Since she wasn’t snacking she was really hungry when it came to be dinner time. The first day on the program she refused dinner and went to bed hungry. It sounds harsh but it was actually fairly smooth. She didn’t complain, she just didn’t want what was offered so we ate, read her a book and put her in bed. (She ate an enormous breakfast the following morning). Now things run smoothly. She’s used to being served what we are eating. She gets to make some choices at breakfast between a couple options we offer her… daily requests for waffles and cereal are not honored.

4. Food is social. Eat family meals together at the table, with no distractions.
We set the table every night for dinner, sit down together, say what we are grateful for, and then we eat. We have Gigi help us set the table. She picks out her place mat, plate, fork/knife/spoon, and cup and puts them on the table. Some evenings she’s more excited about helping than others but she usually eagerly participates. We always ask her to use the appropriate utensils while eating. She struggles with successfully using the utensils with every dish and usually uses them and her hands, but she’s learning. We never answer our phones (in fact they’re not allowed near the table), we try to include Gigi in our conversations and engage her by asking her questions. We ask her to eat like an adult! Family dinners are truly the best part of my day.

5. Eat a variety of food. Eat vegetables of all colors of the rainbow, don’t eat the same dish more than once per week.
We try to introduce lots of different foods to Gigi. We often eat the same dish more than once per week because we have leftovers. Cooking something new every night isn’t financially feasible for us. I am working on adding more veggies to the roundup.

6. You don’t have to like it but you have to taste it / eat it.
Using the word “taste” instead of “try” seems to work really well with Gigi. I feel like when I encourage her to “taste” something, I’m asking her to be adventurous and curious. The word “try” feels like I’m asking her to judge it, to decide if she likes it or not. We always put a bit of everything on her plate. If she refuses a food or tastes it and says, “I don’t want that!” We remind her that the polite thing to say is “no thank you” then we say, “That’s okay. We’ll taste it again another time”. Then we take it away or encourage her to leave it on her plate and assure her that she doesn’t have to eat it.

7. Limit snacks to one per day 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.
This was challenging when i was in the first trimester of pregnancy and we often shared a bagel and cream cheese on the couch (off schedule) but we’re back on track now. I actually have grown to love snack time. Since the idea is to give something high carbohydrate to give a boost of energy and tide kids over until dinner, I feel like I don’t have to be totally “responsible” at snack time. We often have things like cinnamon sugar toast, cookies and milk, a little trail-mix spiked with M&M’s, along with other snacks like apples and cheese, ants on a log, etc. It’s fun to get to throw something together for her or surprise her with a mid-day cookie. A typical French snack for kids is a bit of baguette with butter and melted chocolate! I was finding at times the Gigi didn’t seem totally hungry at dinner time so we cut back the quantity at snack time, we try to keep to about six bites. She’ll have half a piece of buttered toast, a few bites of yogurt and a couple slices of apple. I try to avoid protein at snack time.

8. Take your time, both for cooking and eating. Slow food is happy food.
This rule is easy for us. If you’ve been following this blog, you know that I love to cook. I rarely ever buy processed/pre-made food, and we rarely eat out. This means that all of our meals are made from scratch at home. Gigi is getting to the age where she loves to cook with me. She helps, asks questions, sometimes very much gets in the way… and I love it all.

9. Eat mostly real, homemade food, and save treats for special occasions. Avoid processed foods.
As I mentioned above, I make everything at home. And (again with the exception of the first trimester of pregnancy) I rarely buy any processed foods.

10. Eating is joyful, not stressful. Relax and enjoy the process of planning, preparing and feeding yourself and your family.
This rule is important to remember. Sometimes the planning and grocery shopping aspect can be a bit stressful and feels like it takes an entire day but, I love taking Gigi to the grocery store. I love interacting with the people there. I love planning our meals. Feeding my family is such a huge part of our days, weeks, months… why not embrace and enjoy it?

A few other things…
I don’t try to “hide” foods from Gigi. I don’t mix spinach in her brownies or add purées to things without telling her. I always tell her exactly what’s in her food. I don’t personally understand the point or idea of getting her to eat more vegetables if she isn’t going to eat them or learn to love them in their natural form. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with adding veggies to her food but I always tell her. On the same note we talk about what’s for dinner every night. We’ll show her that there’s mushrooms, spinach, ricotta, onion, etc. in her lasagna. I trust that she will learn to like them and I want her to recognize what she’s eating/tasting/liking. On the same note, we also let her eat anything and everything we eat. If we’re having chocolate we give her some. Sweets and candy are part of the food world too. If we eat it in moderation, I believe she will too. But I don’t think it’s fair to tell her she can’t have ice cream when we have it. If she has had too many sweets we’ll put her to bed and then have ice cream but we always share with her if she’s participating in a family event or meal.

In the book French Kids Eat Everything the author, Karen, talks a lot about how important it is for kids to learn to wait patiently. That’s part of the reason we all wait until we are seated and have said what we are grateful for. Last night we were all starving (dinner was a bit late) and I said to her, “Wait, what are you grateful for.”, and she looked right at me and said, “No Mama. I can’t.”, and started eating! Actually I was right there with her! But most of the time it’s a great opportunity to ask a small bit of patience from her… occasionally she even stops us from taking the first bite by saying, “WAIT! I grateful…..” These little “grateful” moments have become some of my favorite Gigi quotes. The other night she said, “I grateful…. maybe…. PENIS!!!” Ha. She’s learning about anatomy. The point is, I find that she’s been getting more and more patient as a result of these little moments. I find that I can say, “You can have this when we get home.”, or “We can do/have/read/see that in a little bit.” I think it’s a lot about building trust. She knows that I will follow through with it

We don’t battle over food. She rarely asks for snacks now that she’s used to the schedule. If she does I just say, “We’ll have a snack at snack time!” I avoid using the word “no” but I make it clear that it’s not snack time/we can’t have cookies for breakfast, etc. If she doesn’t want to eat something, that’s fine. There’s no use in battling. I would rather that we talk about it than have her hiding her peas in her napkin, and I will never tell her she can’t leave the table until she’s finished her cauliflower. That’s not fun for anyone! I won’t force her to eat a certain food. I want her to enjoy the process of learning about and exploring different foods. I feel that the power is in what I put on the table, rather than what I make her eat. After years of nannying I’ve learned that finding creative ways of avoiding a power struggle with a toddler is a major skill. At the table it’s particularly important.

Incorporating variety is challenging. We eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, but it’s not always easy to introduce new foods. Sometimes it’s downright defeating! But it does come around and work eventually. For example, some foods that Gigi refused and now loves: potatoes, onions, roasted garlic… it takes time but is really rewarding when she finally embraces something new. It seems that once she’s accepted something, potatoes for example, she’ll eat in all forms when we tell her what it is.

We try to eat all our meals together. At first, I was planning and making breakfast and lunches but we weren’t really eating them together regularly. But, over time we saw that Gigi was acting out a bit at those meals. Dropping food on the floor. Spilling her water on purpose. So we determined that having someone sit with her and eat with her would be a good thing, for all of us! Kyle and I both usually skip breakfast, or I would find that I wanted carbohydrates around 10am because I didn’t eat something healthier in the morning (I’m blaming pregnancy for part of this). Now we usually sit down together and have a big bowl of fruit and yogurt or eggs and whole grain toast. The social eating aspect of the French approach really does make a big difference. Now she eats at all meals and is getting better at telling us when she’s all done (as opposed to “showing” us by smearing food on the table).

There is enormous freedom in a schedule and routine. Because we are on a set schedule and the habits have now become engrained, I feel a huge sense of freedom with our meals. We can have a picnic on the floor, be lazy and give her a big plate of pasta, eat popcorn on the couch in the middle of the day… occasionally. Then we can get right back to our better eating habits the next day. In the same way that we put so much energy and effort into creating good sleep habits, then we could keep her up until 10pm on the 4th of July without risking total overhaul of sleep patterns, we can ignore the food rules from time to time because we know that the foundation is there to return to. By no means are we perfect “method” followers… some days are an absolute mess and Gigi has snacks all day and cereal for dinner! Some days are just like that, but we always have good intentions and get back on track as soon as we can.

I’m so glad we’ve started early with Gigi. I wish we’d started even earlier but I’m happy that we’re eating this way now. I do think we got off on the wrong foot with baby food. We will be following the French method this next time around: introducing a different menu of foods early on, skipping rice cereal all together. Karen has a great write up about feeding babies the French way here. For those of you who mentioned getting your babies with few teeth to start eating solid foods, I would recommend reading Baby Led Weaning. I haven’t read it myself but it’s been recommended by a few friends and my sister has had great success with it. Her nine month old eats everything (seriously, everything). The concept is essentially no purées. I’m ordering a copy to read before our daughter is born!

The Main Differences in Our Eating Habits

The Schedule:
The eating schedule proposed and followed in French Kids Eat Everything is:
Breakfast in the morning
Lunch around 12:30pm
Snack around 4:30pm
Dinner between 7:00pm and 8:00pm

It took a while for us to get on this schedule as we transitioned Gigi from one to two naps (she used to nap through lunchtime). Now our daily schedule looks like this:
7:30 breakfast
12:00 lunch
3:30 small snack and 1/2 cup milk
6:00 dinner (bedtime is at 7:30pm)

Our schedule is a tiny bit earlier than the French one provided in the book. It works perfectly for us.

Lunch:
Gigi still eats a rather small lunch. I do feel that I could do better making her bigger/better lunches with more variety. This has been a hard habit for both of us to change. In France, lunch is the biggest meal of the day. Here, dinner is. So while I’m working on adding variety, I’m not totally concerned about the size of her mid-day meals. I’m not trying to make lunch the biggest meal because that’s not realistic given my husband’s work schedule and our calorie needs at the end of the day. Also since children aren’t fed big wonderful lunches at school I have a feeling our kids will come home from school needing a big dinner!

Dinner Menus:
One big difference between the French eating habits and ours is the dinner menu plans. The typical French dinner includes a vegetable entrée (starter), plat principal (main dish), salade/fromage (cheese), and dessert. If our dinner is veggie heavy (like veggie lasagna) than we don’t normally have another veggie before dinner. But If I’m introducing a new vegetable, or if the vegetable is likely to get ignored in favor of pasta, than I will serve it first. I also am sure not to give her too much pasta. We are trying to follow the rule that she has to at least try/taste everything on her plate before she can have more pasta. We ask that she eats three bites of everything before she can have more of something she’s finished (usually pasta or bread which almost always gets eaten first)! And then it’s only a few bites worth of the pasta. For example, I love making Penne with Butternut Squash, Goat Cheese and Prosciutto for dinner but when I serve it up for her I make sure to only give her a little pasta along with everything else. That way she’s “forced” to eat other things before she can have more pasta. In other words, we try to keep everything in balance. If she has a few bites of everything she can have a few more bites of pasts. Sometimes we don’t giver her any more pasta until her plate is (mostly) clean. I do this when I know it’s a dinner she loves. With the Butternut Squash pasta dish, I know that she has learned to love the squash, the goat cheese, the prosciutto, and she’s working on the basil and red onion. So, I know that there is plenty of food on her plate that she enjoys.

Dessert:
We don’t have dessert every night. But if Gigi has had a particularly great meal and tried everything on her plate, I’ll often cut up an apple for us all to share, or we will each get five or six chocolate chips. I don’t think of it as a reward and I don’t tell her that it’s because she ate everything. It’s simply because I think she earned it. She doesn’t get to the end of each meal and ask for a treat but when she does it’s a good opportunity to say: “Yes. We all tried everything and I think it would be fun to have _____.” or “No. We aren’t going to have dessert tonight because we didn’t try everything on our plate.” She seems to understand both answers. One thing to keep in mind too is that she has no idea or expectation about what dessert entails. The other night Gigi asked me, “We have a treat?” and I told her, “I got nothin’!”, and she got so excited and squealed, “OH BOY!” It was so sweet, I got up and found a little something. But it taught me that, she doesn’t know of care what’s for dessert… it’s just the idea of having earned something.

Social Aspects:
Since, in France, these rules of no snacking, of eating what adults eat, of scheduled eating are part of the social construct, it is easy to follow. Trying to follow them here isn’t always easy. Gigi is often offered candy or crackers at the store/at play-dates/just before dinner. I try to be selective about when I say no. Within an hour of a meal time? No. A graham cracker while we are at the store? Ok. I don’t offer her these items but when they are shared by/with a friend outside of our home, I try to just go with the flow unless it could truly spoil a meal. On another note, after converting to this method, I’m actually shocked by some of the snacking I see. Every day at the grocery store I see parents searching in their bags for snack catchers, breaking open boxes of crackers, milk boxes, string cheeses, etc. Everywhere we go Gigi is offered snack food: from the cookie counter at the grocery store to the local coffee shop, to the park. Snacking is such an accepted part of our culture. It can be challenging to go against the “snacking culture” but I know I am doing the right thing for Gigi’s short and long term eating habits.

Another tricky thing about the social aspect is when we are eating out with friends. It’s difficult to make Gigi stay at the table while other kids are running around before, during, and after dinner, to make her wait patiently for the food to arrive when other kids are drinking juice/snacking on crackers, to serve her bits of what we’re eating instead of ordering mac and cheese or chicken fingers… But, this is a place that we have made the choice to ask a lot of her. We require her to behave politely, eat healthfully, wait patiently, etc. It’s not always easy but I believe it’s very important for our family. To be clear, I’m not judging what other families do with their kids… I know what’s right for our family and I do my very best to stick to that even when it’s hard. On a side note, if we are at a friends house we generally follow that family’s rules. If the kids are allowed to get down and play while the adults finish eating then Gigi is allowed to get down and play as well. I will add that when we’re heading into a sure to be challenging situation we discuss it ahead of time. For example, as we headed to the in-laws for four nights for Christmas this year, we decided as a family to put the rules on hold. We knew everyone would be snacking and it wasn’t fair to ask Gigi not to particpate. When we arrived we told Kyle’s parents, “Ok, we decided you can just spoil her and give her treats and cookies and snacks this time.” They seemed to enjoy the break in rules as much as Gigi did. They are such wonderful listeners we weren’t too worried about things getting out of hand. They know that McDonald’s is on my “absolutely never, no way in hell” list but if my mother-in-law wants to spoil her granddaughter with home baked cookies… I’m willing to set my rules aside. Food is social, and it’s important for me to remember that there are memories and experiences Gigi should get to have with her friends/grandparents/other kids.

This has been and continues to be a process with ups and downs. We try to enjoy every little success and not get caught up with “failures”. I feel really proud that G has learned to eat and love squashes, cucumber, potatoes, zucchini, kale, carrots, radishes (and those are just the vegetables) and willingly tries everything from broccoli to eggplant. Sometimes they go in, get chewed a bit and come back out but we don’t say anything or make a big deal out of it… I think it’s a success that she’s trying it and I’m confident that things will make it to her stomach. She seems to be outgrowing her “sensitivity” to texture. I find it really helpful to talk about new foods, at the store, while being prepared, while being served. For example: At the store: “These radishes are pretty! What color are they?” While preparing: “This radish is white on the inside! Can you help me put it on our salad?” While eating: “What does it taste like? Is it crunchy like an apple? Maybe it’s a little spicy?” The more she’s in an exploratory state of mind the more she seems to eat! I still cannot get her to enjoy green peas on their own (it’s fine if they’re mixed into a dish)… tasting these usually means licking one… but I am confident we’ll get there eventually. But I don’t worry too much about it. I also feel comfortable that if she decides she really does not like green peas, then that’s her choice. She’s eating enough variety of vegetables that I don’t worry about it. She does have her own individual tastes, as we all do. We will all measure our little successes differently since our kids are all different. For me every time she tries, eats, enjoys, says “that’s tasty!” to a new food, I feel proud and I count that as a success. Sometimes I’m completely surprised by her willingness to eat things: kale salad, pine nuts, gorgonzola, salsa, salad with micro-greens, hot sauce! It’s really a fun process to watch.

So, there you have it! Our “American” experience with French Kids Eat Everything. In the coming weeks I’ll share how I plan our weekly/monthly menus. How I budget our menus. I’ll provide a blank printable PDF of our menu format and our grocery shopping template. I’ll be introducing a new features called My Sous Chef which will be all about cooking with Gigi!

Have you read the book? What’s your experience been? I’m curious to hear and would love to incorporate advice and ideas into our day to day eating habits. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend this wonderful book!

*There is a difference between picky eaters and an oral-motor/sensory defensive eater. The latter is a child who needs intervention from an Occupations Therapist and Speech Language Pathologist.