Mothers & Babies

Saturday 2 August 2014

Bon appetit: How to get your kids to eat like the French

Want to protect your heart? Then follow the Mediterranean diet, say researchers. So here's out to persuade your children to enjoy healthy food. By Pamela Druckerman

Published 27/02/2013|04:00

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Taste of France

In her hit memoir, French Children Don't Throw Food, Pamela Druckerman lifted the lid on Gallic parenting, revealing how Parisian women manage to raise well-behaved children, without sacrificing their own lives in the process. .

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Now she delivers the key rules for bringing up a baby gourmand. And she couldn't be more timely as new research reveals that a Mediterranean diet rich in either extra-virgin olive oil or nuts protects against the risk of heart attack or stroke

1 You are the keeper of the fridge

French children generally don't have the right to open the fridge and help themselves. They have to ask their parents first. This doesn't just cut down on the snacking in the house, it also cuts down on the chaos.

2 One snack a day

Typically, French children eat only at mealtimes and at the afternoon snack, called the goûter (usually a combination of sweets and fruit). If a child doesn't snack between meals, she actually be hungry by mealtimes, so she will eat more. And there's something calming about not regarding every moment as a potential eating opportunity.

3 Don't solve a crisis with a cookie

Not producing a biscuit whenever your child whines can have far-reaching benefits. First, you're not rewarding her outburst, so you're not encouraging her to whine again. Second, you're teaching her not to eat just because she's upset. She'll thank you when she's 30 and can still fit into her teenage jeans.

4 Make your child your sous-chef

The five-year-old French girl who lives next door to us measures and mixes the oil, vinegar, mustard and salt for the family's vinaigrette all by herself, while her mum is cooking the main course. It's no coincidence that this little girl loves salad.

We all feel more involved with foods that we've had a hand in preparing. Eat as the French do: together, at the table, with the television off.

5 Vegetables first

Your family meals don't need to be fancy. Just bring out some vegetables before anything else. If your kids haven't been snacking all day, they will be hungry and more likely to eat what's put in front of them first. The same strategy works at breakfast with cut-up fruit.

A vegetable starter doesn't have to be elaborate. It can be a bowl of sugar snap peas or some sauteéd broccoli.

6 Everyone eats at the same time

In France, children don't decide what they'll have for dinner. There are no choices or customisations. There's just one meal, the same one for everyone. It's safe to try this at home. If your child refuses to eat something, react neutrally. Don't offer her something else instead. If you're just emerging from a kids' food ghetto, start by making family meals that you know she likes, then gradually introduce more adventurous new dishes.

Above all, stay positive and calm. Remember that you're crediting your child with being grown-up enough to eat the same foods as you.

Accompany the new rules with some new freedoms, like letting her cut the quiche, or sprinkle the Parmesan cheese herself. When you eat in a restaurant, let her order what she wants, within reason.

7 Take at least one bite

French kids are expected to take at least one bite of every dish on the table. I'm sure there are French families who don't consider this rule to be sacred and infallible, but I have yet to meet them.

Present the tasting rule to your child as if it's a law of nature like gravity. If she's nervous about trying something, let her just pick up a piece and sniff it. One new food per meal is enough. Serve it alongside something you know she likes.

Oversee this process without acting like a prison guard. Be calm and even playful about it. After she takes the requisite bite, acknowledge this. React neutrally if she says she doesn't like it. Never offer a replacement food.

Remember, you're playing the long game. You don't want her to eat an artichoke once, under duress. You want her to learn to like artichokes.

8 You choose the foods, they choose how much

Your child knows (or should learn to know) when she's had enough. Serve smallish portions, and don't pressurise her to clear her plate. Wait and see if she asks for seconds before serving more. If she asks for a third helping of pasta, offer her a yoghurt or some cheese instead.

The goal isn't to cajole enough nutrients into her mouth at every sitting; it's to guide her into becoming an independent eater who enjoys a variety of foods and regulates her own appetite.

9 Drink water

In France, tap water is the de facto drink for the family at lunch and dinner, and any time in between. Parents don't take drink orders, they put a jug of water on the table. This quickly becomes a habit.

Juice is for breakfast, and for the occasional afternoon snack. Fizzy drinks are for special occasions.

10 Eat chocolate

The French don't treat sweets like Kryptonite, or try to convince their children that refined sugar doesn't exist. Instead, they teach their kids that sweets are treats to enjoy in controlled doses.

French children eat small helpings of chocolate on a regular basis. They'll often have cake for the afternoon goûter at weekends. On special occasions, parents tend to give their children free rein. We all need some time away from the regular rules.

Pamela Druckerman. Extracted from 'French Parents Don't Give in: 100 Parenting Tips from Paris', published by Doubleday.

Irish Independent

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