It was our first day with our new French eating philosophy. I got twenty-month-old Celia out of bed and told her I’d made us a special breakfast. Her little blue eyes widened as she excitedly nodded her understanding. We’d barely set foot in the kitchen when she made a beeline to the fridge to see the new “Toddler Taste Training” papers hanging there. Without a word she left the room, and returned carrying her step-stool so she could study these mysterious papers on eye level. This gave me a chance to discuss our new plan to learn about food and practice tasting it together. I have no idea if she understood me, but an underlying French philosophy is that kids, even infants, can understand everything; and giving them credit for that allows them to exceed our expectations. So… I told little Celia about our plan.
I warmed up our breakfast while she continued to ponder the papers on the fridge that she couldn’t even read. We sat down to the breakfast I’d made the night before. It was high-protein oatmeal, consisting of plain Quaker oatmeal, peanut butter, almond slivers, chia seeds, dried cherries, and ground flax seed; topped with fresh raspberries and blueberries. I let her use a regular “grown up” ceramic bowl and sit in a real chair at the table instead of her high chair. I lit a candle for our centerpiece and turned on the Angus and Julia Stone Pandora station. I let her pick her napkin color (I usually don’t even give her one) and all on her own, she proceeded to open it up and lay it under her bowl as a placemat. She’s only used a placemat once before in her life, and that was when we hosted guests. She was definitely understanding that this was a special meal! I told her that was a good idea (partially because she’d already gotten some oatmeal on the table), so I did the same with my napkin. We had a very peaceful meal as we discussed the textures, smells, and flavors of the food we were both heartily eating.
We kept the music on during our post-breakfast play time, which made our space feel unusually calm and serene. It may have been a timing coincidence unrelated to being treated like a big girl at breakfast, but she was much more confident in her abilities than normal during playtime. Maybe it was just my view of her that had changed and made her seem so strong and ready for a challenge!
Eventually, I got around to doing my hair and makeup for the day. This once relaxing activity has evolved into the opposite now that I have a little girl who wants to be involved in all I do. The same little girl who’s about to lick the hand she just wiped all over the toilet seat.
But today, it was different. The educational tone of our breakfast set up our day to be a team effort towards learning, rather than a power struggle showdown. Even our getting ready time, as I washed my face then handed her the soap for “her turn” before I put my contacts in and handed her the empty case for “her turn”, was more of a learning experience than usual. If nothing else, it was at least a more enjoyable experience than usual!
After we both got ready for the day, we spent some time working through our Toddler Taste Training Plan. Week #1 is all about carrots. So I gave Celia a whole raw carrot to “experience” while we worked on the taste training carrot coloring sheet. We laughed when she failed to bite through it the first time, she smiled as she felt and smelled it, and we listened to her crunching sounds while she munched on it. We compared it to the picture we’d colored and then made a play dough model of it. She was all about carrots after this play time and couldn’t wait to taste them in a meal!
It’s a French rule to NEVER snack (see the rules in my original post). But I’m only French by last name and I’m new to pretending I’m French… so I got really hungry between breakfast and lunch! Celia and I both did!
I decided to give us newbies a break, and that if we were going to snack, it was going to be a good one! So we gathered some olive Triscuit crackers, cream cheese, canned salmon, capers, lemon juice, dijon mustard, and mixed appetizer olives (kalamata, manzanilla, etc.) and had fun building various combinations of cracker towers. Celia tasted all of it until finding something or other she didn’t like, then she stuck to the olives, both her old favorites and a few newer varieties. We made a plate for Scottie who was working in the “carhouse”. We spruced it up with some extra points for presentation and made the delivery a big deal so Celia knew this was not just any snack for daddy… but a fake French one!
After our illegal snack, the real cooking for the week began. I plan to do most of my cooking in the first couple of days, so I can be done for the week after that. Our first attempt at a big cooking day, was a huge success! Celia “helped” the entire hour and a half I spent in the kitchen and she tasted almost every ingredient, even ones she’s snubbed in the past! It helps that cooking time feels like a special time to try new foods. She learned the word “taste” today and each time I replied yes to her request to do it, she was thrilled, no matter what the food was. Today she tasted: goat cheese, beets, salmon, Brie, capers, asparagus, greek yogurt, and three kinds of olives!
She also seems more willing to try new foods when she can taste one new thing at a time, rather than having it all mixed together in a completed recipe on her plate. Then once all the individual ingredients she tasted during cooking are mixed on her plate later, she’s much more open to trying the finished meal.
We decided to get the actual placemats out for lunch and I showed Celia how to set a table (the American with a toddler way, not the French way that makes me think of Leo learning about forks in Titanic). Once lunch was ready, we went outside to pick some flowers for our centerpiece.
Scottie started the Toddler Taste Training’s Tastebuds Activity with Celia while I put the final touches on everything. Scottie chose the music this time (probably Jack Garratt on Amazon music, but I can’t remember), and we all sat down to our beet salad with toasted walnuts, goat cheese, and micro arugula for our first course. Celia ate more beets than she ever has and her usual suspicions about goat cheese was diminished after she’d eagerly tasted it during cooking!
We moved onto our shepherd’s pie and she was all about that too. I think she normally would’ve been wary of the mashed potatoes, but since she’d stuck her finger in them multiple times to taste while cooking, she was actually excited to see them appear on her plate! Over lunch we talked about the variety of carrots we’d tasted already today like raw, cooked, and frozen. Yes, frozen. I did cut some corners the French would never dream of. Besides the frozen veggies, I also had the tenacity to use canned beets and fake mashed potatoes to ease me into my new lifestyle.
We had peach yogurt for the dairy course. We loved Dannon’s Oikos Triple Zero Greek Yogurt that has tons of protein and is sweetened with fruit juice and Stevia leaf extract instead of artificial sweeteners or extra sugar. Well when I say “we” loved it, I mean Scottie and I. Celia wasn’t a fan until I brought out the apple slices for dessert and she realized yogurt holds the power of toddler dipping fun.
Something you might not know about me is that I have a real problem with the texture of apple skin. It’s a strange thing, but I get major goosebumps over my whole body when I even THINK of apple skin. So eating one was not easy, but I did it! Even with my husband laughing hysterically at my intense reaction and expressions the whole time I shuddered and chewed. I was kinder to him as he suffered through his strong dislike of beets. We decided we can’t make a house rule that we must taste everything, if we aren’t willing to do it ourselves!
Cooking dinner definitely did not go as smoothly as cooking lunch. It went a lot more how I’d thought cooking a large meal with a toddler would go! I had to re-squeeze my fresh lemon juice when I found play-doh marinating in my first bowl. Then I burned my garlic while dealing with a play-doh-less child, forgot to defrost my salmon, and didn’t plan enough time to finish cooking with all these interruptions. But even with all that, I still enjoyed this cooking experience more than most of the others in my life where I was doing the bare minimum to get by.
Just before dinner was ready, Celia went into the drawer and grabbed three of the placemats we’d used at lunch. Lunch had literally been the second time we’ve used placemats since we’ve been staying here at my grandparents cabin, so I couldn’t believe she knew what they were or where they were! She said “Mama, daddy, Cece” as she put each one down in the right spot. She did this all on her own! I think she’s enjoying all these special family meal times already!
Celia loved the carrot starter, which she’d been training for all day in our “taste training” work! She tasted the asparagus and salmon, until she tipped over in her grown-up chair with a bite of salmon in her mouth, and decided she was all done with that fish nonsense.
I found out that the crackers I served with our manchego cheese and fig marmalade, had pulled a fast one on me in the grocery store. They contained fennel… my food nemesis. And I was forced to eat them since Celia was being forced to taste the salmon that she believed made her fall over in her chair. The manchego was the one food Celia refused to even taste today. Though by the dairy course in our long meal, she was having fun getting out of her chair for impromptu dance parties to that oh-so-rockin’ Ray La Montangue we had playing on Pandora. She was back in her high chair before the meal was over.
When the strawberries and chocolate mousse (aka dark chocolate I melted into extra creamy cool whip) came out, she was very impressed and “oohed” over it in the pretty little dessert dishes my grandparents have.
Until she picked it up and saw brown goop (mousse) on the bottom of the strawberry and said “uh oh” repeatedly as she attempted to throw it before daddy caught it in time. After watching us enjoy it, she eventually dipped her finger in for the tiniest, tip of a fingernail amount possible to taste. She realized it was amazing and licked up all that was in her bowl, plus any extra I could scrape from the mixing bowl. I thought maybe now she’d trust things she’d been afraid of, like manchego! Nope.
Thoughts on the day…
Day 1 of the “French Kids Eat Everything Experiment” was a great experience and I had a wonderful day. It enhanced the quality of my time with my daughter, grew her understanding of food and cooking, and pushed her to try foods she’d previously been unwilling to taste. I also was really surprised at how much I enjoyed the cooking process and how good my food was! I guess it pays to use fresh ingredients and spend longer than ten minutes of prep before throwing it all into a crockpot! Plus I loved how satiated, but not stuffed I felt! My body felt energized! Which is crazy because with all the courses of very filling food, I felt like I ate a ton, but somehow I felt less weighed down than after my typical meals.
I will say however, that I was exhausted by dinner! I decided that French Women Don’t Get Fat because they burn so many calories doing all that cooking! But I’m committed to a full week of following the menu I made. If I survive that, I’ll decide what I’m doing next week!
There have been a lot of changes in my life over the past two months. As a result, my relationships, body, emotional state, and budget, have all seen improvements. Surprisingly enough, the growth I’m talking about here isn’t because of the life-altering, six month road trip I’ve just begun with my husband and daughter!
These improvements have happened because I decided to change my family’s food culture. I’m not talking about health, diet, food sources, etc. I’m talking about changes in how often we laugh over food, how much we savor it’s flavors, how we spend more time together because of it, and how we love each other better since we’ve made these adjustments.
I’ve been conducting my own experiment based on things I’m learning about the French culture and the way they see food, cooking, family, and life. I’m only two months in on this attempt to align my family’s lifestyle with our last name (which means “song” in French), and I’m already well convinced that France is on to something.
I’ve mentioned the main areas of change I’ve experienced throughout this process, but there are many others that have taken me by complete surprise. It’s affected everything from our musical tastes and my artistic ability, to my daughter’s confidence and our stress levels! Plus we’re eating more delicious and healthier food than ever, with higher quality ingredients that we’re actually saving grocery money on. Not to mention, my almost-two-year-old daughter and I have had some really beautiful moments together through this process AND she’s now eating everything (and more!) that my husband and I eat!
So here is the story behind my French Kids Eat Everything (FKEE) experiment. Beginning with the why, then moving to the how. Keep a look out for more of this “FKEE Experiment” series here on Rare Existence. It will be hidden amongst tales of the adventures we’re having on the road as we travel America.
The Story Behind the Experiment…
May 7, 2017:
I’ve read French Women Don’t Get Fat (Mireille Guiliano), Bringing up Bebe (Pamela Druckerman), and finally, French Kids Eat Everything (Karen Le Billion), and I’ve got to say, I’m very intrigued with the way the French eat! I can’t explain exactly how they do it because it’s rooted so deeply into their culture and the small moments of their everyday lives; lives that are largely dominated by food… really, really good food. And yet they (as the book title says) don’t get fat, and seem to be healthier than their overweight American peers.
One main area of interest to me in French eating, is the way their kids eat. They patiently sit through long drawn out meals, they don’t snack, and they eat the same food as the adults (including foi gras and other delicacies that many adult Americans wouldn’t touch). That means no chicken-fingers-and-pizza-only diets like so many American kids I see. Food is a joy shared between French kids and their parents, rather than a battlefield.
These same kids grow into adults who’s relationships with food are also filled with joy; rather than the fear, sorrow, or shame that many of us Americans feel around food.
In France, it seems people are really able to have their cake and eat it too!
So how do they do it? Wanting to know more about this answer after reading Bringing up Bebe, is what graduated me to French Kids Eat Everything. That book is the meat of this experiment, so if you’re going to follow along with my blog posts in this “FKEE Experiment” series, I highly recommend reading/listening to the French Kids Eat Everything book by Karen Le Billion as well!
I also found weekly updates about what preschool kids all over France are eating for lunch each week. France prides itself on it’s national policy for healthy foods and teaching kids to eat well, despite income or social class. Even after reading the book and being semi-prepared for this, I was still AMAZED at what is considered to be a normal school lunch in all parts of France! I used these menus to build the structure for my own, and also to get meal ideas.
I got other meal planning inspiration from none other than the Cheesecake Factory menu. Yes, I know. Whatever it is you may be thinking… I know. But it worked really well for me because that giant book of a menu has such a huge variety and a lot of things I love! So I picked a few items off the french kids menu, and a few from an American restaurant that is often in exact opposition to French food philosophy… and I made it work for our family! That is, I committed to TRYING to make it work for at least one week.
I also signed up for the FKEE “Toddler Taste Training Plan” (they have a baby one too) for my 20-month-old daughter, Celia. That gave me ideas on how to make this more fun for all of us. Which is key to French eating… and to keeping me on board with all this extra work!
No, I don’t actually know anything about France. So if I’m entirely wrong on everything I say about it, well… don’t be surprised. This is all based on my own interpretations of things I’ve heard. This experiment is by no means perfect and not for everyone. It’s also not officially affiliated with the French Kids Eat Everything book or website.
Yes, this is going to take a LOT of time. If your situation makes this seem too difficult, don’t despair! Parents work and have lives in France too, and they still find ways to make this happen. Their culture does make it easier, but they also value it highly enough to give up other things for it. My goal is to see if the benefits to my family are worth the sacrifices we’ll make for it. I do expect it to get faster and easier as I get better!
Yes, this is going to take a bit of money. And honestly, I’m not in a great financial position as we’re launching a new business and taking a semi-break from our old one while on the road. But I want to give this a fair shot, and I need to be all in for that. So I’m choosing quality over quantity for a week, and I’ll just have to see how it goes! I think I will get better at shopping inexpensively as I get more experience in this style of thinking and cooking.
No, I don’t enjoy cooking at all. I’m also not a very good cook. I typically make two to three meals in a crockpot that take ten minutes to prep and will last us all week. Before I made it that far, we were eating Cheez-its for dinner. This is a huge stretch for me. But I like how my perspective on food and it’s role in our lives and relationships has already been changed by the French thoughts on it, so I’m hoping my attitude towards cooking will be affected the same.
Yes, I have been working on my daughter’s palate for as long as she’s been eating food. But I saw her willingness to eat whatever we gave her start declining as she aged into toddlerhood and began experimenting with her ability to tell us no. Which is what perked my interest in the “Toddler Taste Training Plan”. However, if you have an older child or haven’t been working on this with your kid thus far, the author of French Kids Eat Everything is a better testament than I am that it is possible to improve your kid’s relationship to mealtimes and food, even if you are starting with a large deficit in those areas.
Just one day with these changes brought an unexpected environment of peace and learning to our home, amongst many other surprising results! Read about it here!
*** UPDATE ***
Since first posting this, I’ve had some questions about exactly what our changes were in the beginning. Following along with the future posts in this series will help explain that (see Day 1 here), but here’s a quick summary of our initial changes:
1. Four course lunches and dinners (veggie, main, dairy, dessert) with each dish served in a separate course and not moving onto the next until each family member is finished (no rushing!). In my experience (and others I’ve heard), toddlers are more likely to try new things if one thing at a time is on their plate and adults are eating it too. Also, I printed up a menu of these course to hang on the fridge (see my menu above) and I didn’t deviate from it at all (for many reasons I’ll get into later).
2. Long meals with family, which happens as a result of no rushing through four courses. Also it’s important to make these fun for kids by talking about the food and experimenting/learning about it together in a fun way. Keep the tone of the meal fun and light! Laugh together! This helps kids learn to sit through the long meals and enjoy them.
3. Cooking really good foods with really quality ingredients and involving kids in the cooking. The kids seem more excited about meals when they were a part of it. And everyone is more excited about meals when you take the time to make them taste good!
4. Giving kids new foods to try and educating them about the food as you go. Have fun learning about, describing it, and experiencing it together! Allow them to taste new ingredients as you cook with them to help them taste one at a time (a way I think they’re more willing to taste), and to help familiarize them to new foods during a more “fun” time to taste than standard meals times. I talk more about this on Day 1.
5. Following things on French food rules, starting with no snacking. See the French Food Rules above. It took us a few days to adjust to no snacking, but it made ALL the difference in my daughter being hungry enough to eat more at meals! Which means she’s also filling up on a higher quality of food than typical snacks.
There’s a lot more to it all than that since it’s a whole philosophy that works better when applied all together, so you’ll have to read the book and more in this blog series to get the rest!