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!