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Monday, June 04, 2012

Motherhood Mondays: French Kids Eat Everything

When we were on on vacation last month, I read an eye-opening book that completely changed the way we feed Toby...

This spring, I started feeling unsure of the way we were feeding Toby. He was eating frequent snacks--Cheerios, cranberries--and never seemed hungry for dinner. We'd prepare healthy meals, and he'd pick at them and then want to get down. It was frustrating, and I wanted to make changes.

Luckily, the new book French Kids Eat Everything had just come out. To be honest, I was getting a little tired of books about how the French do everything perfectly and Americans mess everything up. But I pored over my copy, and it really, really resonated with me. Karen Le Billon tells the story of how her young family left Canada and moved to France to spend a year in her husband's tiny hometown. What Karen didn't expect was that she and her two (very picky) daughters would completely change the way they ate.

In her funny memoir, Le Billon shares 10 rules that she learned from the French about how to raise happy, healthy eaters. Here are the seven that jumped out most to me...
1. Parents schedule meals. Kids eat what adults eat.
When Le Billon's daughters went to French schools, the menu was amazing: Raw radishes! Saute de boeuf! Alaskan hake! Blue cheese! Country pate with pickles! Their young palates were exposed to strong flavors. Le Billon also talks about seeing a nine-month-old baby happily gumming a piece of Roquefort cheese! French children eat three meals a day, plus a snack (or "le goûter") at 4pm. Parents choose the menu, and there are no substitutions.

2. Eat family meals together--and make them feel special.
Le Billon explains that kids really respond to the "ceremony" of everyday French meals. "The French never, ever, eat without putting a tablecloth on the table," she writes. "They even have a special phrase for setting the table: dresser la table." This has a marvelous effect on children, she says. Candles, pretty plates, cloth napkins--"It immediately puts them on their best behavior," she says. How fun and magical for little ones.

3. Food is not a reward, punishment or bribe.
This rule could have been written just for me. As Toby would get into the stroller, I'd give him a few cranberries, and when he got into the car seat, I'd give him a cracker. It was like giving treats to a puppy! If he was sad to leave the playground, I'd ask enticingly, "Want to go home and have some strawberries?" Food was being used as a reward and bribe. Using food like this can lead to emotional eating later in life, reports Le Billon. We want children to have a deep respect for food--and not just learn to eat whenever they're bored, upset or tired. Nowadays, if Toby is cranky when we're heading home, I say, "Let's go see Daddy! Let's go play with your train!" So much better than using food as a reward, right?

4. Eat your veggies. Key: Think variety.
The French typically serve veggies first at a meal, when kids are hungriest, says Le Billon. Mix up a different yummy dish each day: Grated carrot salad. Sliced cucumbers with vinaigrette. Beets and oranges. Endive salad with Emmental cheese and croutons. Experiment, go crazy!

5. You don't have to like it, but you do have to taste it.
The dinner table should not be a battle ground. French parents don't fuss or hover, says Le Billon: "If the child refuses to eat, the parents simply take the food away without too much comment." Interestingly, my friend Courtney's wise pediatrician recently told her, "Refrain from begging or even asking them to eat, and do not praise them for eating. Keep the conversation positive and not focused on the food, so that the kids will want to be at the table." How eye-opening! Before reading this, I'd constantly encourage Toby to eat and praise him when he finished something. What great advice to just talk about other things and not make food feel like an issue. (And, amazingly, he eats more happily and robustly when we ignore his eating.)

Still, even if your child doesn't want to eat something, they at least have to taste it, say the French. According to nutritionists, most children have to taste new foods 7-15 times before they willingly agree to eat them! So if kids initially don't like a certain food, it doesn't mean they never will. Fascinating, right?

6. No snacking. It's OK to feel hungry between meals.
I had an "aha" moment when I read this rule. For some reason, before this, I had always been nervous that Toby was hungry, since I assumed he should never be hungry. When I breastfed my tiny newborn, and tried to get his weight up, I always wondered if he was getting enough milk, and since then, I've continued assuming that he should be constantly satiated. But why? It's OK to have feelings of hunger between meals. "Hunger is the best seasoning," say the French. And it's true: Food tastes better when you're hungry, and kids will eat more "real" food when they're hungry, instead of filling up on snacks. Also, the book explains, it's good for kids to learn how to handle the feeling of hunger; otherwise, children may become adults who feel the need to eat something at the first hunger twang instead of waiting for the next meal.

7. Slow food is happy food. As in, eat slowly.
By government decree, French children spend a minimum of thirty minutes at the school lunch table--even when they're teeny! Meals aren't just about eating, of course, but also about socializing with friends. My friend in New York recently joked about trailing her son around the apartment at dinnertime, trying to pop bites of food in his mouth, and ending up in his play tent with bite-size pieces of chicken in each hand. Hilarious, but definitely not ideal! Teaching children to patiently sit through meals and enjoy conversations with loved ones is such an important life skill.

So! What do you think of all this? Do you want to read the book? (I'd highly recommend it.) Is this how you're already eating with your children? Not so much? Do you agree or disagree with it? Any specific parts? I'd LOVE to hear your thoughts...
P.S. Four other genius tips from (guess who) the French.

(Photo by Elliott Erwitt. Illustrations by Sarah Jane Wright for French Kids Eat Everything)

312 comments:

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Jill Hardt said...

Absolutely how I'd like to raise my kids. Particularly eating meals together and with a bit of ceremony. Growing up, my sister and I almost always ate dinner infront of the TV. Because I wanted to keep watching TV I'd eat more and more and then want to continue snacking. So unhealthy! It has taken me years of disordered eating to find a healthy relationship with food (not that the TV eating was the only issue, of course).

Izzy said...

Well, according to his I am doing a couple things wrong, such as bribing, and exhausting myself and my toddler to eat. I'm pronting these rules and sticking them on the fridge. Thank you for sharing.

Sarah said...

I'm American born and bred and this is very much what I do with my two young kids and how I was raised. Doesn't seem "French" so much as common sense parenting. My kids eat what I eat. We have very few "kid" foods in our home. If I wouldn't serve it to an adult, we don't serve it to our kids. They must try everything, but do not have to finish something they really don't like. I don't care if they've tried it 100 times before, they still can take a bite and taste it. They may sometimes choose their own lunches and breakfasts, but dinner is made by and chosen by adults. We always sit as a family to eat meals together (don't use a tablecloth often-- I do too much laundry as it is!). We eat 3 meals a day plus an occassional mid afternoon snack. No snacking the rest of the day and certainly not if its close to a meal time. And, my kids (ages 3 and 6) are typically the last to be done and get up from dinner. They sit for the duration of the meal and do not get up. We don't always eat super exotic or gourmet foods, but they eat "real" food and prefer "real" food as a result. Give my kids a cheese stick and they wil be totally grossed out. Give them a chunk of the tangiest, oldest aged parmesan you can find and they will devour it!

Common sense and table manners!

Anonymous said...

I second Linda's comment. We always ate at the table as a family, and ate what was prepared without fussing. Regarding snacks.. A small snack (slice of cheese, 4oz yogurt) is provided at daycare am & pm. On the weekends I wait for my lil' bug to ask for something to eat. Sometimes she does, and other times she only has the 3 main family meals.

I have the tasting rule in my house and my 3 year old will try anything without pushing because she knows if she doesn't like, she doesn't need to eat it. She has made many funny faces at her plate to only eat everything once she samples the strange item. She eats sushi, brussel sprouts, braunschweiger, gorgonzola cheese, and many more that items that sometimes make me hesitate. My MIL told her boys that they had to take 3 boyscout bites before turning up their nose.

I need to make it a habit to pull out the placemats and napkins more often. After reading that suggestion, I remember how excited my lil' bug is when I do set the table. It helped my mood as well.

Raised in America by American parents

Kelly Lynn said...

As mother of an almost 2 year old, the snacking to pacify/reward issue has definitely come up with us. I agree its not ideal and we constantly work to move away from it.
BUT before everyone starts judging moms who dole out snacks to their kids in public, remember the INSANE amount of pressure we constantly feel to keep our kids quiet in public. Sometimes snacks are the quickest answer, so next time you roll your eyes at a screaming toddler keep in mind their mom might be instituting this no snacking to pacify rule :)

Thanks for the post, I plan on picking up a copy!

Karelys (Beltran) Davis said...

it's interesting to me that although this is a great way to do things I think it applies more to families who have a stay at home parent or two parents that do not work full time. Of course, it can work with a full time nanny too.

On the aspect that "the french do everything better" I wonder how much of foreign cultures facilitate this a lot more because it is a lot easier for one parent to stay home.

I want to implement these "rules" but not just for the kid. Myself too. How fun to put on a table cloth for lunch/dinner!? But I work. Full time. Sometimes I just want some food to hit my stomach and relax!

It can be really hard when you can't be a mom full time only but you also have to be half of your household income. Maybe that's why a lot of Americans do the things they do.

Karelys (Beltran) Davis said...

it's interesting to me that although this is a great way to do things I think it applies more to families who have a stay at home parent or two parents that do not work full time. Of course, it can work with a full time nanny too.

On the aspect that "the french do everything better" I wonder how much of foreign cultures facilitate this a lot more because it is a lot easier for one parent to stay home.

I want to implement these "rules" but not just for the kid. Myself too. How fun to put on a table cloth for lunch/dinner!? But I work. Full time. Sometimes I just want some food to hit my stomach and relax!

It can be really hard when you can't be a mom full time only but you also have to be half of your household income. Maybe that's why a lot of Americans do the things they do.

Lindsay @ Darling Clementine said...

I am in the middle of reading this myself and am having many eye opening moments of clarity (read: guilt)

I realize I use food as a reward and a distraction too, here' eat this and we'll be home soon, or let's get home and make a snack!

The moment we started cutting down on random snacking I noticed my almost 3 year old would say "Snack please!" ALL THE TIME, like she was programmed to ask the second she sad in the stroller/car seat for example. It was scary and made me glad we are changing things up.

Great read. Hope we all take something from it!

OH and love that the French aren't snapping at their kids to eat, simply take it away and move on. Brilliant!

Lindsay @Darling Clementine

elizabeth said...

How funny! I've been reading this! :)

Diana @ frontyardfoodie said...

I have a twenty month old and a newborn and we eat dinners together. I'd say my toddler eats about four meals a day so more than I do but maybe you could call it three meals and a snack:) I'm trying to start including him in food preparation, though he is still very young to do much.

I love the idea of not forcing kids to eat everything, I was brought up to clean my plate and feel like it causes me to over eat sometimes. I'm learning as an adult not to fill my plate too much so that I don't end up feeling bad afterwards! Our country certainly is lacking in the quality food culture department and I LOVE this list.

My sister lived in France for a year and the family she lived with didn't eat well at all (chocolate for breakfast, etc) but the thing that impressed her was the family constantly did physical activities together like bike riding, swimming, walks in the park and they stayed so fit that way, together! Amazing.

I'm Ali said...

I think this is a great approach! I don't have kids or plan on having any anytime soon but I always envisioned my environment with my future children to be pressure free and very peaceful. I don't want to let them see me stressed over getting them to do things. My friends who have kids think I'm crazy. But I really believe that kids hold the potential to stop and smell the roses just like adults do or need to do more of if they are just taught to enjoy the little things in life whether it be taking their time eating or possessing the interest in trying new and unique foods. Awesome post Joanna! Like always! My best friend is having a baby next month and I believe she was just telling me about this book. She has a very calm demeanor so I totally see this working for her! please check out my blog which is about inspiration and lifestyle :)

pearsepective said...

Thank you so much for posting this summary! It goes in line with what our pediatrician told us, "Don't be a short order cook. He can go hungry." I sent this link to my family, who sometimes forget this tidbit of wisdom.

Maryann Welsch said...

We follow these rules as well and I have noticed that at restaurants, not ordering the "kid" meal has worked very well for us. My kids are more likely to eat more, and seem to really enjoy eating what we are eating.

I always need to remember that that small kids actually need to eat very little amounts of food- much less than adult portions. So when I can keep that in mind, I get less stressed out when they just try their dinner and don't clean their plate.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Latin America and if one of my siblings did not like what was for dinner, the maid would fix something else for him and to this day, they are still picky eaters. I vowed to raise kids that would not be picky eaters. Do you want to be invited to other people's homes to eat? Do you want to eat at a restaurant that you like versus one that serves kid-friendly junk? Who wants to spend endless hours preparing various meals? Then I think the rules above are really helpful. I have a friend that tells me that I am so lucky that my kids (5 and 7 years, by the way) eat anything and have been since they are toddlers. I'm not lucky, I worked hard at getting them to eat whatever I made. My number one rule is that I don't make special meals for anyone or cook kid-friendly meals (hot dogs, etc.). Then, you don't have to eat it, but you have to have at least one bite. And if you decide you don't want it, that's OK but that's all there is -- there is NOTHING else for dinner. Feel free to be hungry. That usually works. I still struggle now and then with the younger one who will be the last one to finish his meal (yet INHALE any sort of dessert). OK, I don't want to sound like the food nazi... my kids are allowed to eat hot dogs, mac and cheese, etc. as a treat during outings and parties. They are kids after all.

Annie said...

Here we go...none of this is new but the accent of parenting has altered beyond recognition in the last 30 years. Child-centred parenting has left adults on the periphery and the result is chaos. OK, now to sound human again. It is just common sense, old fashioned child rearing with adults setting rules and children learning the ways of the world. We all make mistakes with food and kids, and nearly always for the best of reasons - or simply ignorance. At some point, most parents sit up, bite the bullet and start insisting on simple decency. It takes a while but it always works. Teaching kids to eat with knife and fork, sit still for a mealtime, chat and not be rude about peas is a bit dull but worth persevering with. Think about it - whining kids who only eat junk are horrible company and so are their parents, so man up and get on with it. My parents were brought up in England in the Second World War. The concept of refusing food was beyond imagining. Bet kids aren't picky in Somalia. Just sayin'...

LeeLi (We the Tumbleweeds) said...

My husband and I are currently trying to start our family, we spend a lot of time discussing the kind of lifestyle we want to work towards and how we want to raise our children, and this is an issue that is very important to us! Thank you so much for this recommendation, it is exactly what I was looking for!

UrbanChiqueNess said...

Joanna, thanks for the book review! Love it and happy to know we live by all these same rules at our house and have for years. Ironically, that is how I grew up as well and we are American! My husband is British so he was raised similarly. My boys who r now 9&6 are great eaters! When my youngest requested artichokes for his 4th bday dinner, I knew I had done something right! Keep it up, it will pay off and create a positive change for ur family!
Xo
E
Http://www.urbanchiqueness.com

UrbanChiqueNess said...

Joanna, thanks for the book review! Love it and happy to know we live by all these same rules at our house and have for years. Ironically, that is how I grew up as well and we are American! My husband is British so he was raised similarly. My boys who r now 9&6 are great eaters! When my youngest requested artichokes for his 4th bday dinner, I knew I had done something right! Keep it up, it will pay off and create a positive change for ur family!
Xo
E
Http://www.urbanchiqueness.com

UrbanChiqueNess said...

Joanna, thanks for the book review! Love it and happy to know we live by all these same rules at our house and have for years. Ironically, that is how I grew up as well and we are American! My husband is British so he was raised similarly. My boys who r now 9&6 are great eaters! When my youngest requested artichokes for his 4th bday dinner, I knew I had done something right! Keep it up, it will pay off and create a positive change for ur family!
Xo
E
Http://www.urbanchiqueness.com

Amanda said...

I, too, am totally sick of the "why french people are perfect and we should feel bad" genre, especially since I think a lot of it is illusion. But, almost all of this makes sense. The only thing I would say is that I think kids up to age 4 or so do often need a morning snack as well as an afternoon one. They are growing a ton and (hopefully) running around a ton and need fuel!

Jillian@TheHumbleGourmet said...

What fantastic advice! It was interesting to read, especially because I realized that all of these steps were things my parents had done with us. My mom had a rule at the dinner table: you had to try everything, and we were allowed to make our own plates, but we had to eat everything that we dished for ourselves. This allowed all of us to begin to read our own bodies and get a feel for how much food we could handle. She never served for us, but rather had us do it ourselves so that we weren't being "forced" to eat too much.

Anonymous said...

I agree with all this, but I don't think it's just a French thing. I'm American, and when I was a small baby, of course I ate baby food or other soft foods (as I didn't have teeth.) But once I was old enough to chew real food, I ate what the rest of the family ate. I ate when they ate. I think part of this is generational... parents today cater much more to their kids than parents even in my generation (born in 1976) did. And I've never been picky and will try just about anything, and I think that's the result of being given adult foods when I was little. Parents think that their young children just happen to be (unavoidably) "picky," so they feed them a limited set of foods in order to accommodate them (reinforcing the picky tendencies.) But, I think that "pickiness" is actually avoidable and developed very very early on by parents feeding their kids a limited set of kid foods.

Anonymous said...

I probably don't have time to read it, considering I have about 8 or 9 books I want to read right now but I appreciate the synopsis. I will try the "dress up the table bit". I already do some of these, including "no food as reward" but my in-laws are always offering them treats. I want to get Mrs. Obama's new garden book and Mrs. Obama admits the girls get treats once a week.

Suzanne said...

It is similar here in Quebec too. My half French son has eaten a variety of foods since he was very young. When he was about 2 I lost sight of him for a minute in a store and found in at the back of the store dipping bread into different olive oils and tasting them. Now if he wants a sandwich, he asks for pate and Dijon and is not afraid to try anything because he sees us eating it and he wants to eat what we eat. He's eaten beaver, horse, alligator, rabbit, etc. And fortunately, has never been a fan of french fries, hot dogs, and birthday cake, which means I have to feed him before a party. Sometimes I think that he is braver about food than I am.

natalienoods said...

I'm currently an au pair living in Paris with a French family. I'm an American, and yes, these rules make perfect sense, in theory, French parents make all the same mistakes as American parents. Food is a reward here, it's just not an immediate reward. And the "dressing the table" is sort of a big pain in the neck. Plus you have to realize, the French don't do dinner like we Americans: no sandwiches, no ethnic foods (unless they are part of the family heritage), no finger foods, no condiments. Food is presented as-is, and this IS difficult on kids. American foods are much more kid friendly, in my opinion, but I do this the French way of approaching food as a whole is a much better idea.

PS My host mom's best trick? First course is always SOUP--with tons of puréed veggies and/or chunky veggies.

PPS The child's school posts the menu outside, and includes "suggestions" for dinner to go with what the kids eat for lunch!!

Anonymous said...

I am french and i'm very surprised about your article because i thought (like you) this book was stupid because so "cliché" but i have to say that this is really the way that french people/children live and eat ! good idea ;) love your blog btw <3

Sarah said...

Maybe I'm in the minority, but this is the way I was raised. As a matter of fact that's the way everyone I know, in my small Southern town, was raised. This is definitely the way my children will be treated.

Elisa said...

This is a very interesting topic! These rules make a lot of sense. I love the veggie rule and of course, snacking. A lot of these rules are common sense. For instance, I noticed that if I gave my son (20 months) a snack in the afternoon, he would pick at his dinner. So, we gave up afternoon snack. But, I noticed that if I don't give him a snack around 9:30am, he is too hungry to enjoy his morning activities. So much of this I being in tune with your child and really paying attention. The snacking thing is a little crazy, it seems like my friends kids are always snacking - like constantly.

As far as eating together, I do eat breakfast and lunch with my son, but dinner we do after bedtime so we can relax, talk and enjoy a glass of wine. When my son gets older, we'll definietly adjust this ritual to include him.

Oh, and lol on the cranberries!

Elisa said...

This is a very interesting topic! These rules make a lot of sense. I love the veggie rule and of course, snacking. A lot of these rules are common sense. For instance, I noticed that if I gave my son (20 months) a snack in the afternoon, he would pick at his dinner. So, we gave up afternoon snack. But, I noticed that if I don't give him a snack around 9:30am, he is too hungry to enjoy his morning activities. So much of this I being in tune with your child and really paying attention. The snacking thing is a little crazy, it seems like my friends kids are always snacking - like constantly.

As far as eating together, I do eat breakfast and lunch with my son, but dinner we do after bedtime so we can relax, talk and enjoy a glass of wine. When my son gets older, we'll definietly adjust this ritual to include him.

Oh, and lol on the cranberries!

Gabrielle said...

I agree that it is silly this is attributed as a soley French way of eating. It is just common sense.

I have even read an American book (Take the Fight out of Food) on children's eating habits that suggests many of these points. That book at least has the common sense to suggest that different children will have different eating styles, not expect them all to eat three meals and one snack at a set time. While in general, I agree with the not snacking all the time, in all these French parenting books they seem to be very rigid and scheduled with everything. I think just leads to more stress if you have a child that physically cannot adhere to that schedule.

I would really recommend Take the Fight out of Food as it has a large amount of excellent advice on the point you raised from this French book: "Also, the book explains, it's good for kids to learn how to handle the feeling of hunger." Take the Fight out of Food has exercises for you to help your child actually recognize what hunger, satisfied, full, and stuffed (over full) are, how to decide if you need a second helping at a meal (or a snack before a meal). So they actually have tools to use not just a blanket "no snacks".

I also don't agree that picky eaters are made. We weaned our daughter (now 4 yrs) directly onto solids (no purees) from our own meals ("baby led weaning"). She has always been offered the exact same food that we eat, which is very varied with strong flavors. Some of her favorite items are olives, strong cheeses, and chilli sauce. However, we have seen her go through phases where she will happily eat everything, others where she is suddenly not so keen on items she used to eat ("picky"), and then back again to eating everything. We do have the rule that she always has to try something and after reading her green eggs and ham we find that saying "remember green eggs and ham, try it, try it and you may, try it and you may I say" helps with any hesitation on trying new items. After we say that she will always happily take a bite and test it out.

While it is great to have this food advice on offer to parents, the whole packaging it as "French" needs to be taken with a grain of salt.

Gabrielle said...

Just wanted to add. The other great thing we picked up from Take the Fight out of Food is teaching our daughter what different food items actually do for you body. For example, what contains protein, carbohydrate, vitamins, minerals (e.g. calcium in milk), or just a sweet treat for your tongue. Then what they do helping muscles grow, providing energy for your brain and muscles to use, helping you keep healthy and your hair/nails/skin to grow, helping your bones be strong. Then how and when we need to eat different things, and how to recognize what your body needs.

Anonymous said...

I am not French. I grew up in a blue collar household in the middle of the Arizona desert and this is so very similar to how meals went down in my house.

It is practically offensive to me how some food is marketed as "kid food." There is no such thing. We wouldn't have dreamed of asking for something different than what was served! We helped in preparation & clean up from a very early age as well (even if it was just setting the table, which was done every single night).

My absolute favorite thing to eat as a child was spinach and I've adored bleu cheese since at least the age of three.

Hearing a lot about this book lately, has made me realize that even though I have a nutrition degree and am thoroughly passionate about food, I really have no idea how Americans actually eat.

Karalynn said...

Interesting book and I completely agree with the French on this aspect of life. I have been a nanny for almost 2 years in France and these rules are true for nearly all my experiences. I once worked for a family with four kids and the kids knew they were not allowed to eat between meals even though they'd still ask or try to sneak a piece of baguette from time to time. At snack time they were only allowed cookies or sugar every other day and the other days they were given an apple and a glass of milk. They usually asked for cookies but never fought it because they knew those were the rules. At the same time, the table was set every evening for dinner and they served food and if they didn't eat it they didn't eat it. Another thing that is different from the US to France is portion size and that they don't offer seconds. Of course the portion was bigger for the 14 yr old vs. the 6 yr old but we all ate about the same portion size. I, however, am American and I grew up in a family where my mom was rather strict. We didn't have as healthy of meals growing up but we were not allowed to help ourselves in the kitchen without permission and we were to eat was was put on our plate or not eat at all. My mom told me (which i don't think a lot of parents have the heart to do) that a kid starve himself. He may refuse to eat what is offered one night but the next time he will learn that if he doesn't want to be hungry he will eat what is offered. I was a picky child even with these set rules but I find myself to be a healthier adult as far as my eating habits are. I find that after living in France for nearly 2 years and reading up on their culture and experiencing it first hand, there are a lot of things that they do correctly that I think the Americans can stand to learn from.

Malcolm Dias said...

A hungry kid is a healthy kid

Delonghi EC155 said...

I wish I had something like that when my daughter was small. She would only eat chicken and custard! It was awful and I spent many a night in tears. Kids really are hard work sometime.

Tracy said...

I'm a pediatric feeding specialist, and I teach all these strategies to parents. The book is right on!

Anonymous said...

My husband is French and I am American. My mother raised me this way; I agree with the commenter who said it is a traditional way vs French really. The truly uniquely French thing I value is the 'theater of the table', one dish after the next and great conversation with nowhere else to get to, and the delight in the discovery of good things to eat.

But folks, there are some seriously wrong things about French people and food - to start, their widespread obsession with weight even with very young children, their breakfasts, the above-mentioned 'gouter' which is always pure sugar, and their obsessive neatness for babies in high chairs eating (no food on clothes).

The French do not do it better. There are some things to pick up but much to leave behind.

My kid does sit at the table for 45 minutes and loves Roquefort, but come hell or high water she doesn't taste what she doesn't want. French people largely get their food thing from the daycares all French kids go to, not their parents. Your kid will eat following school rules, too. Just sign him up for a place with prepared meals and voila!

But amen on the snacking thing.

Sarah said...

I saw a few comments from parents who are struggling with feeding their children due to developmental delay, autism, oral/motor issues, etc. I just want to say to those Moms: you are not alone. A book like this is not very relevant to a subsection of families and kids who exist in the tail of the feeding bell curve. These are great, common-sense rules and definitely something to keep in the back of your minds. But if you have to get another 6 oz of weight on your child in order to prevent him or her from needing that G-tube or an endoscopy, you do what you gotta do. With the generally insane work and school schedules many of us are forced to keep (and that go against our bodies in so many ways) & the poor access to healthy, nutritious food in so many parts of our country, feeding kids can be hard.

Baby led weaning works well as long as you do not have a family history of food sensitivies or allergies or other feeding problems.

I have an elementary aged child who was eating duck at wd~50 in NYC when she was a toddler. I could sit back and congratulate myself for following these rules, except that she ended up with some bad luck health-wise and now has a very compromised gut. And these rules all pretty much got kicked to the curb in the interest of keeping her out of the hospital.

And to the pediatric feeding specialist: really? I have seen a lot of different strategies offered and implemented at places like Kennedy Krieger. It really depends on the child and the family.

Mamas of the atypical eaters, take heart. Read the book if you want, implement what you can, to the extent that you can, and recognize that the author has likely not spent many hours a month in PT, OT, ped GI, etc. Hang in there...

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, French kids do eat everything, but I know quite a few French adults who are the pickiest eaters I've ever met. I think the trick is to approach all of the "French" rules laid out in the book with a grain of salt. Yes, there are plenty of French households in which there is always a tablecloth on the table, the kids eat everything and never have a snack. But there are just as many households that don't follow any of these rules. And these families are also perfectly French.

Jule Berlin said...

Re the "you eat what I eat"-thing: When my father cooked something for dinner that me and my sister didn't like, and we said "we don't wanna eat that, we don't like that", than he used to say: "If you're hungry, you eat what's on the table. If not, you get nothing."

Really strict, I know, but most probably the reason that I'm no picky eater today.

(I'm German, btw)

tinker6711 said...

I read this a couple of weeks ago too- loved it. Having an 11 month old living in the UK with friends all around me spooning pureéd food into their children who then seemed to go on to be terrified at the sight of a piece of broccoli, I wanted to do things differently. I first read Baby Led Weaning, and have never prepared any baby-specific food since. French Kids Eat Everything just goes on from that and reassured me that it's okay to have some expectations at the dinner table. My son is unstoppable, he joins in all adult mealtimes, and always eats what we eat, at home and eating out, we just need to move onto table manners now!!

Natalie said...

WGN radio in Chicago interviewed the author last week! It made my morning commute much more enjoyable and informative!

Anonymous said...

This is how I remember it when I was a kid. You ate what was on the table at the time or you didn't eat at all. I don't remember ever asking for something other than what was made. I must have learned early on that there was nothing else!

Patty said...

I just "finished" raising 4 boys(youngest is a freshman in college) and when they were little, I vowed I would not make meal time a battle. I had one who would eat everything, a picky eater and the other 2 were in between. They are now all very good eaters and we still eat dinner together whether it is just my husband and me or everyone is home. We always light candles in the winter and have fresh flowers on the table. When they were little, I never let them eat in the car and we actually made it through movies without eating! I am amazed that most Americans cannot sit 2 hours without eating. Young parents, follow these rules; they work.

Annmarie Kostyk said...

Love this post! Plan on ordering the book even though I don't have any little ones yet. Adults should rule over the children.

Chrystina said...

I should probably try to enforce #6 in my own life. Somehow when I'm bored at work, snacking seems like the only option...

shoegirl said...

As an American expat living in Germany, I can see that parents must raise their children similarly here. I almost never see snacks being doled out in public and restaurant eating - and behavior! - is exemplary. Food isn't the same emotionally-charged thing or bribery it has become in the states. I recently started being an English-language playmate/babysitter to two little Italian girls and my jaw nearly hit the floor when their mother offered them juice and a snack upon returning home from school... and they politely declined. Whoa!

Mélanie A. said...

I am french , I live in France and I have a 19 months old son . He eats everything we eat that is to say everyday almost ( or 6 different vegetables and fruits . he lives everything , it is so great to be abble to share taste with him

Claire said...

I lived with a french family when I was ten and they were so kind and cooked me noodle soup because I didn't like most of the french meats and cheeses, so I'm not sure that all french parents do this. Also, a toddler might need to eat a few more snacks or meals because their tummies are so small. Also sometimes adults eat foods that are very indulgent that a toddler would be best not eating. But other than that i loved the advice about not using food as rewards and making meals special and communal.

Lauren Grace said...

Any idea what the French do with their children before they are able to chew and feed themselves (around the 6-10 month stage)? Do they do the fruit/vegetable puree stage? I have a 7 month old and although I adore him, I must admit, I dislike meal time. I just don't find feeding him all that enjoyable. He has a good pincher grasp so I've started cutting up small pieces of avocado and banana and allowing him to feed himself. I am curious what the French do at this age!

saffiertje said...

Well... I lve these experiences! For my kids it naturally works this wway. They love eating at a tale and praise mommy for the cooking if they relly like it... Mom loves this!
Tonight wenhad our first crockpotmeal! They lobed it, toorrow again. I rally can put anything on their plates and they eat it! Olives, goat chesse, couscous, pizza, veggies mushrooms... Name it and they 'll eat! I totally agree with the french!

Carole said...

I was wondering whether you would be happy to put up a link in my monthly series called “Books You Love”. The idea is for people to link up posts about a book they loved – it doesn’t have to be one they just posted about. It could be an old fave. I am hoping we will end up with a nice collection of books that can go on our reading lists. Here is the link Books You Loved June Edition

Zoe - SlowMama said...

Looking forward to reading this book! I linked to your post today on my blog to let my own readers know more about it.

Benedicte said...

I am french and that is the way I was raised and the way I raised my children. But I think it's not typically French. the most important difference between American way of eating and the "rest of the world" seems to be snacking. Everywhere else the notion of meals is much more important and you don't "waste" meals by snacking.

Anonymous said...

Clarissel, the swiss aren't french, they're swiss. It's like calling Canadians American. Not too sure what kind of french people you knew but slapping and ignoring your crying kids isn't a French tradition I can assure you! i'm french and am bringing up my son pretty much like that. We only tend to have family meals during the weekend as my husband is home late from work but I try and eat with him at lunchtime although we have different meals. he likes lamb, I don't! He's never been fed jars, always homemade food. he used to snack but he started eating less during meal times so we quickly made that disappear. He doesn't have a gouter either as he eats at 5.30 and that would spoil his dinner (much to my mother's horror!). He likes to try different foods although he doesn't always like it but at least he tries. Oh, and I never had fancy crockery, candles or linen napkins though! Although always a tablecloth, I can't imagine not eating on a table without a tablecloth lol!

Stephanie said...

Great tips! We abide by many of them...except the "no snacking" rule - in part because *I* like to snack.

I prefer to eat many small meals/snacks throughout the day, instead of at three designated times.

Have you read "Feeding Baby Green" by Dr. Greene, by chance? I really appreciate his food philosophy.

stephanie@metropolitanmama.net

Helen said...

Thanks for the inspiration! Its not only Americans falling into those traps.. :)

Helen,
Norway (Northern Europe)

PF CHANGS said...

Excellent blog :) I really enjoyed it.

janzi said...

I am sure that the book will be great for new parents to follow if they can. That way of eating is not just the French, but english and all european ways.. in the days when food was precious and if you had enough to eat you were lucky... now there are so many snack things on the market, the girls and boys are fat by choosing to buy and eat these instead of real meals.. that the young do not know how to cook and rely on ready meals is terrible, but due to advertising and the way the industry has developed over the last 50 years.. its not just parents being lazy, just5 that there is too much choice, and they have forgotten how to sit and eat together.. If we go back to the old ways, all the industry created to make snacks will choose other ways to tempt us in order to keep their profits high

Dianne Stevens said...

That's what I like to French children. They eat what adults eat.

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Dianne Stevens said...

That's what I like to French children. They eat what adults eat.

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HeidiMCF said...

What an excellent post! I think these ideas are great for diagnosing my own eating issues, and living with my picky eater partner. I love the idea of a table cloth.

Kaitlin Jenkins said...

I don't have kids (yet) but still find this so interesting, and it makes SO MUCH sense. I plan to purchase this book as a reference point, I love what you've shared, thank you!

Filiz @ Light and Sweet said...

Love it! I hope I remember this book when I have children.
x

Laura said...

Has she been tested for coeliac disease and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thalassemia?
I was on the low weight percentage as a kid, was picky (even though my mother had us eat the 'French' way described in this book) and only got diagnosed with coeliacs and milk allergy when I was 17. It can cause weight loss and also make you have a low appetite because of the vitamin and mineral deficiencies and stomach cramps.

Rachel Page said...

Really? And what can the French learn from Americans?

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Thanks for the nice informational post. Just found this site through another site and have really enjoyed this post from start to finish.

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suni said...

I will have to read this book because my little toddler is a picky little eater! Thanks for sharing your stories!

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madys46 said...

Great advice - especially about children eating adult foods! There were very few kid menus in my childhood and I really appreciate that now.

Also, when I was growing up, my mom employed something we called "No Thank You Portions". We had to try everything on the table but could have only a little bit of something we didn't want - a No Thank You Portion. I'll definitely be using that when I have kids.

Amanda said...

Wow, this sounds like amazing advice for everyone, not just children.

Aurélie Jouan said...

Hello Joanna ! I end up randomly in this article, I read it and as I'm a french girl I can tell you that this is 100 % right. i've been raised like that ! and it's really funny to read those rules, i never paid attention to that but it's true ! except rule #10 because there's no family were a meal is spend in a real calm, it's always noisy :)

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Jacquie Fisher said...

These all work great at our house - I never knew they were French rules! My family (Italian mostly) has always eaten this way so it's been easy to pass along to my kids because it's how we grew up. I would say that we do snack (on real food/fruits) because I don't like to serve huge meals. And if the kids really don't like what's on the menu that night, they have to help 'make' their own alternative in the kitchen (I don't cater :) I would add that taking them to the store to see different foods has worked for us too - they always want to buy strange, new items we've never tried so it's fun. Great post!

lunargoddess2002 said...

This book like Bringing up Bébé, is utter BS. Honestly, I've been living in France for thirteen years. My children are French by nationality and birth. I'm American married to a Frenchman. I can honestly say that French children don't eat like the book describes anymore. More and more, they eat prepared foods, foods at schools aren't homemade anymore. I live in a farming region and our schools used to have homemade foods but now get all of their stuff from Sysco. So, that idea that we are getting the best, just isn't happening. Also, there is a distinction between foods. Children here are not diversified before 18 months. I started giving my daughter adult food when she was nine months. Her pediatrician that is Swiss and Liberian thought it was fantastic, her replacement (who happened to be French) scoffed and told me that I should be giving her purées and baby foods until she is two. Plenty of people still do that. Mothers work a lot here. The problem with books like these, is that it only touches a very small segment of society. Most mothers work and most mothers leave their children with a nanny or in childcare. It is a joke amongst the Anglophone community that we should do like French mothers and leave our kids with nounous. A lot of people give their children chicken and frites or better yet, pasta and steak haché. Sometimes you see a veggie and sometimes you don't. It depends on how long the mother is working. Fathers aren't helping out as much in the home. I grew up like this: you eat what I give you or you don't eat. We did this in America. There weren't many kid foods when I was growing up. There was just food. So, I don't know where we lost it but I see the same thing happening here. I make everything from scratch but I have a store front and it is easier for me because I work in restauration for my business. A lot of people don't anymore even here.

lunargoddess2002 said...

This book like Bringing up Bébé, is utter BS. Honestly, I've been living in France for thirteen years. My children are French by nationality and birth. I'm American married to a Frenchman. I can honestly say that French children don't eat like the book describes anymore. More and more, they eat prepared foods, foods at schools aren't homemade anymore. I live in a farming region and our schools used to have homemade foods but now get all of their stuff from Sysco. So, that idea that we are getting the best, just isn't happening. Also, there is a distinction between foods. Children here are not diversified before 18 months. I started giving my daughter adult food when she was nine months. Her pediatrician that is Swiss and Liberian thought it was fantastic, her replacement (who happened to be French) scoffed and told me that I should be giving her purées and baby foods until she is two. Plenty of people still do that. Mothers work a lot here. The problem with books like these, is that it only touches a very small segment of society. Most mothers work and most mothers leave their children with a nanny or in childcare. It is a joke amongst the Anglophone community that we should do like French mothers and leave our kids with nounous. A lot of people give their children chicken and frites or better yet, pasta and steak haché. Sometimes you see a veggie and sometimes you don't. It depends on how long the mother is working. Fathers aren't helping out as much in the home. I grew up like this: you eat what I give you or you don't eat. We did this in America. There weren't many kid foods when I was growing up. There was just food. So, I don't know where we lost it but I see the same thing happening here. I make everything from scratch but I have a store front and it is easier for me because I work in restauration for my business. A lot of people don't anymore even here.

lovehounduk said...

After 22 years in France, it is so strange that these legends still exist. France is prone like any other country to the "child is king" syndrome and when the kid doesn't want to eat, he's fed something he does want.

France is the second largest market outside of the US for McDonalds.

What is also strange from most of the comments is that everyone was brought up like this. No choice you ate what you were given and nothing different for the kids.

Why ? Money. Financially families couldn't afford to do it before. No what the child wants he gets. Peer pressure too plays a large role and this includes France.

So I wouldn't think that France is some ideal country, but I would look at how we did things 30-40 years ago !!

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Lau said...

I am french, and all i could think while reading is " of course !! who doesn't do that!" i grew up like that and i think its the best, you eat a little of everything, you have to taste it, and my favourite meal appart breakfast is le goûter when i eat at work or at home my "pain au chocolat". I was very frustrated when i lived in mexico because i couldnt find ones as good as in france héhé! Great article, reflecting the truth

tinylittlehouse said...

This is exactly how I was raised... in America. I would say that I have a very healthy relationship with food because of this and have never been overweight (I also exercise regularly too though). My husband and I recently went camping with my extended family and he was shocked at how the kids ate everything the grown ups did. During one breakfast my niece refused to eat and her mom finally excused her from the table and despite her complaints about being hungry she wasn't allowed to eat again until lunch.

Just go to any zoo in America and I bet you will see a majority of overweight children... with snacks in hand. It's a very real and very dangerous problem.

nadine said...

Dora, I agree with you - it get's to be a bit frustrating! I am German and grew up with the same rules, so did pretty much everyone around me...

Unknown said...

On the other side of the coin from Kathy's comment, not all French are so perfect as we'd like to imagine. My brother is raising his daughter in Paris with his French wife. I'd like to think the principles outlined above are roughly what we follow in our home, but don't really apply to my niece's situation. She does not like raw fruit (it must be mashed, possibly after being cooked), will eat only a few vegetables, and demands chocolate at every turn. Some (maybe most) of this was brought on by her negligent nanny who bribed her with cookies to be quiet and watch TV instead of needing attention, but still. She's quite the handful when it comes to eating. Aside from bread and chocolate, and the fact that she has a 4 o'clock gouter daily, many of these ideas do no apply. I love learning from other cultures, and I think there are many things the French probably do well, but I'm sick to death of books (Bringing up Bebe was similar) that make it seem like all French people have some secret knowledge or genetic ability to parent like the rest of us would if only we were so awesome. Bleh.

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Mmmhmama! said...

I think so ;-). I'm Belgian, and this is how a lot of Belgian families raise their kids, too. I started with Baby-Led Weaning at 6 months, making sure they develop a taste for vegetables and fruit from the beginning.

DiploNerds said...

This is how I was raised. We always ate together, there was the same meal prepared for everyone and I got one snack after school. Dinner was about spending time as a family, talking about the day etc. I loved it. I always felt sad for those who ate in different rooms from their family.

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Bellestar said...

I especially like rules 3 and 5.
With so many I know,they treat food like something it isn't,then wonder why they end up with weight and emotional issues afterwards.Not that I am perfect by any means,just had to come up with different approaches as a young kid with a sensitive stomach,and have noticed different results from a difference in habits.(nothing cultural or hidden)The way 5 goes is perfect with how me and many friends have turned out,despite what parents insisted on.Many of us have allergies that were either noticeable as children,or started as a wish to avoid only further develop into an allergy as we got older.If something is avoided long enough,kids will go on to start craving substitutes (even less healthy ones)if they really need such.

Emilie said...

It's great fun this article! I am a French mother, I fight for my daughter eats other thing than rice and pasta ...
Of course she prefers little dishes sauces, but for the rest, the vegetables are not most beloved in France and the United States, I assure you.
Thank you for this blog so interesting about parenting.

nathalie said...

From nathalie france this rules are just good sence.eating must be a pleasure.food is precious..it is a way to spend time in family. No drive in our contry but francois hollande unfortunately.

nathalie said...

From nathalie france this rules are just good sence.eating must be a pleasure.food is precious..it is a way to spend time in family. No drive in our contry but francois hollande unfortunately.

Constance said...

I just finished reading this book. A lot of the comments were that it's not just a French phenomenon, and I agree, but the book was written by a Canadian, who lived in France for a year, so that's what the book is based on, just a personal experience. And, as someone who is expecting a first child in a few months, it's very reassuring to see a different perspective on the "child-king" method of child-raising that I see all around me. There are so many conflicting visions of food and health in this country, it's very confusing for everyone. I know that there's a current trend for small meals (ie: constant eating), but eating this way just makes me unable to ever feel hungry, anticipate a real meal (which has been spoiled by a recent snack) and lack any discipline to wait for food. I've eaten the "French way" (3 square meals) a few times in my life (while living briefly in France, then for longer in Thailand, and during college, while on the meal plan) and those times I felt the best I ever had. I'm going back to the no snacking (or mindfully limited snacking) rule for myself and will try to follow this for my family in the future. I've tried it for a few days now, and I have to say that I really look forward to mealtimes a lot more!

lone shewolf said...

I come from a family full of chefs, waitstaff and other food lovers. Meals have always been a group event. As such my daughter and I (single mum) have eaten together since the very beginning. This article makes me feel slightly smug as it is exactly what meal times look like in our Australian home. People often marvel at what delightful company she makes at the dinner table, happy to listen and contribute to conversation, set tables, eat well, broadly and with enthusiasm. Breakfast and dinner are delightful times where we chat about our day, other things and even play go fish. We have a "no thank you bite' policy and happily her daycare centre has a similar chatty and communal approach to meal times. When life gets really busy meal times become even more important to both of us and Friday nights eating pizza and watching movies on the sofa are extra delightful because they are a reward at the end of our usually busy week.

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Brad said...

Honestly, the fact that all of these "great" parenting skills gets credited to the French all the time frustrates me. My mother, who is Slovak owns a daycare in Canada, and this is exactly what her policy is when dealing with children who are fussy eaters. She brought me up on the same principles---and NEVER gave me crackers or cheerios as a form of snack or a meal! Countless times, she's had children come in with their parents insisting that they will most likely not eat anything else but crackers because that is how they are at home---spending 3 consecutive days at the day care will usually cure the picky eaters.
It is not just the French, I think it's all of Europe that has the same habits when bringing up kids.

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Felix Gold said...

I haven't had any children yet. But from a perspective of a child, my family was pretty much the same. We rarely have snacks, they were an occasional treats. I went to school, have set lunch there but always have dinner at home. No TV and everybody sit and eat together. There were no choice of food, just what my grandma cooks (but she is an awesome cook!). My mom never feed me constantly, or give in to my winny about food, either you eat it or leave it. That's why I'm so astonished when I first came to US at host family where they don't even eat together. And snacking all the time! But I must say that i've got a little bit of the US way of eating in me now.

jesse cahanap said...

Rules are important because without rules there would be chaos. Everyone would be doing whatever they want and no one would agree and bad things would happen. It is nice teach a children a rules so that they mold and form.

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It so delicious! Many will want to eat that vegetarian meatballs. Aside of delicious, it so nutritious and good for the healthy living.
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jesse cahanap said...

Rules are important because without rules there would be chaos. Everyone would be doing whatever they want and no one would agree and bad things would happen. It is nice teach a children a rules so that they mold and form.
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Claudia said...

I am a bit confused with this generalization of french kids rules for eating.... reading here other comments and with my own experience, I would say these rules are really common in Europe. I was born in Germany, where I spent my early years and now I live in Portugal: and this perfectly normal for us. You would be offered the same than the adults, only in rare occasions you would be offered something alternative (for example, if you just HATED liver...), you have a somewhat strict time routine (i remember being hungry before dinner and wanting to snack something and mother saying "just wait half an hour, because you're not going to ruin your dinner time!!"). And vegetables are always at the table... if a child doesn't like them at all, there's always soup... and eating a vegetable soup is almost THE rule while growing up... I'm really surprised that in the US, the rules seem so different....

Claudia said...

I know that I can't generalize all Americans with what I saw in "Honey Boo Boo" program but once I saw a episode, and I was shocked to see that her mother said, without a care in the world, that she and her family never had eaten a vegetable. And she used vegetables as a way to punish her kids... What?!?!

Laure Albouy said...

I'm not a mom but I am French and raised by a French mom and this is all true :) I am sooo thankful for the way my mom educated me "food-wise" because I see now that 21 years later, I have great eating habits! :)

Valentina Duracinsky said...

I just read this look. It was amazing... I found the ending a little depressing because she kind of threw out some of those rules that - as someone from France - I think are extremely important. But the basic thing is that the book is full of wonderful tips and I loved it!!

Valentina Duracinsky

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