French Kids Eat Everything (And Mine Don’t): Lessons from Karen De Bilion

When I read Karen Bakker De Bilion’s book, French Kids Eat Everything, my first reactions were

1) Guilt. My kids don’t eat enough vegetables.

2) Hey, this is a good book. Easy to read, honest, and intelligent, instead of know-it-all mommy propaganda.

3) Wait a minute, I know this woman. Sort of. She was my teaching assistant at McMaster’s Arts & Science Programme, before she left to become a Rhodes Scholar.

Evidence that my children eat, however imperfectly (Christmas 2011). Max eats shrimp, A. a little of everything.

All that said, this is what I took away:

1. Reduce snacking

I always pack a cooler for my kids, because I hate those hungry melt down screamfests. But it’s true, I am also enabling my picky son, because why should he try new things if he knows Mommy has packed pasta just the way he likes it? So today, en route to swimming lessons, I did give him a snack: half a corn on the cob. He gave the other half to Anastasia and they both gnawed away, content. Usually, I’d give him the whole lunch bag. He’d devour the pasta, and the veg would be an afterthought. Today, he ate pasta by the poolside after swimming.

2. It’s okay for kids to be hungry.

If my children cry, my first thought is, “Are you hungry?” Usually, they’re not. And French kids learn it’s okay to be hungry. It’s normal in between meals. And you learn self-control. So on the way back from swimming, instead of food, I gave them toy cars to play with. They survived. I’m also packing smaller lunches for Max. That way, he’s more likely to eat all of his cucumbers and red peppers. Hunger is the best sauce.

3. When you eat, socialize and make things beautiful.

A lot of times, my family ends up eating in the kitchen, Max sitting on the counter with his food, A. in her high chair, me +/- their dad eating standing up. Le horreur. So now I tell them, “Sit at the table, like normal people.” And I broke out the placemats, only I realized that part of the reason I avoid them is because most of them are from my mother and I don’t like them. So I ordered a bunch of furoshiki to use as placemats (good quality ones made and shipped directly from Kyoto at the best price, at You’re welcome). In the meantime, I am trying not to read while I eat with them. You know it’s a bad sign when your kids pretend to read at the table, too. I put the books away and said, “Let’s talk.”

I also realized things that weren’t in the book. Like, my kids should eat more vegetables, but I’m not that concerned about it. They eat enough, and they adore nearly all kids of fruit. What I do want is to make more food–nothing is as good as homemade food with local, preferably organic ingredients, but I’ve cut waaaaaay back on cooking in the past year+, what with a new baby, a new publishing empire, and heading back to the emergency room. So I did try Karen’s bouillabaisse recipe, which was surprisingly good. The orange peel (I used lime) cuts the fishy flavour, and puree-ing it eliminates the chunks. A. had some. Max only tried it, but that was okay. I told him, “You haven’t tried it enough times yet.” (He wouldn’t try it a second time. Ah, well.)

I also realized that I want to make more Chinese food. Maybe 10 percent of what I make is Chinese food, but I have happy memories of making dumplings and egg rolls with my family, as a kid. The first thing I made after this book was egg noodles. A. liked them.

And I’m always trying for more vegetarian fare. Easy, quick, yummy Asian vegetarian food–that’s what I’m gunning for. But just cutting up broccoli takes up so much f-ing time. Anyway.

It’s a good book. Read it.

One final note: have you ever heard of this book, Japanese Women Don’t Get Old Or Fat? It’s good, too. But it’s not a bestseller like French Women Don’t Get Fat. North American culture believes that the French and Italians have the secret key to joie de vivre/la dolce vita, but the truth is, if you stay active and eat lots of fruit and vegetables joyfully, with your family and friends, you will probably stay healthy, no matter what your culture is.

P.P.S. One time in the ER, a man asked me how to lose weight. I said, “Eat right and get a dog.” But that’s another story.

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