Before the arrival of my son last year, I had big plans for the kind of child I would raise. He would be an excellent eater, eager to consume whatever I offered him. But reality intervened: At 16 months, he poked suspiciously at anything resembling a vegetable.
With my sights set on our upcoming Thanksgiving dinner—and a vision for my little cherub to join us for our annual family feast—I sought the advice of author Karen Le Billon. In her book French Kids Eat Everything, she recounts her family’s food and cultural immersion from a year living in France.
The French have a strong culture of food. More than just feeding their children for nourishment, they consider teaching kids about food to be a critical part of their early education. The unwritten rules of eating in France challenge Le Billon to rethink her approach, as she assumes greater ownership of deciding what and when her kids eat. She and her husband and kids eat together; they offer the children a wide range of dishes, cheerfully insisting that they try what’s served, all the while instilling good table manners and patience for slower-paced meals.
At first the children protest, and Le Billon admits to failed attempts. However, with persistence and enthusiasm, both of her young children happily enjoy fresh, healthy, and diverse meals.
Many of Le Billon’s “rules” felt familiar. Growing up, I ate what my family ate, we sat down for dinner together every night, and snacking was limited to something small after school. As an adult, I strive to eat healthfully and sustainably: I prepare fresh meals, grow a vegetable garden, and belong to a local agriculture cooperative.
And yet, like Le Billon, I’d fallen into some bad habits feeding my son. The moment he turned his nose up at something I cut it from our meal options. His snacking contributed to his lackluster appetite at mealtimes, when I served the healthiest food. I lost sight of my ability to teach my son about good food and didn’t give him enough credit for his (albeit tentative) willingness to try new things.
These days, things have changed. Our family sits together for dinner most nights, and we all eat the same food. My son “helps” while I cook and we’ve made a fun habit of setting the table together. While we eat, my husband and I gently encourage our son to try new things, but don’t make a big fuss if he doesn’t. So far, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to enjoy a half-hour long meal with him, and feel giddy when he tries something new. Just in time for Thanksgiving, our food re-education has begun.
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