Feb 14, 2015

French Kids Eat Everything

I found the book French Kids Eat Everything a fascinating read.  It's about a couple who moves from Vancouver to a village in France for a year and describes the huge differences in attitudes and practices between North Americans and the French when it comes to food.  

Although the book's focus is entirely on food and eating habits, from the very start what had me marveling is the broader implications of her observations.  We live in our community, our country, our culture, and think (especially Americans) that "This is the Way It Is."  We usually remain oblivious to other ways of doing things.  For example, we will hear people decry the chutzpa in our schools today and often it is assumed that this is the way things are before Moshiach comes.  Then, when you read about Jewish kids in South Africa and how well mannered they are in school, your eyes open and you realize, chutzpa is not a "given" that we need to put up with.

We have certain ways of eating in America and it usually doesn't dawn on anyone that there could be another way of doing things (other than being exposed to the main meal of the day being lunch in Eretz Yisrael).  An example of this is snacking.  In France, snacks are not acceptable.  In the US, we snack throughout the day and on the go, making sure there is food available whenever going out, in your bag, in the stroller, in the car, stopping to eat somewhere.  Frum kids are fed out on the street in the spring and summer and can be seen with nosh regularly.  Pekelach for shul are standard and prizes are often food.  

One of the frum magazines recently had a two page spread called "Turn Food Fights into Dining Delights," which addressed problems meant to be relevant to the frum mother such as: How do I get my kids to eat more vegetables? My kids don't want to eat supper! My kids won't try any new foods! My kids expect unhealthy snacks when we go on a road trip ...

I viewed this article so differently as I was reading this book.  I looked at it through "French eyes" and it was embarrassing.  French kids are taught to eat whatever is served and this is whatever the adults are eating.  They are not given special dishes because they don't like what Mommy made.  There is no such thing as a child rudely announcing that she or he hates that food and won't eat it.  There is no whining about being hungry, and forget about making choices which Americans think are all-important.
In the French model, parents are in charge of training their children to eat everything, to regulate how much they eat, to teach them to recognize when they are satisfied (not full) and to tolerate being somewhat hungry until the next meal is served.

Food is not used as a reward or bribe or to keep kids quiet.  It is not a distraction and something to do when bored or unhappy.  Look at our frum world in contrast ...
The way the French accomplish all these "wonders" (and as the decades pass, the French are slipping into the bad habits of Americans) is by treating mealtimes and food as highly significant.  There is a culture of venerating food.  Now this is completely anathema to a Torah way of life, of course.  Still, our Shabbos meals, in which the table is formally set and everyone is present and there is good conversation and laughter, well, that's what the French do on a regular basis, if not daily.  They don't grab a danish and run out the door.  They don't gobble down their food because they're rushing to get somewhere.  Eating is a joyful, social experience, not a guilt-ridden or stressful one.  Food is prepared at home with healthy ingredients.  Children are trained from babyhood to try new things and to eat what they are served or have it taken away and not replaced with anything.
What we can take from this book is not only good ideas about food and mealtime, but also a perspective on a parent's role in instilling structure, discipline, and joy in their children which is vital to Jewish life and chinuch.

1 comment:

  1. It is also the way that children in America were raised before processed and fast food became the order of the day.
    It is nauseating to see the number of obese (not just slightly zoftik) frum children that there are. Their very health is in peril. Some of these children are huge and yet, it is not politically correct to even mention it. Later on, when they can't get dates for shidduchim, it is blamed on a society that is into "looks" rather than inner qualities. I am not talking about girls who merely wear size 12s, I am talking about those in size 24 and who have been size 24 since 8th grade.