It’s working. I finished Karen Le Billon’s French Kids Eat Everything, and it’s working. This book is life changing, even for a whole cook like myself. Being introduced to an entirely different way of thinking about “training” our children to eat in a way that honors food is beyond refreshing. It just feels…right. This book put into words everything I’ve been trying to say about food to my friends and family for years: just eat REAL FOOD. Forget the diets. Forget the fear of gluten. Forget calories. Forget the media and endless myriad of health kicks. Just cook, enjoy, and savor the bounty of REAL FOOD. Eat reasonable portions of yummy, real food, and shoot for 80%. “Perfect is the enemy of the good. ” – Voltaire.
And please forget any prior notions you have about “the French”. America has the long-standing (and somewhat petty) “thing” about anything “French”. We think the French are snobby. They think we’re uncultured slobs. And in the end, we both have something to learn from each other. As a student of the French language who has traveled through many parts of the country, I have no preconceived biases, but after mentioning this book to a few cohorts, I’ve met with some raised eyebrows: “Um, it’s French? French cooking? I don’t want to be a French cook.” So let me assure you, this book is not about cooking like the French. In fact, French women on average, work outside of the home at the same rate and for the same number of hours as American women. They spend an average of 18 additional minutes per day cooking than we do. They make up for it by watching less TV and spending less time on the computer. (All facts are referenced in Le Billon’s book.) This book is more of a theory about how we think about eating. In the end, 3% of French children are obese, compared to 30% of American children. We are doing something WRONG.
The girls started the week with a fair tasting of the tomato soup (except for Sara who regularly devours every morsel placed in front of her). Creamed spinach was more of an attempt, but a reasonable amount made it into the bellies. I found it so ecstatically delicious that I finished their uneaten portions. The BLTs with Avocados were met with skepticism, even with our usual steps: (1) Handle it raw. (2) Describe it as sight, smell, texture, taste. (3) Prepare it together. (4) As we eat it, we once again discuss sight, smell, texture, taste. But by the end of lunch, it was an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Avocados kind of rock (and when I introduced eggplant the next day, they were begging for avocados). We spend a great deal of time at the table, and once in a while we finish with a cheese course, and maybe a bit of a jam and crackers. The girls are learning to set a nice table. We light a candle. We play nice music. We are learning about table manners too! I can’t believe how much time we’re spending at the table. It has quickly turned from a chore into my absolute favorite part of the day. If we’re out of the house for lunch, the girls complain, “Are we missing cooking lunch? I want to go home. I want to eat at our table!” And the greatest words any Mother can hear, “I don’t want McDonald’s. It’s yucky.”
I was sure they would have to be near starvation to eat roasted eggplant, zucchini, Vidalia onions, baby potatoes, and peppers. These empty plates prove me wrong. I served the veggies first, almost as an appetizer, while the buttermilk pecan chicken nuggets were in the oven. It really gave us a chance to TRY it, and discuss it. Because the girls don’t snack in the morning (and almost never ask to anymore…we’re full in between meals these days), they came to the table ready to eat. Ms. Le Billon employs a technique I’ve used for years: tiny pats of real butter melting on veggies with a small grind of sea salt is enticing to everyone. After this week, I’m fully confident I can teach the girls to eat (and more importantly enjoy), just about anything.
We’re Americans. We want everything to be convenient, fast, GO GO GO. Easy. And in so doing, we’re getting SO MUCH DONE…and missing all of it. Our bodies haven’t evolved to digest fake food, devoured in a car, while stressing about the red lights and to-do list. We are biologically tuned to sit, eat, relax, and thank God…ENJOY food. Now I must run…a menu is begging to be planned. Feel free to ask me for any recipes of the foods I mentioned here. Share with me: what are you hoping to savor this week?