French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon
Genre: Memoir, Food, French Parenting, Non-Fiction
Source: My Copy
Publisher: William Morrow, 2012
ISBN: 9780062103291. 305 pages
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After having moved from Canada to France with her husband and two young daughters, Karen encounters a sort of food revelation/revolution that forces her to change the family’s eating habits, adapting 10 rules she devised based on her observations of the French.
In this intimate memoir, Karen takes us through the ups and downs of slowly changing her family’s eating habits, and the particular toll it took on her daughters. Apparently, Canadians eat just as poorly as US Americans, and were faced with a myriad of difficulties adapting to French life, where food is an honored national passion.
What I most enjoyed about this memoir is Le Billon’s frankness with her own shortcomings, although she is a victim of her North American consumerist culture. The stark differences between France and the US are quite obvious when it comes to food. They have multiple bakeries with freshly baked bread on every street. Here, in San Jose, I struggle to find one bakery that actually sells bread and not just pastries. In France, the schools have food appreciation as part of their daily curriculum. Children as young as five are served five course meals, seated with real plates and cutlery at school each day. Some schools even go so far as to send dinner suggestions home so that parents don’t accidentally replicate a lunch meal for the month.
Part of Le Billon’s struggle with getting her kids to eat healthy and eat a variety of foods was overcoming her own aversion to cooking more intricate meals. It’s easy to just through some noodles in the pot after a long day of work, but is it the best decision? No, not really. Loaded with an array of cookbooks from her French husband’s side of the family, Le Billon was able to craft some recipes that were simple, yet met her criteria for introducing new foods to her daughters. One idea I particularly liked was cooking the taboo food in a number of different ways, (as a soup, steams, in another dish), etc.
Her 10 rules don’t seem very groundbreaking to me, but its their simplicity that does the trick. Don’t make two different meals, don’t be a short-order cook. If the child doesn’t like something, they don’t have to eat it, but they don’t get a replacement item. Dinner should be a social family affair, not something scarfed down in front of the TV, while one parent hastily washes the dishes. There is the no snacking rule, but that one I have a tough time following. Although my general rule of thumb is to snack, but snack on fruits and veggies.
Le Billon also includes a bevy of recipes at the very end of the book, which I am thankful for. Thankful that it’s all at the end of the book. I hate foodie books with recipes at the end of each chapter. It makes it that much more difficult to go back and look for a recipe I want to make. I made the cauliflower casserole in Le Billon’s book, but I tossed in carrots to add some color, and next time I’ll add some spinach too. The recipe was delicious, really, really easy to make and one of my husband’s favorite dishes that I’ve whipped up.
My only complaint about this book is that even though Le Billon is talking about Canada, she constantly refers to them as “Americans” which I think short-changes US Americans. Not that people in this country can really argue against the nation’s dismal eating habits, but still. It felt like the blame was being passed onto us.
For new parents who want to start their kids off on the right foodie path, this is a good introduction on what to do to ensure that your child appreciate quality food, not just quantity. For parents of picky-eaters, it’ll be an uphill battle, but one that you can win following Le Billon’s advice.