Creative Child

How to Get Your Family to Eat Like the French

by Sarah Lyons on Sep 30th, 2016

I currently have three toddlers in my house. One loves veggies and fruit and rejects meat, one eats everything except bread, and one maintains a not so healthy diet of chicken nuggets and Goldfish crackers. If you’re American, your toddler’s eating habits are probably similar. I recently found out that French children are more likely to eat a variety of foods and maintain a healthier weight than their American counterparts. This led me to wonder, what makes French kids so different? It turns out that there are a few things.

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No snacks

Americans love their snacks. We bring snacks to soccer games, work snack time into our children’s school schedules, and provide snacks at play dates. The French do not snack in between meals, leading them to be really hungry when it is time to sit down for lunch. Imagine how hungry your child would be if there were no crackers, fruit, or cookies to snack on before dinner. They might even be hungry enough to sample some new foods at their next meal!

Portion control

French people do allow generous portions of food because they are hungry, but they don’t eat gigantic portions like we do in the United States. Learn to stop eating when you are full, not when the plate is clean and teach your children to do the same. 

No eating on the go

Many American families eat on the go. Fast food, snacks in the car, and rushing through meals is becoming the norm. In France, meals are to be savored and enjoyed. The French sit down at the kitchen table to eat a meal, and this is their focus. They don't watch television or work while they eat. When they're done eating, they clean up and go on to the next thing. In other words, make eating an experience. When we learn to stop saying hurry up, it's easy to slow down and enjoy mealtime, both for the food and the company.

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Eat real food

The French avoid processed foods that are full of chemicals and wasted calories. They focus on real whole foods such as cheese, yogurt, bread, fish, meat, and even dessert. Instead of filling up on juice or soda, they drink water with their meal. Full fat foods are offered rather than low calorie or fat free foods because they are more filling and healthier overall. Meals usually have three courses - salad, a main dish, and always dessert. Enjoyment is strongly encouraged over guilt.

Eat less at night

The largest meal of the day is typically dinner in America. In France, a full breakfast is always served and lunch is the largest meal of the day. Dinner will typically be a lighter meal. Once the kitchen is closed after dinner, there are no bedtime snacks. A lighter meal in the evening will help with healthy sleep habits and maintaining a healthy weight.

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Enjoy cooking

The French culture enjoys food and therefore enjoys cooking. Get the kids involved in the food preparation process. Let them experiment with different flavors and spices in the kitchen. Getting kids involved in the preparation of a meal encourages them to try new foods and might reduce the battle to try new things. 

An absolute overhaul of family’s food culture and eating habits may not be realistic right now. You can’t control your kid’s snacking when they’re at school or after soccer practice (the goal isn’t to control our kids, anyway). Simply take these tips into consideration for an overall healthier mindset; small lifestyle changes can have a wonderful impact on your family’s long-term health.

Sarah Lyons is a stay at home wife and mother of six children, including 18 month old triplets. Using creative consequences with her kids has improved their behavior and encourages healthy relationships with each other.

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