French Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy EatersFrench Kids Eat Everything: How Our Family Moved to France, Cured Picky Eating, Banned Snacking, and Discovered 10 Simple Rules for Raising Happy, Healthy Eaters by Karen Le Billon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This family spent one year living in Brittany near the husband’s family.  They had two small children and their relatives were horrified by their eating habits.  In France there are many unspoken rules that govern eating and this Canadian family was breaking them all. 

1.  You are in charge of food education.

2.  Avoid emotional eating – Don’t use food to avoid disciplining children.  No bribes.

3. Parents schedule meals and kids eat what adults eat.

4.  Eat meals together

5.  Eat your veggies.

6.  You don’t have to like it but you do have to taste it.

7.  No snacking.  It is ok to feel hungry between meals.

8.  Slow food is happy food.

9.  Eat mostly real food.

10.  Remember eating is joyful!

I picked up this book because this is a major pet peeve of mine.  I was pretty much raised with these rules, even though I’m not at all French, so when I had to feed a stepchild these seemed natural.  Then all hell broke loose.

I was dealing with a child who was never taught to use utensils.  She was taught to scream whenever there was a knife on her side of the table.  That ended when I forced her to pick up a butter knife and challenged her to try to find a way to hurt herself with it.  Seriously, forks are more dangerous than that.

Because most adults who work with this kid are terrified of her, they give into her demands for whatever food she wants.  Not here.  I’m not forcing her to eat disgusting things but she doesn’t see it that way.  When she was about 5 we had a fondue night.  There was a spread of fruits and vegetables on the table and she spent the meal screaming, “Heather!  You’re a bad cooker!”  Ah, memories.  At almost 11 she still has no table manners despite my insistence.  She’s getting better.  About half the time she can chew without food falling out of her mouth.  It is hard because she isn’t here often and apparently these rules aren’t insisted on elsewhere.  It makes me wonder why I’m the only Miss Manners around.

It isn’t just here.  I watch my mother with my niece and nephew and wonder what happened to the woman who raised me.  I never got to eat macaroni and cheese instead of what the adults were eating.  Had I suggested it, it would not have been pretty.  I was a budding vegetarian even as a kid so I had to smother roast in ketchup to get it down.  The kids also eat almost nonstop.  I don’t remember being handed food every time I was bored.

I found the French approach to food education in school interesting.  I think kids should be taught how to try things and how to eat in public.  The only problem I have with it is the emphasis on never expressing personal preference.  It makes me wonder how any French vegetarians deal with the system.

I also enjoyed hearing how they tried to keep the French spirit of eating when they moved back to Vancouver and a culture that was not supportive of it.

There are some recipes in the back of the book that look interesting.  Some of these are baby food which are basically soups.  They sound like things I’d like.


4 Replies to “French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon”

  1. I want to read this. I have been focusing on real food and avoiding preservatives much to the dismay of my kids and hubby who still crave junky cereal. But I do buy it once in awhile so they don’t go crazy with it when they get it. Everything in moderation.

  2. I raised my kids in a similar way, but they definitely were allowed to express their preferences. They eat what we eat, although there have been times when I make something I know they don’t care for (my middle one really doesn’t like the Tex-Mex flavor profiles, and never has) and allow them to make themselves something else. This started as a sandwich or bowl of cereal, but now they all cook very well for themselves and for us. My college aged child is the most popular roommate because he cooks everything from simple roasted chicken to curry and also bakes bread. I think allowing themselves to take control of their eating is a valuable thing. I don’t like every single food, and I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect a child to either. Their taste buds are much more sensitive, which is why bitter vegetables or spicy food is often “an acquired taste.” I always asked them to taste everything, even if they didn’t like it last time, because we do grow and mature.

    Table manners, on the other hand, are non-negotiable. If one of my kids says they aren’t hungry and don’t want to eat, that’s okay. Only they know how they feel, but they must sit at dinner with us and join the conversation. I think a balance needs to be found between letting children run the show and insisting that they eat everything.

    As a very wise pediatrician once told my mom, there are three things you can’t make a child do: eat, sleep, and poop. The more you make a big deal out of it, the more the child recognizes your lack of control and will defy you just to prove it. My job is to put healthy food in front of them; after that, they need to have some control over their own bodies and choices.

    1. I have to submit an addendum to this comment: as I said above, my middle child has never like Mexican food. Last night my husband made this awesome burrito bowl type salad that was absolutely delicious! My son ate a little of it, mostly to be polite and he was hungry. About 15 minutes later he complained that his throat felt scratchy and swollen. The recipe did have an awful lot of cilantro in it, and I think he may be one of those people who reacts to it. A Benadryl fixed him right up, so we may have to work harder at avoiding cilantro. No wonder he’s never liked those flavors!

  3. Gosh! Those rules are my rules, which are also the rules I was raised by. And thank heavens, my mother also enforced them with my kids – although they would still get dessert if they didn’t eat all that was put in front of them.
    My mother in law, on the other hand, was always most indulgent. She’d sit there spoon-feeding them to help them eat. For crying out loud! Fortunately, they’d only see her about once a year. The grandchild that lives very close to her is 24 going on 12.
    I applaud your efforts with the step child. She’ll get into her 20s and realise you were the only good guy in her life.
    I also love your dinner guests. It sounds like it would be a fun banquet. 🙂

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