I have talked on the blog before about children and the importance of teaching them how to eat well, not just what is healthy and how to cook it, but eating well and enjoying it as part of their lives. We know that the ‘west’ on the whole does not embody this ideal very well, however an article in the Sunday papers reminded me that somewhere not to far from the UK does embed great food values in their children from birth…that place is France.
This is the country of cheese and wine (even when pregnant), of creamy sauces and gastronomique, they deny themselves little and savour every mouthful, yet the typical Parisienne woman is not obese, they are not known for all-you-can-eat restaurants or binge drinking. They (for the most part) know how to eat. It’s taught by parents, by grand parents, by school and it’s a way of life.
While sales of ready prepared meals have shot up in the UK, by 25% between 2006-2011, the French have resisted with only 9% growth in the same period.
So, how do they teach their children about food, and what can we do to set our children up for a life of great food? Karen Le Billon, writes in this weeks Sunday Times about her move to France and the food education that she couldn’t avoid.
Firstly, the parent decides the food that the child eats, this goes for setting rules around what they can and cannot eat, how they ask for food and how they are presented with choices around food. The example Le Bilon cites is that the child may always have permission to take a peice of fruit, but for anything else they must ask, another example byway of enabling them to make choices is not ‘what would you like with your chicken tonight?’ but ‘would you like aubergine or spinach with your chicken?’
Also do not let circumstances or or your child’s mood diactate what they munch on, it might save some embarassment if you can feed the whingy child some crisps, or you might cheer them up (temporarily) with a bar of chocolate, but what you teach by doing this is emotional eating. If treat or unhealthy foods are seen as a reward or as a crutch, this will follow your child into adulthood.
The concept of food and life, as a social and enjoyable centrefuge, one that we talk about, create together and come together over peppers Le Billon’s article. Enabling children to understand how their food comes about, from farm, to shop, to kitchen, to plate is key to them understanding how to make choices. By starting early and encouraging a wide range of flavours and textures, you open the door to unfussy and enjoyable mealtimes.
Most notably (and incitefully) she recommends treating children more like adults, from allowing them to dislike and leave something, but always to be encouraged to try again. This subtle approach means that the little mites shouldn’t be forced to finish their plates (this reminds me of the addage that if you were caught smoking as a teenager your parents made you smoke the whole box to stop you doing it again) but to taste and to explore- not whether they like the food or not, but is it soft, is it sweet, how does it feel? The French put the pleasure in food from the start.
This is not to say, however, that the French are the only one of our European neighbours to embody good eating, my husband’s mother is Italian and she has bred her children with the same appreciation and gusto for good food, the Spanish and the Portuguese and so many others preserve and promote real food and it’s (large) part of family and social life.
But it’s the French who have a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’….