Food can serve as a window into different cultures. Exposing your kids to various ethnic cuisine is not only a great way to give them flavor variety, it is also a nice way of exposing them to different backgrounds and traditions. One country that carries a rich tradition in cooking and a deep appreciation for gastronomy in general is France.
Interestingly, France is the 128th fattest country and claims one of the lowest obesity rates in Europe. This might partially be explained by the fact that the French have a profound respect for the labor that goes into cooking food and traditionally eat more freshly prepared food than processed food. An interesting book by Karen Le Billon called, French Kids Eat Everything makes the point that the French are distinct not just in what they eat, but when, where, and how they eat.
Because of this book, I decided to look a little deeper into how French traditions differ from American traditions when it comes to kids and food. So I went to the source. I interviewed my friend Sabrina Keller, a French native. Many thanks Sabrina!
Chris: How many meals do French kids eat per day?
Sabrina: Generally three standard meals and one after-school snack
Chris: Do kids and adults eat the same food?
Sabrina: Yes. In fact, a jar of baby food is commonly the same meal that an adult would eat, only pureed. One good example is lamb and leeks.
Chris: What do French kids drink?
Sabrina: Milk, water, some juice, and traditionally very little soda. Fresh milk is really only sold in two versions: whole and half fat. Usually the only skim milk you can find is the long-conservation/unrefrigerated stuff. Most French kids start their day with a big bowl of warm milk mixed with something like Banania (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banania).
Chris: Do kids help themselves to snacks?
Sabrina: Not that I've ever seen. In general I would say the adults are in complete control.
Chris: In what ways do the French eat differently compared to other cultures?
Sabrina: I would say second servings are rare, although that of course depends on the family. A traditional French meal is usually composed of several smaller courses, so there really isn't room or time to have seconds of any particular course; you just move on to the next one! And because the meal is slower, you feel fuller sooner. Utensils are used rather than finger foods (except for babies and toddlers). People made fun of me when I moved here and cut up my pizza with a fork and knife.
Also, food is rarely eaten on the go.
Chris: Are desserts like cakes and pastries eaten regularly? What kind of portions?
Sabrina: Even though France is known for its desserts and pastries, I feel like those are reserved for special occasions. One exception is a morning croissant with your espresso.
Chris: How often are meals eaten in restaurants?
Sabrina: Pretty often. Meals out are usually long, and rarely just one course. There is no such thing as "multiple seatings" at a restaurant or a rush to turn the tables - a waiter will never hurry you. (Tourists often complain about the slow service because of that!) The waiters are also not working for tips, which probably plays a part.
Chris: Are kids taught how to cook?
Sticking with the French theme, I thought I'd try my hand at some "French" cooking. What's more French than a souffle? I found a healthy soufflé recipe using non-fat Greek yogurt instead of heavy cream at the following link:
Le Billon, Karen. French Kids Eat Everything. New York: Harper Collins, 2012