Book Review: French Kids Eat Everything

When Karen Le Billon convinced her husband to relocate their family from British Columbia to his native France, she did not realize the adjustment in eating habits which would be required of their two young daughters. Like many North American children, the three and five year old were picky eaters with only a handful of foods which comprised their diets. Their French counterparts, in contrast, ate a greater variety of foods from all the food groups, and it seemed, did so neatly and without complaint. In fact, by school age, most French children seem to eat and enjoy all the varied foods their parents do.

How could it be so? The author was plunged into a year long, sometimes painful, cultural and parenting comparison with the French system. And a system indeed it seemed: both preschool and grade school had daily lengthy luncheon times set aside for children to be served several courses of gourmet foods (no mac ‘n’ cheese or nuggets here!) to train the child in good taste (amid linens and china!) and parents approached mealtimes at home with a similar intention for exposure of a broad range of flavors.

I picked up this book (actually I had it reserved at the library before it was available in print!) because I hoped it would give some secret, some easy trick to help my children eat (and enjoy!) every meal I serve them. It gives no such tricks. Rather, the author shares the ten sensible and joyful rules (or routines, some of them attitudes) which she gleaned from her French neighbors. Some of these I congratulated myself for having already instituted so well (Kids Eat What Adults Eat), and others I was shocked at (No Snacks Allowed). The French Food Rules reflect an entire way of life and culture, so it would naturally be difficult for us North Americans to institute them all perfectly into our lifestyle (including the two hour lunch and farmers market shopping twice a week). However, most parents will find the list inspiring -if not instructive as well- in good food parenting.

Karen Le Billon’s personal account of her family’s experience of living in rural France for one year -and unintentional food appreciation adventure- is a joy to read. Not only does she describe the foods and food habits of the French in lyric, mouthwatering detail, her restrained humor had me laughing in empathy at parenting frustrations and cultural faux pas. It is not just an examination of French food and parenting culture, but of our own as well.