Amsterdam Mamas: French kids eat everything, but will my toddler?

Amsterdam Mamas: French kids eat everything, but will my toddler?

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It’s been talked about all across the web, in magazines and on the news. Karen Le Billon’s book tells us that French Kids Eat Everything. Emmy wanted to know more…

It all began quite innocently. I wanted to balance out my usual novel heavy holiday reading with a couple of non-fiction books. I had read a lot of reviews and articles about Karen Le Billon’s book Why French Kids Eat Everything and I decided it was time to make up my own mind. Was it just another book telling parents they were doing it all wrong or was it really as some had said, life changing?

It helped of course, that like me, Le Billon was an international mother, an expat. Living in a culture which while familiar through family ties was not her own. I understood where she was coming from when she stared at the school lunch menu and thought, what on earth is that? I feel the same whenever the consultatie bureau (child healthcare center in the Netherlands) recommend that my son should have two bread based meals a day. Why?

In the book Le Billon decides to firmly embrace her new lifestyle and in doing so discovers the unwritten rules of French eating. To summarise, they are:

Amsterdam Mamas: French kids eat everything, but will my toddler?

Each rule forms it’s own chapter with personal anecdotes of how the rule came to be, how the family adapted to it and what happened when it all went wrong as it sometimes did. Backed up with well-researched but accessible facts and figures this is not just a memoir but a call to arms. Take back your children’s food education!  Let’s enjoy food as a family again!

For us, our formerly gourmet, baby led weaned baby who ate everything had been replaced with a truculent toddler who was increasingly disinterested in eating, snacked when he felt like it and got grumpy at meal times. Far from joyful family events dinners were rushed, fraught and some weeks we only sat down once as a family. This was not how I thought it would or should be. I was ready for a new set of rules that would get us back on track. Enter Le Billon.

The immediate effect
I must admit, we did not adopt the rules wholeheartedly. My husband and I discussed what we felt was achievable, he would adjust his day to be home for a family meal at 6:30pm, I would provide a week of planned meals and get dinner on the table. This was the biggest change for us and also what I thought would be the biggest challenge. I was wrong.

I also decided there was no point in wasting time and so we started that night. I laid the table in our holiday apartment with mats and cutlery. Placed a meal on the table for 6:30 (ok, 6:30 ish) and away we went. I did not provide a toddler meal. Another change, he had what we had and what do you know? He ate it. All of it, even the things I knew in my head he wouldn’t eat he did. I was shocked. And I was hooked.

So we kept going.

One week later
It was a funny time, we were between travels (July being a heavy travel month for us) and whilst I fully expected us to come off the rails we somehow managed to keep right on going. I created menu plans (my first ones ever), finding fun free printables online to make it more enjoyable for me. I didn’t stress about what I was going to cook that night, I already knew – it was on my planner. Dinner was more or less on the table for 6:30pm, my husband was more or less home at that time to eat it. All the way through my son kept chomping on down. Foods he had never tried before, foods I could not believe he would eat. Whoosh!  Down they went in between his little chatters to the rest of the table. He was really, really enjoying himself. Eating the French way? Sold!

One month later
We fell off the wagon. Just a little bit. My menu planning went askew, the weather got hot, the toddler got grumpy and refused a few meals in a row – getting down from the table almost as soon as he had started. And the snacking, oh the snacking. How will we ever break this habit? It’s almost as though I physically can’t help but give in to his plaintive requests for “cracker?”. No wonder he doesn’t want dinner, he’s already filled up on crackers. It has to stop.  On the flip side, we are still eating as a family. When he eats the toddler is still trying many new things and munching through old favorites. We own place mats, and table cloths, and napkins, and we use them! My mother was stunned when the toddler insisted on having a “cloth?” (napkin) when we visited to spread over his chubby little knees. I know we can get back on track and we will. The difference to approaching this as a family has been too great for us not to keep on going. If only we could give up the snacks…

Are the “rules” for everyone? Of course not, every family is different and you have to adapt and amend to fit your needs. If you look to the very heart of each rule though, what you are likely to find is a lot of common sense. Far from being an extra burden to a busy mother I have found that it has streamlined what we do at mealtimes and made me more conscious of how we eat as a family.

If nothing else it has given us that family meal time I always imagined we would have but somehow never quite achieved. Let’s see how we’re doing six months on.

If you would like to read the first chapter of French Kids Eat Everything for free then you can sign up for it on Karen’s site.



Reprinted with the permission of Amsterdam Mamas.

Amsterdam Mamas: Emmy Emmy is the founder and director of Amsterdam Mamas, a not-for-profit organisation providing support and information in English for international families in the Amsterdam region and across the Netherlands. From small beginnings on Facebook the organisation has grown into a lively community of more than 9,000 members with its own website, podcast, events and regular newsletters circulating to thousands of families each week.

Photo credit: Sarah Jane Wright, French Kids Eat Everything. Reused with permission from Karen Le Billon.

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3 Comments To This Article

  • chris posted:

    on 13th February 2013, 14:00:21 - Reply

    My kids ate everything from birth. It is really quite simple, as French parents have always known – to whit, eat what you are given or go hungry.

    On a par with the entire parenting pattern, basically, where parents *dare* to take control and children are far more secure as a result.

    The short version: if you are an American manqué, do not pretend to be European. If you are a European, dump the US formula. In other words, make your mind up!
  • Ersatz Expat posted:

    on 13th February 2013, 12:55:30 - Reply

    What an interesting article. I have not read the book but, like the gentleman above, we pretty much followed the 'rules' anyway. Our kids eat just about everything. Sometimes after school our 4 year old daughter will refuse to eat something - this is behaviour she learns from her friends as we never see this during the holidays.
  • Christophe C. posted:

    on 12th February 2013, 21:09:15 - Reply

    I didn't read the book but, being French myself, I can only confirm that my parents followed indeed the 10 rules and that we try to do the same with our kids today.

    By the way, there is also no TV set in our dining room.

    We don't really think about the rules and don't always follow them (emotions can come back and we are bad at planning...) but yes these are indeed the basis of our food education.

    Results? Our 6 years old daughter loves sushis, Indian curry, couscous and fois gras as much as French fries, pizza or "botterham".

    She has to ask permission to leave the table at the end of the meal. And she also knows that there is no point coming back begging for food if she doesn't made any effort to eat during the meal.

    Of course we aren't torturers and we know that she dislikes some food so we try to accommodate her own developing tastes but the basic rule is indeed to try everything.

    In France, meals (especially dinners) are considered as key anchor points for strengthening the links among the family members and a regular ritual is to share what everybody did during the day.

    PS: our own tip for the snack: the only ones allowed are fruits (preferably not bananas). This is a fair way to check if indeed our daughter is hungry or not...