Here comes another one... but it's not what you think. French Kids Eat Everything is a surprisingly charming memoir about a family who moved to France with two picky eaters in tow and returned to Canada a year later with a happier, healthier, more educated outlook on food. Make no mistake: This isn't a U.S.-bashing book. It's not even a pro-French parenting book. It's just the story of a mom married to a Frenchman who moved overseas and discovered a whole new way of feeding her family. A more peaceful one. And I think they're on to something.
In it, author Karen Le Billon describes her own heart-pounding fear about initially getting their young girls interested in sophisticated (to North Americans at least) French fare -- duck, blue cheese, radishes and so on -- that even French kindergarteners chow down with gusto. With nary a Goldfish cracker in sight, they do it with few fits and tantrums, and actually seem to enjoy eating long meals as a family. It's like the French Paradox, Part 2.
So what's the secret? Why are these French kids so cooperative at the table? Why DO they eat everything? Le Billon suggests 10 observations in her book (for example, no snacking) but I'd point out one of the most obvious here: Because their parents do. Their brothers, sisters and cousins do. Their friends at school do, too. France is a nation of food lovers and by this I mean food, real food made from real ingredients. Not necessarily complicated though sometimes it is, they take their food very seriously. And they take the job of teaching their kids about this national pastime even more seriously. Most people know how to cook and it's considered a crucial life skill to confidently handle yourself at any table, at any age. Manners, food knowledge and an open mind about trying new things are all, well, de rigueur.
My husband used to live in Paris and one of his French friends once described to me, only half-jokingly, their attitude about food: "We're obsessed," she laughed. "All we talk about is food. When we get up in the morning, it's all about what we'll have for lunch. At lunch, we talk about dinner." But there's a big grain of truth there. Eating can and should be a pleasure. That's what the French do so well; enjoy their meals, before, during and after.
On her blog, Le Billon also describes her children's school lunches, which sound more like a menu from a delightful Parisian café.