I currently have three toddlers in my house. One loves veggies and fruit and rejects meat, one eats everything except bread, and one maintains a not so healthy diet of chicken nuggets and Goldfish crackers. Studies show that French children are more likely to eat a variety of foods and maintain a healthier weight. What makes French kids so different than their American counterparts?
Americans love their snacks. We bring snacks to soccer games, work snack time into our elementary school days, and provide snacks at play dates. The French do not snack in between meals, making them hungry when it is time to sit down for lunch. Imagine how hungry your child would be if there were no crackers or cookies to snack on before dinner. They might even be hungry enough to sample some new foods at their next meal.
French people do allow generous portions of food because they are hungry, however they do not eat gigantic portions like we do in the United States. Consider giving a generous portion that will be satisfying rather than a portion that will make you so full you are uncomfortable. Learn to stop eating when you are full, not when the plate is clean and teach your children to do the same.
No eating on the go
Many American families eat on the go. Fast food, snacks in the car, and rushing through meals is becoming the norm. In France, meals are to be savored and enjoyed. The French sit down at the kitchen table to eat a meal and this is their focus. They do not watch television or work while they eat, a meal is to simply be enjoyed. When they are done eating they clean up and go on to the next thing. In other words, no fast food, no snacks, and no standing at the counter to eat. Slow down and enjoy meal time, both the food and the company.
Eat real food
The French avoid processed foods that are full of chemicals and wasted calories. They focus on real whole foods such as cheese, yogurt, bread, fish, meat, and even dessert. Instead of filling up on juice or soda, they drink water with their meal. Full fat foods are offered rather than low calorie or fat free foods because they are more filling and healthier overall. Meals usually have three courses – salad, a main dish, and always dessert. Enjoyment is strongly encouraged over guilt.
Eat less at night
The largest meal of the day is typically dinner in America. In France, a full breakfast is always served and lunch is the largest meal of the day. Dinner will typically be a lighter meal. Once the kitchen is closed after dinner, there are no bedtime snacks. A lighter meal in the evening will help with healthy sleep habits and maintaining a healthy weight.
The French culture enjoys food and therefore enjoys cooking. Get the kids involved in the food preparation process. Let them experiment with different flavors and spices in the kitchen. Getting kids involved in the preparation of a meal encourages them to try new foods and might reduce the battle to try new things.
Making all these changes at once is not realistic for most families. Apply these tips for an overall healthier mindset and make small lifestyle changes that will make a big impact on your family’s health long term.
Sarah Lyons is a Midwestern mom of six children, including 2 year old triplets.