Saturday, July 7, 2012

French Kids Eat Everything: No Snacks?!

Part two of my response to French Kids Eat EverythingSee part 1 here.
Maggie, not eating like a French kid

What I like: advice for when kids DON'T want to eat something at a meal
I really like the way the French deal with finicky eating during the toddler years. There is no "clean your plate" club (which erodes a child's ability to listen to their own hunger/satiety cues). Parents don't cajole or harass or even encourage and cheer. They simply offer. Kids are only encouraged to try, not to finish or even  have "just three more bites!" Eating isn't stressful. Parents don't even hover, hope or preach. All they ask is that the child try the food. If the child doesn't want it, the food is removed and the child must wait until the next meal (i.e., no short order cooking). I'll admit, this sounds awesome but also makes me nervous. If a child refused an entire meal, eek! how do I feel about letting them get that hungry? But because their kids didn't just have a snack an hour before the meal, they are more likely to be hungry enough to eat a more substantial portion.And the author recommends having at least one item in the meal you know the child will enjoy, while introducing new things in small portions and without much fan fare. One thing I really liked about the author's attempts to "enforce" this plan is that she learned that it is best implemented on a foundation of food being fun: Let the kids help plan the menu (or possibly, help cook) and make the meal something that is special, fun, relaxing and stress-free. 

What I'm not in love with: advice for when kids DO want to eat something between meals
The French are super rigid about when you do and do not eat. Meal times are precisely scheduled and regimented. You sit, you don't stand. You eat with others, not alone. And you don't eat again until the next meal, so no snacking (ever?!). I think that sort of rigidity can totally rob you of that all important ability to listen and respond to your body. So I'm not sure how I feel about this.

My philosophy is: if you are hungry, eat; if you are full, stop. And sometimes I have to snack to do that (especially when I'm pregnant or breastfeeding, which is pretty much the last four years of my life). A doctor once explained it to me like this: on a scale from 1 to 10, with one being absolutely famished and 10 being so full you want to puke, you should eat at around a three and stop at around a seven. Don't let yourself get crazy hungry, or you're more likely to overeat. And stop eating when you feel good, not stuffed or gross (because that feeling will only get worse, as it takes your brain a while to realize your stomach is full). She also said that based on blood sugar, metabolism, etc, it is best to eat every three hours. The French get sort of close to this: their kids eat four times a day and not three (adults eat only three times though), and they eat much better (real/whole/local, not processed food). The author says that there is no definitive data about frequency of meals and health. However, that statement predated this study that says that adolescents who have more than four meals a day are thinner. {However, this study also stresses the importance of eating slowly, an important tenant of French eating.}

My biggest concern with this approach, they start their rigidly scheduled meals at infancy. They adhere to the once every three hours rule of feeding newborns (which is what inspired the American Academy of Pediatrics to issue such a stern warning against the book Baby Wise when the authors recommended that approach). Unsurprisingly, France has the lowest rate of breastfeeding in Europe (it is hard to maintain your supply if you are refusing your baby milk). Something like 20% of women breastfeed and most of those women stop by two months. Not only does the low rate of breastfeeding concern me (I don't have a problem with a woman choosing not to breastfeeding, but a whole society not breastfeeding makes it look less like an informed/personal choice) but the not-feeding-on-demand concerns me too. Primarily because of this study (babies fed on demand, whether by bottle or breast, are significantly smarter than their scheduled peers. Even after controlling for any potential confounding variables.)

I like to think that babies are most in tune with their hunger/satiety cues, and that our job as parents is to respond to those, and encourage that mind-body connection. Not overrule it, or discourage it. This doesn't mean we take a laissez faire approach to kids eating, trusting that they know best (otherwise, they'd probably eat nothing but goldfish during their preschool years). I agree with the French approach to introducing a wide variety of tastes, textures, etc. But I disagree with their lack of flexibility. Interestingly, the author thought this too, and was adamant about allowing snacking until she recorded their eating realized all their snacks were pretty carb-heavy and unhealthy. This realization led to her family disallowing snacks (until they moved back to Canada and the rule was impossible to maintain, especially with her daughter's school allowing only TEN MINUTES for lunch, whaaat?!). As a compromise, the author recommends allowing only fruit as a between-meal snack. I like this suggestion.

In conclusion:
I think I could really get behind a modified {more flexible!} version of their approach (much like what the author did when she returned to Canada). Discourage grazing, avoid snacks within an hour of a meal, limit snack foods to fruit/veggies. Schedule and plan healthy meals (real foods, including lots of variety). Eat slowly. Make meals a fun, family, stress-free time. Introduce a variety of healthy foods and encourage tasting  (with frequent exposure, it can take up to a dozen tastes for a kid to want to eat it) rather than demand eating.



  1. First off, I am super impressed with how fast you read books considering your status as a full time mama and employee! You are a rockstar. I am curious about the times of day they have their meals, esp considering the kids eat a 4th meal, but the adults don't, but they eat together? I'll just google it though.

    1. You probably googled this much faster than I saw and responded. but the book said breakfast at 7:30, lunch at 12:30 their french word for that extra meal is 4:30 and dinner at 7:30. They say 40% of their calories are consumed at lunch, so I guess that is how grown ups go that long without food?! That just seems crazy long to me. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. I think I am going to have to read this one. My husband came from a "clean your plate or you can't get up from the table" family and we struggle to find balance. Meal planning would be the hardest for me.

  3. I know this is an old post, but I went to France as a teenager and was SO confused by the lack of snacks with everyone I stayed with. I am a huge snacker (I think I am going to stop though) and it really threw me off that NO ONE snacked...