Pamela Druckerman’s latest novel French Children Don’t Throw Food: Parenting Secrets From Paris glorifies the French method of bringing up their bébé, tying up Druckerman's personal experience as an American Mother living in Paris for 10 years.
Druckerman discusses matters such as a pregnant mother's behaviour, parents keeping out of playgrounds, and the compulsory five or 10 minutes wait to make sure that the baby is truly awake and unhappy rather than picking him up at the first sound of complaint.
Some may agree and vehemently apply every precept. Others may feel indignated and reject practices they consider as cruel.
But what definitely deserves a very close look is the way the French educate their children’s palate. Considered just as important as their manners or grammar skills, French parents do make sure their toddlers learn to be open-minded about what they eat. And they do grow up into healthy teenagers and young adults.
Britain is anxious to solve a growing obesity epidemic that is endangering an entire generation.
While new guidelines are suggesting to include curry in toddlers’ nursery menus to boost their food in energy, carbohydrates and essential minerals, health authorities in Lincolnshire, where one in three children are considered obese, have introduced a pilot scheme to 32 schools to improve the nutritional value of students' lunches.
Moreover, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has signed up to tackle the issue. Understanding the power of television, he proved that change was possible. Jamie's School Dinners became an international success and the support from the British public led the British government to commit more than one billion pounds to the school food system as well as placing a ban on processed junk food in all UK schools.
While the British are picking their brains to offer healthy food options to children, Druckerman seems to say the French have gotten it all figured out. And effortlessly, too.
Her child’s day-care meals are akin to haute cuisine bistro menus with four courses and a different cheese every day.
She describes a scene she had never witnessed before: Two-year-old children sitting quietly waiting to be served their lunch, listening curiously to their teachers’ explanation of every dish they have in front of them.
Duckerman adopted the Gallic principle with her own progeniture: you don’t have to eat it all, but you have to taste it all. It is not about force feeding children. Rather, the French parent will not give up and will gently, humorously propose the same food - 30 times if necessary.
The technique is consistent with the basic and logic belief that toddlers do not have inherent likes or dislikes. The flavour of all foods is inherently interesting, and it is the parents’ role to make sure their children try them.
Druckerman also notices that, unlike in the US, there is no "children's food" in France, nor do you find children on mono-diets. They eat the same foods their parents do, and enjoy it.
Having been raised in France by French-Italian parents, I remember the startled look of my parents’ friends visiting from the US or the UK as I joined them at dinner time, gladly devouring my pot-au-feu, or bar en papillote. Not only was I listening (amittedly, a little bored) to their conversations, but most importantly I was truly enjoying the food I was given.
French parents are not necessarily superior in the education they choose to give their children. But having children share meals contributes to the child feeling involved in the family life and gives them a sense of responsibility about the do's and don'ts of healthy eating.