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21st May 2020

3 very smart rules French parents teach their children about food

This might just make a huge difference

I am always intrigued when it comes to how parenting, motherhood and raising children vary from one country to another.

Personally, being Norwegian and raising my (born-in-Norway) children in Ireland, much as most aspects of motherhood in these two countries are very similar, there are some differences too, for sure.

Like; in Norway (and other Scandinavian countries), it is considered perfectly normal that your baby naps in his or her pram outside – even in the middle of winter. Look, they are not cold, they are wearing several layers (starting with baby-soft wool against their skin and then two or three more layers of clothing on top of that) and then snugly packed inside a down-filled sleeping bag.

Even in creches who cater for children so young they still nap during the day, they will ask that you leave your pram in for the day, so that they can use them for baby’s nap. It is the cutest sight – lines and lines of prams containing sleeping babies – with a member of staff watching to make sure they are picked up when they wake up or can rock the pram a little and get them back to sleep if they wake before their nap is supposed to finish. To us Scandis, letting babies sleep outside (and in general spend as much time outside as possible) promotes good health, a stronger immune system and better sleep – to mention a few. To outsiders this, I think, might seem flat out crazy.

There are some other little peculiar and interesting differences too. In Ireland, I have been to countless children’s birthday parties where I have been offered a glass of wine – and enjoyed it immensely while chatting to the other mums as our little ones play. At home, however, serving alcohol at a children’s party is not really the done thing – I would go as far as saying frowned upon even.

In France, food and meal times are considered immensely important – and family life still, much more so than it does here on our shores, revolves around it. Which is why when it comes to eating and having a good relationship with food, we think there is a lot to be learned from French mamas.

In her book, Lessons From France: Eating, Fitness, Family, American mother of two half-French kids, Rebecca Plantier, shares some eating rules French children know that our families could absolutely learn some lessons from. Here are three we think would make a huge difference:

We sit down to eat. In her book, Plantier emphasises the importance of focusing on the food whenever you eat. We have all become very prone to multitasking—combining eating with walking, driving, or interacting with digital screens, but this is not the way to a healthy relationship with food, she thinks. “You eat at the table, not in front of the TV or computer screen, then you leave the table and do something else,” the mum-of-two explains. “Avoid making meal time an on-the-go event, and train your children to be mindful of eating.”

When the kitchen closes, it’s closed“Oh, our kids (and us too) are so guilty of this one. “No grazing after dinner,” says Plantier. Snacks are common practice for both American parents and also more and more of us here, but, in France, they stick to strict meal times. In fact, children will only have three meals a day (plus a goûter—a light snack mid-afternoon after school).

Make cooking family time. Children will become interested once they can take part in something. This goes for food prep and eating too. “Keep the conversation about food and eating open and exciting,” Plantier explains. “Being part of the process heightens appreciation, and builds good habits for life.”

How? It’s easier than you think. Keep talking about food and healthy choices. Have them help you pick out the healthy ingredients when you hit up your local supermarket (or, better, your nearest farmer’s market) and steel yourself for the mess – cooking with kids is messy – and also really, really lovely.