NYS Certified Nutritionist

What We Can Learn From the French

Many years ago, I read an article in the New York Times, written by Karen Le Billon, an American university professor who divided her time between teaching assignments in the US and France…taking her two daughters with her. The subject of this article had a powerful effect on me, influencing the way I approached the topic of weight management with my clients…especially those who are parents. Today, I liberally share her astute observations with you.

The French have among the lowest rates of overweight children in the developed world. Excessive weight is attributed to lifestyle, physical activity, poverty, ignorance, genetics, and chemicals in our food. American children are three times more likely to be overweight than French children. Because of our poor eating habits, the current generation of US children will be more likely to suffer health problems over their [possibly shorter] life spans, due to the inevitable consequences of being overweight.

Le Billon observed French parents teach their children to eat with love, patience, and firm persistence, exposing their children to a wide variety of flavors and textures. French parents link the pleasure of eating the most nutritious foods with a positive flavor experience.

Six million French children eat school lunches featuring cauliflower casserole, baked endive, beet salad, and broccoli. Vending machines are forbidden in schools, and flavored milk is not an option. To encourage variety in children’s diets, no food can be served more than once a month.

French parents ask children, “Are you still hungry?” They do not ask, “Are you full?’ The latter question suggests fullness is the objective of eating, and that leads to over-eating. More impressive, Le Billon noticed French children only snack once per day, and the government recommends no snacking. Advertisements for snack foods on TV carry warnings [like we have for cigarettes] indicating snacking is hazardous to one’s health.

Finally, the French teach food is a pleasure, and moderation is the key to enjoying it safely. Deprivation is not part of the equation. Because going to French schools exposed her girls to an entirely different approach to eating, her picky children who lived on goldfish crackers in the US, began to love eating many vegetables, including beets, broccoli, and creamed spinach. Impressed by the improvements she saw in her children’s attitudes to foods, Le Billon made positive changes in her own eating habits.

Professor and author Karen Le Billon went on to write the highly rated book, French Kids Eat Everything. We can all learn from the French how to appreciate the artistry of food preparation, while respecting our health requirements.

Dateline: Latham, Albany County, New York State