Feeding American Kids

This holiday season, my nephew Justin Boss is visiting us with his two kids, aged five and seven. Never having had children, I asked what they ate.  Chicken nuggets, fish sticks, mashed potatoes and frozen peas he replied. Really?  As I serious home cook, I cringed.  Why can’t the kids eat what we are going to eat?  Why did I have to open Pandora’s Box by even asking?

Having been raised in Europe, my sister and I always ate the same food as our parents.  Pamela Druckerman’s book Bringing up Bébé explained the difference between how Americans and French parents bring up their children. When it comes to eating In France there is no choice.  Les enfants enjoy what their folks are eating and actually would be offended if offered something different. 

Stephanie Teuwen, a New York-based, French-born publicist, confirmed this.  Recently, over lunch she recounted what happened when she, as a pre-teen, and her family were invited to an uncle’s manor house in Normandy for a fall dinner. Their host was a hunter and had spent the previous day in the forest with his shot gun.  For the first time in her life, Stephanie and her younger brother and sister were seated at a separate table from the rest of the adults. When they were asked if they wanted something other than the wild boar their parents were eating, all three replied in unison, “Of course not! We want wild boar too!” 

Stephanie went on to tell me another charming story about how French children really take their food seriously. At a recent family gathering, her 18-month grandniece had devoured foie gras canapés (licking off the foie gras and returning the brioche toast to the platter!), then had a serving of a truffled omelet followed by langoustine in cream sauce.  Yes.  An 18-month old little girl with a big appetite and sophisticated palate!  No chicken nuggets in the shape of dinosaurs for this petite gourmande.

In France, the take on feeding children is based on cultivating an appreciation for different foods through exposure. With the help of diligent parents, French children learn this over time.  In fact, the notion of kid’s food as a category on a menu is purely an American invention and doesn’t even exist in France.   Something else the French got right.