So theory and thought-provoking books are great. It’s all well and good to say that French children eat everything (you can read yesterday’s post here) but how do we put it into practice with our own children?
Yesterday was Day 1 of Operation Three Meals a Day. My first ditch attempt at slowing down the rate of demand and sheer volume of snacks my kids go through a day.
When I say snacks – they are offered : Fruit, nuts, dried fruit, popcorn and occasionally corn chips. But they eat a LOT of fruit and and a little of everything else and when it comes to meal tmes, well suddenly my STARVING children, are not hungry and are super-fussy when it comes to what is deemed acceptable on their plates.
For breakfast, everyone likes something different – me muesli or a poached egg on toast, my husband fried eggs or scrambled, Leo scrambled or boiled, Julian only boiled or an omlette. They also liked porridge, Julian more than Leo.Oh and don’t forget their fruit snacks.
So I was in the kitchen for an average of an hour a morning, making one piece of toast at a time and sitting down, only to be interrupted again for a fruit request, another piece of toast, a request for porridge or my husband coming down the stairs.
So yesterday we all waited. It was Sunday our croissant day (how very French). Now croissants are only nice fresh and I’ve only found one place to get them in Perth where they are amazing and happen to be two minutes from my place. But we had to wait until they were opened. Usually this meant practically another breakfast for the kids, toast for me while we waited and then we would have the croissants.
This time we waited.
So despite protests and to my utter amazement we sat down at 8:45 to yoghurt and cut up fruit (even my husband). We then had our croissants with jamon, cheese and tomato and then the kids had a sliver each of a chocolate croissant to finish.
We ate together and sat at our table-clothed table for half an hour in which time the kids did not get up from the table and we actually chatted and laughed. We sat there for half an hour.
I reminded them, no food until lunch time guys. Peace reigned in my house for the next couple of hours as my husband and I did jobs around the house and I started prepping for lunch as my Mother In Law was coming over.
Thinking in courses, I was going to do the salad first for the kids to try and then spaghetti vongole (with clams), green beans, some spanish cheeses and fruity dream (frozen fruit whipped with egg and a tiny bit of sugar to make a soft serve ice-cream) for dessert.
They sat down and looked dubiously at the chickpea, roasted pumpkin and fetta salad I had laid out for them in tiny bowls.
Neither of them tried it, Leo pushing it away and Julian crying, “I’m never going to try it, never!” So we sat. The three adults tucking in and the kids looking on in disgust. Leo pushed his away towards the middle of the table and I explained the structure of our new way of eating. There is the vege/salad course/ mains and veges/ and of course dessert. Little eyes lit up, “What’s for dessert?” I told them we would be making a mango ice-cream but of course they needed to try all their courses to be able to get to the very last one. No bribery, this was stated as a fact and in a pleasant tone (French Rule: no emotional guilt about food). Julian took a couple of bites, declared it yuck and pushed it to the middle of the table.
We’ve all heard that children need to taste something up to 10 times before liking it and the French are given this knowledge from pediatricians, nutritionists, parents, their GP’s and teachers, So they don’t expect their children to like it but they do expect them to taste it. It’s all part of their gastronomic education.
Unfortunately Leo did not taste it. We cajoled, and yes I resorted to outright bribery but his lips stayed shut. I lamented he wouldn’t get dessert.
Next up the spaghetti which went fine, we had to shell the clams for Leo and he may have tasted one or two. Julian tucked in.
When I brought out the steamed green beans with butter, I made them each a plate and chopped them up. I placed it down expecting cries of outrage but Julian ate them all without protest (I’m still in shock!) and Leo grazed on a few before pushing his plate in the middle.
Out came the three types of Spanish cheeses, Leo heartily tucked in and Julian made protest cries before being urged to try, tasting and eating a little more.
I caved at dessert. Leo got a tiny portion of mango ice-cream but as he wasn’t comparing I don’t think he saw it as any sort of consequence for not trying his starter.
The kids sat at the table for over an hour. Julian and Leo getting up only once to help me make the Mango Ice-cream.
No Ipads, no phones, just conversation.
I had our annual bookclub dinner that night so I knew I wouldn’t be eating. I looked in the fridge and was glad there were a few options I could stretch into a meal without having to make a whole meal.
I had leftover pea and ham soup that I had frozen and thawed, plus leftover spaghetti for dinner. I had some fillet steaks in the fridge. I took one and minced it, then made a quick pasta sauce out of capsicums, zucchini and tomatoes with fresh basil, garlic and onion.
So double pasta for the kids today but it beat whipping up an entirely new meal.
The three boys (my husband included) sat down to their starter of soup.
The last time I had served this soup I got a bite or two out of both of them, a whole lot of mess and plenty of protesting, jumping up from the outside table and a (maybe) deliberate spill.
Determined I popped it down in front of them with a smile. I eyed my husband with the ‘I know you don’ like peas but you’re a big boy look’ and within minutes I had three empty bowls. Leo made one or two spills with accidental flicks of his spoon but as we were at a table-clothed table and had napkins handy we wiped them up and urged him to eat properly and aim for his mouth. Something I had given up as all too hard in the past.
The pasta was a success and they then had tiny bowls of leftover blueberry ice-cream (again, frozen fruit whipped up) which they were entirely happy with.
Leo and I also munched on some of the leftover cheese before leaving the table, once again sitting there for half an hour chatting and laughing.
I’m not sure I believe in coincidences but their behaviour improved dramatically yesterday. They were content to play and make things. This also coincided with the TV being off all day. They were overall happier, in better moods as they pottered around. There were less than five (all from Leo) demands for food and “coco water”. He wants to drink my precious, expensive coconut water like it comes from the tap whenever he is bored or wanders past the fridge. I told him he could have it with breakfast the next day and left it at that.
Although eating in “courses” sounds labour intensive it actually isn’t. I have removed the snacks, for which I was cutting fruit up in the kitchen, constantly in the pantry getting out more bowls for dried fruit and nuts, so I actually had more free time until meal times when I did it all at once. It also makes it easier thinking in courses because it breaks it down in steps and doesn’t put all the pressure on one meal for them to like or not like, eat or not eat.
I was also stricter. Putting Leo in time out for not listening to me. Following through with my threats. Hopefully improving his future behaviour as I was pulling him up for things like spitting, jumping on the couch, throwing toys – things, to be honest, I let slide out of exasperation and general parent-fatigue.
We skipped the snack as they had friends over and seemed content to play. Knowing I would be making dinner slightly earlier than the usual for the “new plan” as I was going out, I thought that this was OK and it seemed to work with no demands for anything from anyone.
I declare Day 1 a success!
Now on to Day 2……..