Time To Eat! In France, Meal Timing Is Part of Meal Discipline
This is part 5 in the summer series on cultural differences between France and America and how these differences can potentially affect our health. If you have been following my other articles in the summer series , you may remember that I and my 4 children (aged 4-11) have been spending the summer in NJ. An enjoyable summer, even with mixed emotions due to the health situation of my dad who suffered a brainstem stroke 18 months ago. Every summer we venture off the plane and head down to enjoy the extended family, food, shopping, beaches….combined with a joyful glee that there are two months to enjoy “my” country (yes, good ole America) and my kid’s half country…(they are half French/half American). One major thing we love (especially me!) during the summers here, is the relaxed approach to food, eating, and kids meal discipline in America. This is in contrast to the other ten months of the year where our food routine and food approach is more strict.
My term, kids meal discipline, doesn’t have anything to do with manners, but it has a lot to do with what you see in some European countries, especially France, which is strict eating times for kids, and the big one: no snacking between meals. We get used to this kids meal discipline, and I actually embrace and enforce most of this strictness. Why? Because I find that by using “strict” kids meal discipline, my kids sit down to a meal hungry and will eat whatever I put in front of them. I have noticed that the times where I haven’t been so strict, (especially with my 4 and 6 year olds) and have let the kids have too many snacks or snacks close to dinner…well, they just don’t eat or eat very little. There are days or situations that require being more relaxed towards meals, but on the whole we try daily to have their stomachs really rumbling when they sit down to eat.
In France, most kids will eat well because of this kids meal discipline… they are hungry for meals, they have to be because their parents make sure of this! I have even heard of the refrigerator being locked with a real lock between mealtimes (have yet to see this though). BUT…..! What a pleasure to be in America in the summer. There is, of course, the more laid-back summer attitude in regards to eating easy, lighter foods, but also there is just the more relaxed attitude to snacking and mealtimes and even drinks here…to having the kids just enjoy that ice cream cone about 1 hour before dinner (oops!) just because it is summer and the ice cream truck is ringing its bell around the corner. What a pleasure to NOT feel guilty to have the kids actually decide ” I’m hungry, I would love lunch now” (rather than the clock) and to just eat on paper plates, even serving sandwiches everyday for lunch (which I could never do in France-the lunch is the 3 course main meal). I cannot describe it accurately until you have been living there and just can feel that underlying sentiment that “you better take food seriously-…FOOD IS SACRED! ” Yes, in France, meals are important, meals are strict, meals are set at regular times, meals are for kids to sit down hungry.
I know it sounds funny, this Kids Meal Discipline…but I have experienced it first hand…even with the friends of my kids that come over to play. I tell them ” hey, I know you just ate breakfast at your house, but did you want some more at my house? ” Never has a French child in my house said “yes!”…Breakfast is done-nothing until lunch. It is just ingrained. Same in the afternoon between the lunch and gouter or between the gouter and dinner. And the result of this difference on their health? What about leaner kids? Kids that eat healthier because the main meal may be a healthier option than a snack and a drink. Kids that learn to taste a diverse eating plan if meals are varied. And kids that learn that, yes, food is sacred…it must be appreciated, not wasted and enjoyed!
But, for the moment I am just sipping and savoring the relaxed summer atmosphere in NJ…yes, we do the regular meal times here in NJ too, but I’m loving the “ding, ding, ding” o f the ice cream truck …so what if it is 1 hour before dinner…Yes, kids, of course you can have something from the ice cream man-we don’t have this in France!