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The French Secret To Get Kids to Eat Vegetables

Will your kids eat this potage aux legumes (vegetable soup)? Bien sur! (Of course!) It takes hunger and……..

How to get your kids to eat more vegetables using the French method of a three course meal

Let me share with you a secret. There is a way to get kids to eat more vegetables, sans forcer (without forcing). Here in France the secret has been out for a long time. French kids, in general, eat their vegetables and have been doing it for years. Just the way it is, it comes from the French way of strict meal discipline and their custom to eat a three course meal at lunch and dinner.
You need these three things to make your kids eat more vegetables (the last one being the French secret!):
  1. Hungry kids
  2. Tasty vegetables
  3. The three course meal

Hungry Kids:  By making sure your kids are sitting down at the table, hungry, there are more chances they will try new foods while learning the sensation of hunger and full cues (and this includes with the vegetables). By serving veggies first with the three course meal (see how easy it is below) the vegetables are the only food on the plate and are the highlight of the first course (when kids are the hungriest!)

Tasty Vegetables: Bland steamed vegetables are not something I like to eat and I wouldn’t serve them to my kids. While steamed vegetables have the image of being healthy to eat, bland steamed vegetables are relatively tasteless. I do steam our vegetables, but then I either sauté them in a small amount of garlic and olive oil to add flavor. Sometimes I just serve veggies raw with a vinaigrette, or with another sauce like ranch dressing. What are your great ideas to move your veggies from tasteless to tasteful?

The Three Course Meal: The three course meal can be adapted to your meals with a few simple changes. Although a three course meal sounds fancy (and it can be at some meals), it isn’t necessarily haute cuisine. In general, the French use the same plate to serve the meal: the same plate for the first course and then the main meal. Cheese is sometimes the last course, again served on the same plate.

Here is what to do:

  • Place a normal plate at each place setting.
  • Take whatever vegetable you are having for the meal and serve it on the plate. Do not serve the vegetable as a side dish, serve it directly on the plate for the first course. Often we have salad for the first course, you can serve this first too, as the vegetable course. A green salad with tomatoes, grated carrot, raisins, grapefruit slices, cucumbers (or just one of some of these!) makes a healthy first course or you can be more creative (see some examples at end of article).

  • Then comes the wipe. In France bread is served with the meal in the the form of pieces of baguette (although at our house, I ration out the bread for after the first course and main meal, otherwise kids eat too much bread and not enough of the meal). The piece of bread is used to wipe off the plate (and is then eaten) between courses.
  • Then the rest of the meal continues.
  • If cheese is the last course, it is again served on the same plate. The wipe is used in between to clean the plate.

Sometimes the first course is fancy or sometimes easy, but there is always the first course.

Examples of easy first courses:

Green salad with vinaigrette, carrot sticks and ranch dressing, slices of tomato with olive oil, cucumber and raw peppers, sliced cooked beets with walnuts and vinaigrette. What are your easy?
Examples of normal: (that were recent first courses chez nous)

Grated black radish and carrot salad

Swiss chard and smoked bacon sauté

Steamed broccoli and tomato sautéed in garlic and olive oil

Cooked snap peas with minced garlic, vinegar and sesame oil

Pumpkin soup

Spinach salad with nuts and raisins

Lastly, two other tricks-

  • encourage your kids to help cook these first courses 
  • sit down and eat them together.

Finally, if you child really doesn’t like veggies, don’t be discouraged, don’t make food issues a source of stress or a battle, just make sure they get their “5 a day” with fruit. You (and me both) may be surprised by what your child will taste, eat and love. I was ‘shocked’ to how my six year old loved the black radish salad (the first picture of normal first courses) and she took three helpings! All we can do as parents is to put food on our children’s plates; the rest is up to them!

If you have a trick or special way you use to have your kids enjoy their vegetables, please give some feedback in the leave a reply section below. Your insights can help others.

If you like what you read and think it would be useful to a friend, I would appreciate if you passed this article along using your favorite social media method. You can subscribe to BrightonYourHealth updates to receive the latest article directly in your email box by clicking here: subscribe to BrightonYourHealth. By subscribing you can download your free E-report on international tips for eating for good health.

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4 Responses to The French Secret To Get Kids to Eat Vegetables

  1. Danielle April 28, 2013 at 01:06 #

    I am a nanny and I decided to try the french way of eating with a 2 1/2yr old I was caring for as he was beginning to get very fussy, and being vegetarian he couldn’t afford to be.
    Definitely cutting out snacks helped, but certain veges he would just push around his plate and of course he knew there was a second and third course coming (third being pudding his favourite) he didn’t seem to care about trying it. I did as recommended and not comment or make a big deal about him not eating certain foods but then I found he was still eating the way he did before, loving the carbs like rice, pasta or bread and pudding.
    After dinner if he hadn’t eaten the first course or sometimes much of the second, he would say he was still hungry, so then what do you say and do?

    • mbrighton April 28, 2013 at 14:39 #

      Hi Danielle, Your question was very important and I am happy that you brought up some issues. First, feeding a 2 1/2 year old is a challenge, even with the best eaters. At this age, physiologically and psychologically, these children are not growing as much and they often only eat 2 out of 3 meals a day well. They are also trying to test parents and caregivers-not meanly, but as part of showing their independence. Also, these changes in the way you serve him will take time=it won’t be on the first try that it will work. My other thought is the following: in France, kids don’t usually get a rich pudding after a meal-sometimes dessert is simply a fruit, cheese or a yogurt. Desserts are more for the weekend. If this child is used to getting a (perhaps) rich dessert after each meal, then yes, as you said, he will wait for dessert to come. My suggestion is to break the habit of a ‘dessert’ and add in a fruit, piece of cheese or a yogurt or applesauce for dessert. Hope this is helpful, let us know how things get on.
      Warmly, Mary

  2. ~The Lady in Red ~ February 19, 2013 at 18:58 #

    I absolutely LOVE the French idea of serving vegetables as the star of the show and considering them a first course, instead of a side dish! It makes so much sense! I think it’s important for people not to assume children won’t like a particular vegetable, too, and offer up a variety of them. Fresh vegetables usually have more taste than canned or frozen ones, aw well. In addition to incorporating veggies into salads and soups, or having them stand alone, stews and one-dish-dinners are wonderful to flavor them with their natural sauces.

    I am always learning something new from your site! Bread is a “wipe” between courses! I love that! I can’t wait to try some of your tips at dinner! My daughter has always loved vegetables but this will make them a lot more interesting for her when we promote them from side dish status to first course and “do the wipe”.
    ~The Lady in Red ~ recently posted..Shopping on the Chic

    • mbrighton February 21, 2013 at 17:29 #

      Hi Lady in Red! Thanks always for your support and enthusiasm. Let us know how mini Lady in Red (your sweet daughter) is enjoying her vegetable highlights and the wipe! Bisous

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