French Parents Got the Skinny…

On Proper Eating Habits for Kids

Originally published on Chelsea’s Blog.

A recent article published in the New York Times, “Why French Parents Are Superior (in One Way),” forces us to consider the fact that our children “are three times more likely to be overweight than French children.” With all the talk of childhood obesity, it’s not hard to believe. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years:

In 2009-2010, 16.9% of U.S. children and adolescents were obese. The prevalence of obesity was higher among adolescents than among preschool-aged children.

In 2009-2010, over 78 million of U.S. adults and about 12.5 million U.S. children and adolescents were obese. […] Among children and adolescents aged 2-19, more than 5 million girls and approximately 7 million boys were obese.

So, what are we doing wrong? And what are French parents getting right? The answer, according to the article, “lies in how we teach our kids to eat.” While busy and on-the-go Americans might opt for more convenient and ready-made meals for their children, “French parents teach their children to eat like we teach our kids to read: with love, patience and firm persistence they expose their children to a wide variety of tastes, flavors and textures that are the building blocks of a varied, healthy diet.” French parents take the time to teach their children to enjoy and even crave healthy foods. It sounds like a great idea. But what if your children are picky eaters who absolutely refuse to go near broccoli? What if you’ve got only ten minutes to feed your children breakfast before getting them to school and then rushing off to that big conference meeting? What if the only snacks available at your children’s school are loaded with sugar or trans fats? Well, no one said a change for the better was going to be easy.

So, how exactly are French parents teaching their children to practice healthy eating habits? The article points out a few methods:

  1. They have their children sit down to eat healthy school lunches every day. They’ve banned vending machines in their schools and don’t give their children an option for flavored milk (What? No chocolate milk in school?). In order to give their children a taste of different foods, dishes are only repeated once-a-month if at all.
  2. They train their children to think about their eating habits and what they’re eating. Instead of asking, “Are you full?” they’ll ask, “Are you still hungry?” These are two very different questions. The latter would really force your children to stop and consider what their bodies are telling them.
  3. They only allow their children to snack once-a-day. This could turn out to be a real challenge for American parents who’ll have to decide whether they should let their children snack during the school’s recess time or when they return home in the afternoon.

It all sounds like good advice that I would consider following myself. But I can’t help but imagine how a child living in America might have a hard time when many of the options available are so unhealthy. For one, it seems quite a task to convince a child that despite what his friends say, broccoli actually tastes good. And what if we do decide to ban vending machines and chocolate milk in our schools? Yes, it’s probably a good idea to make sure that unhealthy snacks aren’t readily available to our children. On the flipside, we could just be turning unhealthy snacks into forbidden fruit by doing so. Following the footsteps of the French parent may require even more than a lifestyle change for your family. It may require a major cultural change on the part of Americans.

If you’d like to read through the entire article in the New York Times, click here.

Photo: photostock

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