Monday, January 6, 2014

Sensible Food Habits from the French

Today after not finishing her lunch, Beezy asked if she could have ice cream. I thought it a good time to fill her in on my new plan for establishing better eating habits. I have written about the French approach to meals before, and for awhile I followed it. But bad habits die hard, and I had never actually shared with my daughter why I wanted to change the way we eat. In addition, I think I had made an effort to improve my own habits, but I hadn't completely followed through with her.

Basically, the French eat three meals a day, plus a 4:00 snack called the goute. It depends on the source as to which meal is largest. Breakfast my be just a tartine (baguette with butter and jam or some other topping) and coffee, or may be more substantial, but it is never skipped. Bread and cheese are usually part of lunch and dinner, and dinner has at least three courses. I think the last meal of the day is usually a little later in France, around 7:30 to 8:00, and dessert is traditionally served. Families sit down to eat dinner together, and just to emphasize the point, there is no snacking between these designated meals times.

After I told Beezy at lunch that she wouldn't be eating again until the 4:00 snack, she was willing to finish her soup (she had eaten a clementine orange and only half her soup), plus a peanut butter and jelly sandwich made with French bread left over from last night's dinner. For our goute, we had homemade banana bread. Beezy assisted by mashing the bananas and cracking and wisking the eggs. Perhaps after having a later dinner, she will not need her usual bedtime snack.

Now, radical unschoolers will let their children decide what, when, and how much they eat. They won't require them to sit at table with their family for meals. Children don't need structure, schedules, or consistency, they assert. While unschoolers are fond of criticizing "mainstream" parenting, in many ways American parents in general are becoming more and more like unschoolers. Of course, each family has its own way of doing things, and the above comments are not true for unschoolers across the board. Some only unschool in the area of education, and I discussed some thoughts about that aspect yesterday. By and large, if unschooling philosophy is applied to all areas of life, then the statements made above about radical unschoolers are generally true.

Interestingly, the formation of these eating habits would certainly be considered part of a child's education in France, right along with learning how to be respectful, polite, and obedient to parents. Correcting a child's behavior is not considered discipline, as we would call it in America. It is called education, which is not the same thing as schooling. We'll talk more about that down the road. What I like about the French idea of education is that parents are responsible for teaching children how to interact properly with others. They firmly and immediately nip disobedience and misbehavior in the bud, beginning with toddlers. The authority of French parents is established early on and consistently maintained. They are in control of the development of good life habits in their children. The more I think about it, the more the unschooling idea of children "self-regulating" is bizarre, untrue, and dangerous.

Once a meal schedule is established, a framework will be put in place for a daily routine that other activities can be worked into. Schedules can be flexible and need not be planned down to every 15 minute segment of the day, but having a general structure to our daily round has many benefits, which I will continue to explore. How we eat effects every other area of life. Isn't it worth getting it right?