Children’s eating habits are one of the most talked about topics amongst parents and one of the most frustrating. Agreed?! So why is it all so hard? Why can’t we get children to try new things? Where are we going wrong?

It’s 8.30am on a Monday morning and I’m sitting at my desk subconsciously listening to the muffled conversation between a Mum and her young daughter enjoying breakfast together on our Kids Terrace.

“Come on little one, two more mouthfuls and then you can go and play”.

“No” was the short, sharp, familiar response. “That egg touched the mushrooms, I’m not eating that”.

“It’s good for you, it will make you grow up strong” says Mum, becoming increasingly annoyed. I hear her then turn to the table beside her and feeling judged “She’s just such a fussy eater” she says, as if trying to justify her daughter’s behaviour. 

I listen as this goes on for some time and then, in my usual fashion, intervene.

“Are you CRAAAAZY!! “I say with a big smile and big gestures to the little girl, “What’s going on here? Why are you giving Mummy such a hard time?” There are a few nervous giggles from Mum and just a look of total shock from the daughter but at least the stand-off is over for now!

I walk away, only to look back and watch as Mum rolls her eyes and shakes her head in irritation. Of course, her daughter was happily playing and her breakfast plate was still full of food.

I think about my own children and how actually, I rarely have these issues when it comes to food. I can’t always relate to the battles I hear daily on our Kid’s Terrace at the Café. 

So what is it about French children that makes them well, just better at eating and dining? Why do French children seem to eat everything? Why are they better at eating out?

I am going to gently share my suggestions of how to create a more peaceful meal time, whether at home or in a restaurant. If I am being honest, I can’t personally claim to be an expert - it just seems to be how I was brought up in France – it’s in our culture.

So, from a friendly Frenchman (who is also a Dad), here it is:

  1. Abolish all day grazing. It’s hard to say no to a child telling you they are hungry every hour but you need to be strong!
  1. Try to sit at the table as a family, for longer. Maybe even serve dinner over a couple of courses.  In the schools in France, from the age of three every student is served lunch – crudités, a hot meal, a salad and ending with a dessert.  There are four courses at least.  It’s instilling the proper eating habits from a young age.
  2. Don’t have meal times so structured. Have a little fun with it, be more spontaneous, take dinner to the park, eat later, eat earlier, have a theme!
  3. As a family, prepare and eat one meal only. No variations. No negotiations.
  4. Be flexible when preparing meals.  Who says children have to eat cereal for breakfast?  Often mine have the leftovers from the night before!  If they want something different, give it to them, bend the rules a little. My philosophy is that as long as they eat something nutritional, I am happy.
  5. Try to regularly introduce new foods to your children and just ask them to try it. Explain that it’s OK to not like it but they must try it.
  6. Get your kids talking – whether you are preparing food or eating it! Conversation promotes good habits and preparing food while talking will bring out all sorts of stories about what is going on in your children’s lives (I do this with my daughter all the time). Why not talk about where the food comes from, how it is grown.  How good it tastes. Discussing the taste of a food instead of its health benefits will have much more success – I promise!
  7. Eat out more regularly if you can. In Europe and Asia families dine out regularly. A new setting often prompts them to try more. It’s also the perfect opportunity for your children to learn how to behave in a dining setting and focus on those table manners! Make it the norm in your family too! Come to Bitton!

Finally, don’t make excuses for your child.  Don’t label them as fussy and difficult, this just gives them an out each time!

At Bitton, we come to change our Kids Menu each season and often get stuck.  Firstly, in France you will rarely see a different menu for the kids.  They eat as the adults do. It’s usually only in the touristy spots that you will see a separate menu. At Bitton we want to put more adventurous food on the menus however struggle with the thought of upsetting our average small diner. As a compromise, we try to give them what they want however use natural, quality ingredients.

Remember, setting good eating and dining habits is a lifetime skill.  Not only for health but think about it – it prompts so many other positive things.  Good communication, bringing family and friends together, travelling, new experiences.

What do you think?  We would love to hear your thoughts! And remember, if all else fails, bring them to Bitton and let the crazy Frenchman at them!