New York Times Motherlode Blog, By Karen Le Billon, April 13
Consider this: Our children are three times more likely to be overweight than French children. In fact, we lead the world in producing overweight children, but the French have one of the lowest rates of overweight children in the developed world.
The causes of obesity are complex (lifestyle, physical activity, poverty, food insecurity, genetics and obesogenic chemicals all play a role). But what we eat is undoubtedly a factor. Because of poor eating habits, the current generation of American children will suffer far more health problems ”” and perhaps have a shorter life expectancy ”” than their parents. We may be teaching our kids to eat themselves into an early grave.
The reason lies in how we teach our kids to eat. I say this from personal experience: together with our two daughters we’ve divided our time between France and North America for the better part of two decades. Our daughters been in school and daycare ”” and I’ve taught in universities ”” in both places. So I’ve seen French children in action from cradle to college.
Now, despite this, I don’t parent like the French. In fact, I think they could learn from us about creativity, empathy and individual initiative ”” traits that are not fostered by traditional French parenting (or schooling). I think North American parenting at its best is, largely, better for kids. But there is one exception: food.
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. Pediatrician-recommended first foods for French babies are leek soup, endive, spinach and beets (not bland rice cereal ”” have you ever tasted that stuff)? They teach their children that ”œgood for you foods” taste good (broccoli ”“ yum!), whereas we often do the opposite.