I was having a recent conversation with friends a few weeks ago and a bulb went off in my head… I realized that many Moms in the U.S., cook at least 2 meals for their families at night. They’ll prepare a kids menu and cook something different for the parents. Some will even eat different food than their spouse, cooking up to 3 meals a night…
I asked why…
My first reaction was… “Why?”
It might seem funny, but it was a genuine question. Why do Moms cook more than one meal in any given meal period? Why WOULD a Mom cook more than one meal in any given meal period? I honestly thought they were going to talk allergies and special needs. Their answer was less than expected: “Because my kids only eat mac ‘n cheese” said one. “Because my kids only wants nuggets, potatoes, and mac ‘n cheese!” said the other one. And we looked at each other for a little while. They saw the question marks going around my head and I felt alone for a second. I felt like I did not belong… The French me was not all that American after all. And something had gotten lost in translation.
“You mean your kids only eat specific foods and you cook them every night, and then go on to cook something different for your husband and yourself?”
How I raise my kids
Christian and I were raised in Europe, from French and German parents and our three children were born in the U.S., Switzerland, and Germany. So far, they have spent a third to half of their lives in Europe, the rest in Florida. When I look at them, I see very American children, but I know that deep inside, their roots and upbringing are a melting pot of cultures and ways of living. We clearly do things differently than other families and while it seems natural to me, I always wonder how we look like from the outside.
One thing I can tell you I do NOT do… is cook more than one meal a night! I don’t recall that happening once in the 6.5 years we have been parents.
Why I only cook one meal
The very first reason coming to my mind, and probably the reason why I was in total disbelief when I heard my friends that afternoon: we eat home-cooked meals every day, three times a day. I have no intention of doubling that number! You and I only have 24 hours to live in a day and I can see better time investments than boiling mac ‘n cheese for the kids and starting all over again for the adults. (I guess I also have no desire to clean twice as many pots… but that’s another story!).
I have a second, very strong, feeling about this one. I welcome my children’s feedback and ideas on many topics. I love having discussions with them and don’t ask them to agree with me. But they are children. As a parent, it is my duty to enforce a number of rules and principles. What gets eaten is my decision and I know better than a four-year old. Christian and I eat healthy, home-cooked foods. We limit the amount of processed and prepared foods we put in our bodies and I hold my children to the same standards. It is an important part of our lives and the culture I bring down on them.
Ours kids never had mac ‘n cheese until we took them out to eat. Of course they love it but it needs to stay a treat. I was breaking the following news to my friends:
“Europeans don’t have mac ‘n cheese! No child in France or Germany has ever had mac ‘n cheese and I never heard a complaint.”
Now don’t think that we are that crazy-diet kind of family. We eat from everything with lots of butter and white bread (hint to my French roots…), but our children don’t get to pick what they eat.
The third and last reason why I cook one meal for the family is because breakfast, lunch, and dinner are family times. We all sit together, share the same food, and have face-to-face discussions. Christian and I are guilty of spending too much time in front of screens and I hate that our children usually see a phone or tablet between them and us. Eating time is book and technology free. We are talking, discussing our days and what we eat, understanding what everyone likes and what tomorrow will look like. There’s no way I could have two meals ready at the same time for all of us to enjoy together. It’s just not happening and I would never buldge on our family time!
How we do it
I had to pause for a second, when my friends asked: “How do you get your kids to eat the same meals you eat?” I never had to think about it before… See, in France, food is almost a cult. A little French kid has probably eaten escargots by the time he’s 18 months and sucked on drooly non-pasteurized cheese around the age of 1. A French Mom will not asked her children whether they like something:
“That’s what’s for dinner!”
A child not finishing his lunch in France, is usually served the leftovers at dinner. There is no waste. There is no choice. And kids aren’t unhappy. The limits are clear and understood at a very young age. Parents also learn what everyone likes and dislikes. You are forced to try it once but if you absolutely hate it, a French parent understands. There is no understanding for “I don’t like my veggies!” I had a hard time with cauliflower as a child. Fine – but that was my only pass!
So as I think about it, how did I get my kids to eat from everything?
From my personal research, a healthy child can, at the age of 1, eat everything adults eat, as long as it is cut in a size, and of a consistency, that the child can chew and swallow.
The day before their first birthdays, my children ate their last jar of baby food and those no longer breastfed, drank their last bottle of formula. They woke up the next morning to cow milk and family meals.
At the age of 1, they all seemed to love eating their veggies. Our three-year old still starts every meal by jugging down anything green on her plate. Most of them went through phases were they lost interest in vegetables. Guess what… “that’s what’s for dinner!”
“No veggies, no dessert”
It’s ok when they don’t finish their plates, but there is no substitute. I am also not the kind to hide veggies in a colorful smoothie. Once again, I only have so much time and there is no discussion to be had regarding menus. They’ll push some things back for a couple of meals but quickly realize that we’re holding our grounds. And unless I see a reaction of disgust (which is very easy to discern from a no-intention-to-eat-so-I-can-get-pasta refusal), their little bellies will eat what we’re eating. Salad was probably the hardest thing for them to accept. But it only took a couple of nights for our 2 oldest to get used to it. Guess what, today they complain when they realize we’re having salad for dinner, but they ask for more and help themselves a second and third time. Complaining just feels good when you’re 6-years old!
My tip is to be consistent and enforce the same rules day after day. Kids adapt quickly. You are enforcing a healthy lifestyle and should be proud of holding your grounds. The earlier you start, the most natural this will all seem to your children. They’ll know no different. What helps when they are so young is to let them “play” with their food. Eating should be a fun experience. Cut well-cooked veggies into small cubes and put on a plate in front of your toddler. Let him experiment and learn to grab and bring to his mouth. It doesn’t all need to be pureed and spoon fed. Let them have fun with food!
Let us know how you got your kids to eat adult food! We love hearing parents helping other parents! Share your best tips!
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