January marked a milestone for us – six months that we have now spent in France. It seemed like a good amount of time to reflect on what we have learned and experienced so far, but to avoid going on and on I’ve decided to split this blog into three key areas where we get lots of questions, or have learned a lot – language, school and social, and food! Here’s part three… food… oh the Food
Despite my best efforts at creating good food habits early in their lives – I read all the books and spent countless hours pureeing sugar free, organic, nutrient-rich plant-laden baby meals – to my chagrin, two out of three of my children had become fussy eaters. They gobbled up everything I put in front of them until about they were about four and then decided they didn’t like ANYTHING with flavour.
This pickiness was a source of immense frustration to me, as night after night I served up a home cooked meal only to watch it get swept into the bin. Does anything trigger a mother like food waste?
Ma chère France, here I owe you a debt. At the start of November, a jar of Pics Peanut Butter made its way into our cupboard. Two months later, it was still going. What would once have lasted a week, had been barely noticed. It was then that I realised we finally had little gourmands in the making.
France has expanded my children’s palates and willingness to try new foods enormously. Between them they now adore truffle oil, olives, snails, slow roasted beef and pork, mushroom soup, salmon pasta with crème fraiche, pain perdu and soufflé, various French soups and sauces they don’t know how to name, omelettes, tartiflette and raclette (of course), crèpes and galettes, baguettes stuffed with salad, relish and charcuterie, and cheeses that go well beyond ‘Colby’ ‘Mild’ and ‘Tasty’ (just the thought of the New World cheese selection now makes them all giggle).
No more humble cheese toasties – at a recent food truck evening, they chose a croque truffade, which is like a croque monsieur, but with truffle shavings and truffle oil – and now they want that heavenly oil sprinkled on everything. Where they once refused to try any dressing, they’ve started heaping their plates with lettuce because they’ve fallen in love with vinaigrette. ‘Who knew salad could be so good Mum?’ And let’s not even get started on the desserts.
Largely I think this is attributable to the school cantine. We are fortunate in the Ariège to have a very strong emphasis on food provenance and local producers, with a map on the cantine wall showing the regional origin of most of the ingredients. Each day they are served up an enviable four course menu, starting with a plain salad, followed by dishes ranging from grass-reared beef steak and frites, to salmon, pasta, or stews. There is always a dessert – fruit, gateau, yoghurt, mousse or in summer, ice cream. And no meal is complete without a wedge of cheese. I know from friends that this is not the case everywhere in France, so we are very grateful for our luck in landing here.
Back home their lunch boxes often come home from school barely touched, usually because some kid wants to go play after two minutes, so all the kids abandon their lunches to avoid missing out. I have found this frustrating, knowing their little brains need fuel to get them through the afternoon, not to mention ahem, more food waste.
Here, largely thanks to the high quality deliciousness on offer, not to mention a little healthy peer pressure, all three are loving the ritual of a proper meal at lunch time. Each class sits together at a long table and remain seated until everyone has finished. They are not required to clean their plates but they are encouraged to give everything a good go, and often my sons go back for seconds. I don’t know how we’re ever going to go back to a Molenburg sandwich-and-an-apple-and-two-biccies.
The second factor is that French restaurants don’t pander to children. Kids are expected to sit at the table and enjoy their meal, not tear around the beer garden deigning only to sit down when their pizza and chips arrive. Many places wouldn’t even have pizza and chips on the menu, which has forced our children to get more adventurous.
If there is a children’s ‘menu’ or ‘formule’ it will be a set two or three course meal. Depending on the season, this might consist of a soup or some rockmelon with prosciutto, steak haché (a meat patty) with chips and salad, and a few scoops of ice cream.
In small country relais, where the best food is often found, there is often only one menu du jour, and the kids simply eat smaller portions. At first two of our kids balked at this, but they quickly adjusted and it has been wonderful to see them trying and enjoying new foods (even when Mum’s menu translation proves a bit wonky).
So yes French food has been a huge winner for our family and has hopefully put an end to food fussiness!