my book review of French Kids Eat Everything


I’ve wanted to read French Kids Eat Everything since it was first published.  The title seemed so promising and the subject  – encouraging my children to eat well – is a daily occupation in my home.  Finally, I got my hands on a copy and read the book from cover to cover.

It was ok.  Honestly, I think my problem was that I didn’t fall in love with the author.  She came across as too self-conscious, excited one moment about eating well and embracing a food culture and then lazy and unmotivated in the next.

Hmm… maybe she reminded me too much of me?  That could be my problem…

The book chronicles one year in the life of a Franco-Canadian family.  The author – Karen Le Billon – has always wanted to live in her husband’s hometown in coastal France and jumps at the chance to do so for a year.  During their year in France, she is alternately overwhelmed and inspired by the French food culture around her.  She has a hard time stomaching the unfamiliar dishes, as do her two young daughters.

Her older daughter is attending a local school, though, and her parents-in-law are watching the way she feeds and educates her children.  She is under enormous pressure to conform to the food culture around her.  Everyone is telling her how her children should eat and what they should eat.  Everyone is astonished when her children refuse food, throw tantrums at the table, or snack anytime and everywhere.

Meanwhile, Karen’s jaw is slowly dropping as she learns more and more about the way French children eat.  They love to eat.  Food is a delight, an experience, something to be savored.  Eating takes time.  It only occurs at a table, surrounded by others, four times a day: breakfast, lunch, a 4pm gouter (snack), and dinner.   All food should be tasted, and if children don’t like it the first time, they just try it again until they do.  Parents are deeply involved in their children’s food “education,” teaching them from their earliest days that all food is to be enjoyed, savored, and eaten on a schedule.


To Karen, it all seemed to good to be true.  Inspired (as well as pressured), Karen decided to try to overhaul her family’s approach to food and replace it with the French food culture.  Through a year of trial and error, highs and lows, and many hiccups, the author and her family completely changed their approach to vegetables, table manners, snacking, and food appreciation.

Truly, I was amazed.  Through going back to the drawing board, presenting food in new and interesting ways, and transforming her own attitude towards food, the author created a new food culture for her family.  By the end of the year, her daughters fit the description of French children I gave above.

In an interview by a Bon Appetit writer, Karen explains more about the French approach to food education.  I loved this summary: “The French believe that teaching a kid to eat is just as important as, and just as time consuming as, teaching them to read. When you teach a kid to read, you teach the alphabet, then words, sit with them, read with them. The French feel that way about eating. They have a long-term view. They also don’t get frustrated when there are bumps in the road. Some kids take longer to read than others, but they don’t give up and say, “This kid is a picky eater, she just doesn’t like broccoli.” You don’t treat fear of foods as a personality trait, you treat it as a phase.”

My two favorite takeaways from the book are Karen’s 10 French Food Rules and several simple, kid-friendly recipes in the back of the book.  Both of these resources put everything in black and white, making “eating French” seem much more doable.  Though I would rate the quality of writing at 3 stars, I thought these two resources redeemed the book for me.  Here are her 10 Rules:

FrenchKids-Food-Rules-color-no-isbn This list always gives me pause.  Even though we might be doing pretty well on Rule 4, we really need to work on Rules 7 and 8!   I’d like to use some of the recipes in the back of the book – especially her no-crust, 5-minute quiche recipe – to continue to help us enjoy real, fresh, and flavorful food.

Have you read this book?  Do you apply any of the 10 French Food Rules in your home?

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12 Responses to my book review of French Kids Eat Everything

  1. Phi July 22, 2013 at 3:14 pm #

    Thanks for the review! I found the rules to be applicable to not just children but adults as well! :) (so hard!)

    • Becca July 22, 2013 at 10:42 pm #

      Yep… and I also need some rules for myself about eating sweets in moderation! My secret chocolate stash is somewhat ginormous…

  2. Alica July 22, 2013 at 4:19 pm #

    These look like very sensible ideas! If only they were as easy to follow as they are to understand! I especially like Rule #3…can I apply this to visitors too? :)

    • Becca July 22, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

      Haha, let me know how that goes, Alica!

  3. Tiffany July 22, 2013 at 7:17 pm #

    I haven’t read it yet, but I saw some of the same principles in Bringing Up Bebe. I’m on board for most of these but curious about how soon to start some. My 18-month-old has trouble understanding “you have to taste it,” for instance!

    • Becca July 22, 2013 at 10:41 pm #

      I know what you mean, Tiffany! I think that the author would say that these rules, whether spoken or not, are ALWAYS in place, even from the beginning. Are there ways you could encourage/require tasting even that young? I remember well how hard it is…

  4. Claire July 22, 2013 at 8:40 pm #

    I’m French and I did not know that book (and was quite doubtful about it I must say…especially when I read the school menu, I am not sure my daughter would fancy eating it :-)
    But funnily enough, I actually recognised myself in the 10 Food Rules (so that book must not be all that bad ;-)
    For me, the most important ones, that I repeat almost every meal, are “don’t say you don’t like before you’ve tasted it”, and “don’t expect to eat something else to what is on the table”, meaning that I understand that she may not like what I have prepared, and as much as possible I try to compose with what I know of all the members of the family taste’s, but if she says she does not like it anyway, then she knows that clearly she’ll have to stay with an empty stomach (and it has never happened in 5 years so, in the end, she gets it!)
    Hope you’ll get results working on your 7 and 8 :-)

    • Becca July 22, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

      Claire, thank you for sharing your thoughts! I have wondered how true it is and it helps to have an “insider” tell us more about it. A friend of mine was just in southern France and said that when she saw all the French children, she didn’t think they were any different from all the others. Probably true. :-)

      I admire your rules at the table with your daughter. Elliott and I do the same thing with our daughter and, sure enough, she has never left the table with an empty stomach either!

  5. Wannabe French July 22, 2013 at 10:53 pm #

    Wow. Great review of what sounds like a good book. Lena and Gil will be will be well fed AND wonderful. Just leave room for trips to the frozen yogurt store with Poppy!!

  6. Sarabell July 26, 2013 at 5:36 pm #

    I have added this one to my list, even if the voice isn’t quite perfect. I am so interested in this! My husband and I want very much to teach our little guy the importance of healthy eating/food relationships and I’d love to read this take on the subject!


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