Food for thought

This month Gillian Har­vey ex­plains how French school din­ners have in­tro­duced her chil­dren to a var­ied and healthy diet from a young age

Living France - - Contents -

Colum­nist Gil­lan Har­vey re­flects on the ben­e­fits of French school din­ners for her young brood

Like many mums, I baulked at the news that we’re now meant to be con­sum­ing ‘10 a day’ rather than five. Any par­ent of young chil­dren will tell you that shoe­horn­ing five por­tions of the good stuff into lit­tle, re­luc­tant mouths is a chal­lenge enough; the idea of 10 is a dis­tant dream.

How­ever, my kids are prob­a­bly closer than some to achiev­ing this holy grail of veg­etable con­sump­tion. Not be­cause of any­thing I’ve done per­son­ally, but be­cause of the at­ti­tude to food that they’ve picked up at school.

Bear­ing in mind that some of the pupils at the mater­nelle start at the ten­der age of two and a half, you’d prob­a­bly ex­pect the school din­ner menu to con­sist of puréed potato and fish fingers at best. How­ever, even the tini­est palate is plied with a three­course meal on a daily ba­sis; and no one brings a packed lunch.

Look­ing at the menu – di­eti­cian ap­proved – that comes home on a monthly ba­sis, this month my chil­dren will be con­sum­ing de­lights such as pois­son à la bor­de­laise avec hari­cots beurre and esca­lope de porc avec lentilles. More­over, each school din­ner has three cour­ses, with starters this month in­clud­ing salade niçoise or con­com­bre à la crème and desserts of­ten fruits de sai­son or strudel aux pommes, with only the odd crêpe au su­cre or tarte noix de coco thrown in.

Be­ing sur­rounded by tiny class­mates who con­sume such a range of flavours has meant that my kids have more dis­cern­ing palates and an open-mind­ed­ness to new tastes than they’d ever have de­vel­oped at home. Plus, heaven for­bid I for­get to give them a servi­ette at the ta­ble.

Of course, they still have their likes and dis­likes. I re­cently ques­tioned Timmy (4) as to what he en­joyed most about his school meals – hop­ing to repli­cate some at home. “What’s your favourite meal at school?” I asked. “A round thing,” he told me earnestly. “Is there any­thing you don’t like?” I asked. “I don’t like olives,” he in­formed me, with a scowl.

When it comes to health, although the French don’t seem to be su­gar-shy, quaffing pains au choco­lat for break­fast, and en­joy­ing crêpes on an al­most daily ba­sis, I be­lieve it’s their pen­chant for set meal­times that keeps them on the slim side.

Rigid meal­times seem to be im­bued in the French cul­ture, with many French friends con­fused at the fact we of­ten have our evening meal be­fore 7 o’clock. As for some­thing to keep them go­ing, 4 o’clock seems firmly es­tab­lished in the French psy­che as goûter or snack, and one French mum was over­whelmed when I of­fered her a slab of cake with her cof­fee one morn­ing. “We ‘ave the im­pres­sion that the English are al­ways eat­ing!” she ad­mit­ted.

Of course, although visi­tors from Blighty are im­pressed at my chil­dren’s ta­ble man­ners (for which I take full, un­de­served credit), my kids are still lit­tle chil­dren and do refuse cer­tain items of fruit and veg ac­cord­ing to their par­tic­u­lar taste, in­clud­ing any­thing with ‘grass’ (herbs) added.

At the same time, they are used to hav­ing a va­ri­ety of ac­com­pa­ni­ments with each meal – so much so that my fouryear-old Joe re­cently handed back a plate I’d given him with a slice of pizza on it, declar­ing that “I don’t want it like that! I wan’ car­rots an’ sweet­corn an’ hari­cots verts!” And Evie (3) in­formed me re­cently that while she doesn’t like ‘veg’ she wanted “peas an’ caw­wots and salade” with her tea.

So while ‘10 a day’ might be a bit of a stretch even for me, liv­ing in France has cer­tainly given my chil­dren a greater chance of reach­ing this tar­get.

Gillian Har­vey is a free­lance writer who has lived in Li­mousin for six years, to­gether with hus­band Ray and their five young chil­dren

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.