Book Review: French Children Don't Throw Food

Books, Parenting

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This book was published in January 2013, and its title echoes the previously popular ‘French Women Don’t Get Fat.’ The premise is the same: the way the French seem to do things is so much better than the way the British or Americans (generalised with the term ‘Anglophone’) do it.

The author, an American journalist, lived in Paris while her children were small, and observed how Parisian women raise their children. She then turned these observations into the book.

There’s actually a lot of sensible advice in this book. I particularly liked the chapters on food, on childcare and on sleep. The general premise of it is: be calm, observe, remember that you are in control, but also that you are teaching your child to become independent. I loved the sense of ‘let children be children;’ let them discover the world, rather than hovering about anxiously monitoring whether they have reached the expected milestone by the expected date.

The chapters on feeding and food were interesting. Some particularly sensible advice, which in hindsight supports my own experience, was along the lines of feed on demand for the first three months, then ease them into feeding every three hours. Then move onto 4 hours as you introduce solid foods and gradually decrease milk feeds. Now, that sounds so simple and obvious. But a health visitor will never say anything so obvious to you. And for a sleep-deprived, anxious, new-mother, obvious rationality doesn’t come easily.

Yes, it does acknowledge that many Parisian women don’t breastfeed for long, if at all (they are more interested in regaining their figures, it seems). But we all know the benefits of breastfeeding, and in my experience, most women would if they could successfully. I will keep my thoughts on breastfeeding for another post. And possibly another blog altogether.

Some of the cultural observations were interesting. Her observations from the planning meeting for a nursery menu were amazing – the chefs spent hours discussing the different vegetables on offer to the babies. One dish should not be repeated from one month to the next. This led to the very sensible advice that children should be encouraged to try everything, even if they don’t like it.

Another observation which made me laugh was the description of parents describing everything that their child does – to the child! “You’re climbing up the steps, up you go. Now you’re at the top. Are you going down the slide? There you go, down the slide, weeee!” I’ve seen something similar myself, and have to stop myself from doing it.

Personally, I think the French thing is a gimmick. There are plenty of wise and astute anglophone parents doing exactly the same thing. But at the moment, parenting advice either seems to be strict Gina Ford-esque rulebooks or the complete opposite: respond immediately to your baby’s every demand until they are at least 5 years old. Neither of these will lead to happy parents, or happy children. This book strikes a happy balance between the two. Love your children, nurture them, encourage them, but don’t smother them with your attention or let them rule the roost.

I got my copy from the local library; I probably would have purchased it if they didn’t have it, so it’s worth checking.

By Naomi

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