I read a really interesting book right before Christmas: French Kids Eat Anything. It has inspired me to put some work into our family dinners in hopes of making things better.
Stella is a terrible eater. Terrible! She has learned that she can pick at dinner and then grab a snack later, and so she doesn't eat much dinner unless cheese pizza is on offer. She eats nothing green.
The book is written by a North American mother, Karen LeBillon, who moved to France for a year with her French husband and their two little girls. It describes her many missteps and the transformation of her girls from uber-picky to accommodating eaters.
There's lots of food for thought in the book, but a few things in particular stood out to me. One is the absurdity of US snack habits. LeBillon offered a snack to a miserable girl in the checkout line at the grocery store one day (and who hasn't?), only to be told that she was going to make her daughter obese. When she visited her younger daughter's daycare, she tasted one of the puff pastry shells sitting on a tray filled with beet, cauliflower, and (I think) spinach puree. The disapproval was palpable: those were for the kids, not the grownups. (Does your preschooler snack on spinach puree? Because mine does not.) She notes that strollers in France do not have cup holders, because eating on the go is a big no-no. Eating deserves attention, the French say.
LeBillon proposes ten rules for better eating, but it's not a book of thou-shalt-nots. She talks about the effort French families make to have special mealtimes, to focus on their food, to teach children to experience food rather than rushing through it.
There is a grown-up in this house who could benefit from less snacking and more experiencing, I tell you what.
We're in a better place with dinner than we were a year ago. That's approximately when we told the boys that they couldn't leave the table just because they were done; they had to wait until everyone was finished. Sometimes this is a fiasco, but more often it stimulates interesting conversations with lots of laughter. It used to sap my will to live to spend half an hour, at a minimum, getting food on the table, only to have my children tear through their meals and expect to be excused in five minutes. Less will-to-live sapping is a good thing, n'est-ce pas?
I need to put a little more forethought into dinner. I don't think I need to spend a whole lot more time cooking, necessarily, but I'm scrambling too often and scrambling is usually avoidable. I'm going to dust off the tablecloths, to set the mood, and try lighting a candle, because I discovered by accident that Stella is more willing to eat green flecks in low light. The combination of tablecloth and candle could, of course, result in a dinnertime conflagration, but we'll keep the fire extinguisher handy.
I can't decide if I need to hide the accessible snacks (of course, at the moment I have nowhere to hide them because my house is full of displaced STUFF (though no more Christmas decorations -- hurray!)) or just teach her that crackers are not for grazing.
Off to make calabacitas. I'll let you know how it goes.