Thursday, July 12, 2012

Snacking and French Kids

Children eat three meals a day, and a goutier (or snack) at 4:30 PM each day to tide them over from lunch to dinner. The goutier often consists of bread and good-quality dark chocolate. They do not eat at other times, which is connected to teaching them delayed gratification. Druckerman comments

"when we rush to feed Bean whenever she whimpers, we're treating her like an addict. Whereas expecting her to have patience would be a way of respecting her." (p. 74).

By expecting their children only to eat at established meal times, French parents are teaching their children not only to wait, but how to establish healthy eating habits. Once French nanny that Druckerman interviewed will no longer work for American parents. The nanny tried to teach the children manners and healthy eating habits, only to have her attempts undermined by overly permissive parents. As a result, the kids were "stout" and spoiled because they were being fed cake and ice cream late each night.

Over the past few years, I've noticed that American parents and caregivers never seem to venture out without a container of Cheerios packed into their carriages. Kids appear to be fed Cheerios (and sometime Fruit Loops, raisins, or trail mix) periodically throughout the day. While the majority of the babies and toddler that I see are not obese, I have found myself wondering if it might be better if these children were fed fresh fruit or vegetables as snacks instead of breakfast cereals. According to the French way of child-rearing, these children would be better off not being fed any snacks at all.

Child-hood obesity rates in France are lower than in the United States and are expected to remain below 10% in the next ten years. As of now, 40% of American children are over-weight, and half of these children are obese.  However, in both countries, poorer children are more likely to be obese than wealthier children. I would be interested in knowing whether creches and preschools in poorer French neighborhoods have fewer resources available for educating children on food and diet, whether poorer French children snack more frequently, and whether their snacks are less healthy than those of wealthier children. In NYC at any rate, there is a push to make healthier food more easily procurable in poorer neighborhoods and to provide healthier school lunches in public schools.

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