I just finished reading the book by Karen le Billon “French Kids eat Everything” and highly recommend it to everyone, such a wonderful perspective on teaching kids how to eat well! The books provides 10 rules that the French parents, with the support of the French National Ministry of Education and the French Institute of Taste (!) have to follow in order to help their children develop great eating habits and enjoy their food.
Probably the most surprising for American parents is how seriously French schools approach teaching their students to accept and like a variety of foods. Teaching kids to eat well is an important part of the school curriculum in France. To start with, the amazing meals served to all children at school cafeterias could be a good match for a Michelin star restaurant. In addition, they get an opportunity to learn about food using their five senses during usual classrooms activities where they are taught how to reflect on food using their “sensory appreciation”.
If reading about French approach to raising healthy eaters made you feel like your kids might be missing on something important, do not despair. Here are five fun activities you can do with your kids at home. They are designed to engage your children in sensory food exploration in order to expand their palates and reduce fear of new foods.
- Give them an opportunity to explore the basic tastes. Create a small activity offering to try sugar (sweet), salt (salty), lemon (sour) and unsweetened cacao powder (bitter). Let the children describe how the flavors feel in their mouth. Next, let them explore more complex flavor combinations, such as dark chocolate (sweet and bitter), lemonade (sour and sweet), stir-fried greens with soy sauce (salty and a little bitter).
- Put a fruit or vegetable in a paper bag and let your child touch it without looking, describe what it feels like and guess what it is. This is called sac fourre-tout – “stuff sack” and it is a part of school-based “taste-training” described by Karen le Billon in her book.
- Get your children to taste the food with their eyes closed to limit destructions and talk about the sound the food makes when they bite in it. Take it a little further and ask them to identify the food they taste. This is another “guessing game”, a favorite among French kindergarteners.
- Talk to your children about the food they see on the table. Ask them to describe the color, shape, texture, smell and taste. Negative comments like “Yuk” or “Gross” are out of the question. Encourage descriptive language, for example: “This cherry tomato is small, oval, red and smooth. It bursts in my mouth when I bite into it and it is juicy inside. The flavor is a little sour and a little sweet”.
- Involve your children in the kitchen in order to provide the opportunity to see the food in its raw state and compare to what it looks, feels and tastes like when peeled, chopped and cooked.
Please share if you are using other ways to talk about sensory characteristics of food at your home!