A Quick Bite With Karen Le Billon

A Quick Bite With Karen Le Billon

The idea for Karen Le Billon’s book, French Kids Eat Everything (And Yours Can Too) didn’t come to her while she and her young family was spending a year in France learning to eat, well, everything. It was after that year was over and they had returned to Vancouver and settled back into the North American swing of things that Le Billon realized how much she had learned and how much her girls had changed. From picky eaters who only wanted pasta for lunch and needed the multiple daily snacks that North Americans graze on all day, they’d become small sophisticates who happily sat down to the same meals as their parents enjoyed. I spoke with Karen about the differences between the French and North American approach to the family meal. If it means my kids would try bouillabaisse, I’m going to give it a go! 

Q: What’s your earliest food memory?
A:  Warm apple strudel, made by my mother, hot out of the oven. It was a family ritual every Sunday, and I can still smell that wonderful, sweet, roasted apple smell.

Q: Do you like cooking with your girls?
A:  We love it! For more complex dishes (like bouillabaisse), I’ll chop in advance and they will help me ‘compose’ the dish by adding the ingredients to the pot, and stirring. My older daughter (8) knows how to chop veggies and fruit, and the younger one is also starting (under close supervision!).

Q: What was the food you were most surprised your girls embraced in France?
A:  Mussels. And stewed rabbit (stewed with dried plums, in a wonderful sauce). These are two of my mother-in-law’s classic dishes, and they are incredibly good. I was surprised because I thought of them as ‘adult’ tastes. However, the French believe that kids can like almost anything adults eat, so my extended family wasn’t surprised at all. 

Q: Since returning to Canada, has your family been able to stick with the food rules you developed in France?
A:  Good question! Yes, the girls eat on a French schedule (one snack per day!), are happy (usually) to try new foods, and eat a good variety of food. The hardest rule to observe has been Rule #8: Slow Food is Happy Food: Take time for cooking and eating. Life is so busy for families here. We ended up deciding to prioritize family dinner time, and never scheduling any after-school activities that would overlap with cooking time and dinner hour. We just made the sit-down family meal our #1 priority. Once we did that, it made our evenings more relaxed. We really appreciate sitting down to a family meal every night.

Q: Is there anything your kids refuse to eat that you wish they would?
A: Stinky French blue cheese. But they do agree to taste it (French Food Rule #6), and my older daughter says “I know I’ll like it when I grow up.”

Q: What would you say is the biggest difference between the North America and the French approach to family meals?
A:  For the Frenchthe family meal is the highlight of the day–and it happens every day. Over 90% of French families have a sit-down meal together every day. Stats vary here, but suggest that only between 10 and 20% of us have a daily family meal. So the regularity of the family meal–the fact that it is the priority (for example, no organizations would schedule after-school activities in France during the dinner hour, as everyone simply respects that it is family time)–is a big difference. The stores in our village would close from 12:30 to 2 every day, to let everyone go home and have their family meal.

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  1. Stefanie
    April 12, 12:31 Reply

    I just finished this book and loved it. On top of being well researched, it was also enjoyable to read. My 2.5 year old son is an excellent eater and will mostly eat anything but I found the idea of a more relaxed longer dinner lovely and have tried it for a few nights now. We’ve been doing a salad or soup course plus dessert and even my husband (who usually gobbles his food) is eating slower and my son actually ate some of the lettuce for the first time yesterday (he usually picks out all the other odds and ends and leaves the leaves). Well done! I’m gogin to try beets next week.

  2. Stefani
    April 12, 13:51 Reply

    I’m definitely going to get this book. My boyfriend’s 6 year old son refuses to eat anything but chicken fingers and fries, Kraft dinner, or pizza; and if forced to even taste something new or different, panics. I’m hopful that this book will help us help him!

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