Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Le Snacking

America’s obesity problem starts with mothers like me who reward good behavior with peanut butter cups, and mountain range-sized banana splits. My pediatrician said, “Motivate them with stickers, not food.”
I said, “Stickers? Kit Kat bars. Now, those are motivating. All I have to do is to get the kids to clean their rooms is open a 2 lb. bag of Kit-Kats, releasing the breath of food-grade wax and high fructose syrup.”
"Good god," my pediatrician said. "Consider their little arteries!"

I considered their arteries, and my over-reliance on Oreos, chocolate milk, and MSG- laden and artificially flavored Cool Ranch Doritos as parenting tactics. And I thought of my kids growing up, nourished by food-grade wax. What kind of mother was I? So I devised a plan: We would stop being American, we would become French -- at least when it came to breakfast, lunch, and le diner.

French people eat. Hell, they eat brioche, oozing cheeses, and the mashed up livers of force-fed geese. “French mothers probably bribe their kids with food, all mothers do,” I whispered my husband. “But in France, it’s French food, and the kids: Et voila! They don’t get fat! ”

“From now on call me Maman,” I said to my kids, puffing out my lips and wearing a chic little scarf. “From now, on we don’t snack on le crap.” Tears were shed over the last sherds of Doritos, but in a matter of weeks, they were cleaning their rooms for home-made brioche au chocolat. In exchange for a slice of tarte tatin, I could have peace for an hour, while I rearranged my now extensive collection of chic little scarves and vintage Yves Montand records. When I made pate, they tried it, which made me inordinately proud. They tried pate! I crowed.

When they whine and squirm at restaurants, I say, “Tut tut! That’s what les enfants Americans do. Now what would the French do?” And miraculously they fall into line, putting their napkins into their laps and asking me politely to order frites for them because fries sounds better in French. My daughter, who is 2, believes that the French are a subclass of fairies. There are brownies, and elves, wood elves, fairies, and now, the extremely well-behaved French.

The chores they happily do for French food have far exceeded any expectations; they even bargain with me. “I’ll walk the dog and take out the trash, Maman, if you make coquilles St. Jacques again,” my son said. My husband said, “If you make Julia Child’s coq au vin. I’ll take over doing the laundry." So I did, and I haven’t folded a pair of underwear since: behold the mighty power of le cuisine.

I’m raising my kids on baguettes and butter, like French kids and they're doing fine, watching French New Wave cinema, puffing out their little lips and saying "bouf." Just don’t tell my pediatrician. When we went back, he asked, “So how are the sticker charts going?” I said, "Oh, tres, tres bien."


  1. hehehehe.. very cute. When I was young I ate very French. One day, I was about 8yrs old, some other child said to me, "Do you KNOW what escargot really IS?" I shrugged my shoulders. She said, "it's SNAILS." I thought about it for a minute and then remembered the crusty bread and deep pools of garlic butter and fresh parsley. I said, "I don't care.. I still like it."

  2. So this is what started the sugar battle! I love this post (so what else is new?). I did the overnight switch to vegetarianism when my kids arteries were young, and they hated me for years afterwards. But we still follow the line, although about ten years in I discovered that soy gives me major gas. Adieu for now.

  3. I cater in the evenings, and when I see people's eyes bulge out at the sight of me using real butter, I tell them, "Who ever in history used more butter than Julia Child? And she and her husband lived to be in their 90;s."

    No one can argue with that, n'est pas?

  4. I would clean your rooms for homemade tarte tatin. Just so you know.

    Thinking back to the years in Belgium when the kids were small, I don't recall people bribing their kids with food. I remember that I was horrified, upon our arrival in the States, at the quantities of candy and cupcakes given to my kids in school. And that the only choices for kid's meals in restaurants were fried foods.

    Last time I was in the Brussels area, I was sitting on a restaurant terrace having lunch (tomates farcies aux crevettes with frites as only the Belgians make 'em, overlooking a koi pond in summer with no mosquitos, I'm gonna cry) and watching an elegant grand'mère having lunch with three boys, all wearing immaculate real wool sweaters and lace-up leather shoes. They were chatting happily, and as they left grand'mère apologized to me for their "rowdy" behavior. It's like a different world over there.

    "Les snacks" certainly exist in Belgium, but the cultural norm is to eat at the table sitting down, and the meals are substantial enough to carry you through to the next one. The cars are small and often don't have cupholders, so "le fast food meal on the way to le soccer game" and "le two-pint soda" are infrequently spotted (the latter is also discouraged by the lack of free, clean restrooms).

  5. Very funny.
    And your daughter is not the only one who thinks the French are a subclass of fairies.

  6. Très amusant!
    As a British mum who has lived all over the world I tend to reward my children with stickers,it works really well.
    I don't feed them a typical French diet and borders on vegetarianism.
    I'm somewhat perplexed when I see very young babies and toddlers munching on bags of crisps, or sweets while sat in a pushchair.
    French people do actually get fat too and it's only getting worse.
    C'est la vie! or is it ?!