I have just come home from the preschool/nursery run and made myself a cup of coffee with our machine. It’s so nice to come home from the busy morning and make myself a coffee and settle down for a little bit before starting to prepare lunch. I sometimes think that having an actual espresso machine means I don’t get out to cafes as much. I could be writing this at a cafe. But it’s so nice to be in from the misty gray morning, with a candle burning in our warm apartment, and my good latte, settling on the couch with my feet up on the ottoman. I’ll make the effort to go to the cafe.
But today, I want to talk about food. It’s a well-known fact, perhaps even a cliché, that the French are obsessed with food, and over the past few years I have gotten to see that it truly starts early. I have to say I’m always surprised and disappointed by the fact that French women don’t breastfeed as much as they could. It’s only a very small percentage that breastfeed. Unfortunately, a lot of it is an attitude I really dislike, of wanting to get back to the business of being a woman right away, and this attitude of « my breasts are for my husband » which I find stupid and absurd. I like that fact that French woman don’t let being a mother consume all areas of their lives, but I do think they take it to the extreme. This is not all French women, mind you. Many of them do breastfeed, and many I think would like to but there is still the problem of not getting the right support in the hospital.
It disappoints me that France is not a breastfeeding nation because I feel like breastfeeding is so inline with their ideas about introducing new tastes early on. Breast milk changes slightly with regards to what the mama has eaten, and what better way is there to introduce the baby to new tastes ?
With regards to solids, the French don’t start their babies on rice cereal like they do in Anglo-Saxon countries (and like I did with you guys, too). They start them on carrots and green beans, The BabyCook is an appliance that is used almost universally by French parents. I have to admit that with you, Son, I didn’t know about its existence. With Daughter, I bought one used because I wasn’t sure how much I would use it, but it was really terrific. It makes steaming vegetables and pureeing them so easy. You can put your veggies in before you leave and they will be ready to puree when you get home. I admit that I even still use it at least a couple of times a week because I like how it steams veggies.
So, French people start with vegetables. Not fruit. Vegetables. They cook green beans and carrots and spinach for their babies, to get them used to the natural taste.
Which leads me to the creche and preschool. I have been delighted with how the lunch system goes, so far. Daughter, you eat at the creche once a week and son you eat at school twice a week, the other two days we pick you up for lunch and drop you back off in the afternoon.
The French school meal is the standard format of a French meal : starter (entrée), main dish (plat), cheese, dessert. The children are served with real plates and silver ware, and there is water to drink and always, baguette on the table.
A starter can be leek soup, or carrot or beet salad, or hard boiled egg with mayonnaise, a standard bistro starter.
The main dish can be anything from beef bourguignon, to roasted chicken, pork etc. If the child is Muslim there is a substitute for a pork dish, and more often than not, this being a country with Catholic roots, fish is served on Fridays : sole meuniere, salmon, etc. There is always a vegetable accompaniment.
Dessert is either fruit, yogurt, or a piece of cake, occasionally. Cheese is a soft mild cheese and can be baby bel, coulommiers, kiri, etc.
The menu is posted at the front door of the school, or in this day and age, you can download it from the town hall website. A “suggestion du soir” is often posted as well, with consideration for what the child has been served for lunch.
In the creche, the meals are adapted according to age. The smallest babies will have the meal pureed, 1-2 year olds with have it mixed with small chunks, and the 2-3 year olds will have it served normally.
Lunch is a convivial affair, with children sitting around small tables with each other. What’s amazing is that all the kids more often than not will eat what is served to them, even if it’s something they might not eat at home (which is often our case kids).
Then, there the the “gouter”, taking the basic after school snack and rising it to an honored place. Gouter is always at 4pm, and always something sweet: a pain au chocolat, or baguette with some chocolate, cookies, pom potes, etc. It is seen as something of a reward for getting through the school day, a little treat to tackle the rest of the day before dinner. Of course, French people eat dinner quite late, often 8pm or later, so it does make sense to have that little treat.
In early October, there is something called « La Semaine du Gout », or « Tasting Week », which is proof of how seriously the French take food into consideration for the education of its future citizens. Children are encouraged try new things and to learn about different foods. Menus are planned for the week around a theme ; for example, this year, they did meals around a different color every week. The « white » day was celery remoulade, chicken in cream sauce, steamed potatoes, camembert and rice pudding. The « red » day was raw beet salad, chili beef, rice in tomato sauce, yogurt with berries, and red plums. The « green » day was iceberg salad with green olives, fish in sorrel sauce, peas, chevre (guess there’s no green cheese out there), and green grapes. Etc. You get the idea.
For my part, as we tend to cook a majority of meals vegetarian, I try to do tofu on Mondays for lunch and a crock pot vegetarian soup for dinner, and veggie burgers on Tuesday, or a chicken from the rotisserie and then a soup from the carcass. Not having been much of a cook for most of my life, I’m still learning myself. I hope that you will both be brought up with an appreciation and respect and enjoyment of food.