My daughter was born in New York and had her first spoonful of rice cereal at about 4.5 months. My sons were born in France, and they started on homemade puréed zucchini and carrots at roughly the same age. Everyone I know in France starts their babies on vegetables and moves on to fruit purées with the cereals coming long afterwards.
The vegetable and fruit emphasis continues into their toddler years where it’s not unusual to begin a meal with a small bowl of vegetable soup purée, or have the entire meal consist of soup with a bit of bread and cheese to follow.
Dinners are often vegetarian with pasta, vegetable quiche, soup, or salad. I learned to love beets in France because when you pair that sickly sweetness with a hard Swiss cheese, crunchy corn, and a tangy Dijon mustard, you end up with a delightful result. You can also add a bit of rice if you want something more consistent. (For more tips try my Easy Dinner Ideas). Or get more French recipe ideas for EVERY meal here.
The expectation to try everything and appreciate a well-balanced meal continues in school. Yesterday’s menu from our public school system was as follows: buttered radishes, sautéed lamb with couscous, a type of French cheese called Vieux Pané, and (oh boy!) chocolate pudding for dessert. You savor each course, one at a time. Another day this week will start the kids out with taboulé, then omelet with green beans sprinkled with parsley, Brie cheese and baguette, and an apple for dessert. This particular day will boast only organic ingredients.
I discovered the concept of eating a meal consisting of just salad through a former French boyfriend. Before that, salad was only a side dish to be endured. But I learned when you pair crispy green lettuce with fillers such as goat cheese, bacon, salmon, avocado, sweet vegetables, and more, you end up with a masterpiece that even the children will scarf down. (See my recipe page below for various salad recipes.)
I’m not saying it’s all perfect. When my kids were young, I tended to follow certain French trends and serve sweet cereals or breads for breakfast, chocolate cookies for the standard 4:00 snack – (we eat dinner between 7 and 8:00 so the snack holds the importance of a meal) – and spoil my kids with candy way more than I ever had as a kid. I’m not saying all French people do this, but it does seem many do. Perhaps they reason that once their kid has had the daily vegetable and fruit quota, they can relax over the extra sugar intake.
I should have stuck with my sugar-free breakfast habits from growing up. Now that my kids are older, it’s harder to wrench them out of these bad habits. I comfort myself with the thought that at least they can attack a salad with gusto.
I think, overall, there’s something to be said for starting a baby on mashed zucchini and carrots, because once they acquire the taste for vegetables, there’s no going backwards. The little guy’s culinary world is only going to get more exciting.
AUTHOR BIO: Jennie Goutet is the author of award-winning memoir Stars Upside Down, and of the children’s book Happy People Everywhere. She is a contributing author to Sunshine After the Storm, and That’s Paris – an Anthology of Love, Life and Sarcasm in Paris. She was a BlogHer Voice of the Year pick three times, and her writing has appeared on Huffington Post, Queen Latifah’s website, Mamalode, BonBonBreak and BlogHer. She blogs at A Lady in France about faith, food, and life in Paris with her husband and three children. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.