Breakfast of (French) Champions

Adele’s preschool held a breakfast for parents the other day. A couple times a year, parents are invited into the classrooms to see what the kids are up to and chat with the teacher over petit dejeuner. We were asked in advance to bring something and everyone signed up. Standard stuff.

So, given all the praise heaped on the French for how they feed their kids, you’d expect an impressive, healthy spread, right?

Not so fast. Check this out.

See that lonely plastic container of cut fruit? Ours. Breakfast was a veritable buffet of ways not to start a day of healthy eating. Pains aux chocolat, croissants, madeleines, even chocolate cake. Then there were the hot and cold chocolate drinks. Adele was in heaven.

Was this just the rare “special occasion” breakfast? I have learned that most French kids start their days with toast liberally topped with their beloved Nutella. (What’s not to love?) And I’ve written before about the daily 4pm snack: Chocolate-filled pastries, cookies, candy (candy!?) and my personal favorite: the hunk of baguette with a bar of chocolate wedged in the middle. A chocolate sandwich! How great is that?

It has me thinking. How do the French manage it? Their kids do eat incredibly well a table. I’ve seen it myself. They sit patiently at the table, eat all (or most) of what is put in front of them (no matter what it is) and manage to stay put for the duration of the meal. They have one (and only one) snack a day at 4 o’clock and otherwise don’t expect to eat outside their three well-structured meals. (Except breakfast which maybe isn’t..?)

Here’s what I’ve concluded. Because the French place such great emphasis on quality meals (especially lunch) and don’t snack, they feel free to indulge their kids with sweets at snack time or on other “special” occasions. One French mom explained that chocolate, candy and sweets are “un privilege de l’enfance” (childhood privilege) and argued that it’s good for them to indulge in a controlled way. If they know they can expect sweets at snack time, they won’t desire and ask for them at meals and throughout the day. Hmm. Pretty smart.

Of course, none of this really explained the preschool classroom spread. I guess it was deemed a special occasion? I did try to imagine the reception this bakery buffet would receive in many communities in the States. My guess is not very well, especially given what I’ve read recently about banning ice cream and bake sales in places like Brooklyn and Somerville, Mass.

I think it comes down to enjoying things in moderation, whether it be chocolate, wine or foie gras. As with many pleasures in life, the French seem to have this down to a fine art. 

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