Dietitian Kate Wengier from Foost and I recently sat down over a delicious lunch to discuss food, nutrition and feeding kids. We talked about the confusion that health messages send to us all and how difficult it makes feeding children! If you are Fed up with Feed Time, FFS, then this is for you!
MF: “In France, the food culture is so different. When it comes to meals we serve food in the middle of the table. We are big on manners and sitting down together, probably that matters more than how much or what you eat”.
K: “So it is part of your culture to eat family style and follow a division of responsibility in feeding. In Australia, I think feeding cultures are really mixed, with many families serving up plates. But in Australia there is a lot of parental control in feeding (over quality and quantity). I’m so tired of the pressuring health messages here in Australia like the traffic light system (green = everyday, orange = sometimes and red = occasionally. It’s all very subjective.
Health messages can Complicate Feeding
MF “Yes, you are right. I think these are confusing people. Now everyone’s a nutritionist, judging what everyone else is eating. Parents are under pressure to get their children to eat certain foods, they can see what’s left of the plate. They are so stressed out dealing with fussy eaters. Of course in France we receive similar health messages, but our eating culture prevails over nutrition messages. We serve food from the centre of the table, so if children eat limited vegetables to start with we are not so fussed. We know they will come round.
K: “And what about fussy eating and obesity rates comparing France to Australia?
MF: “The rate of obesity amongst children is about half in France. As for fussy eaters, french children are as likely to become fussy eventually but the French culture is very effective in supporting parents.
k: “So, if current health messaging worked, shouldn’t we both be out of a job?”
Cooking is linked to better long term health outcomes
MF: “The current dietetic based approach to eating: looking at one’s plate and assessing it for nutrition puts pressure and confuses people rather than supports them. Did you know that a poor American woman who cooks is likely to be healthier than a wealthy woman who doesn’t cook?”. There are quite a few studies linking cooking one’s food to better long term health outcomes.” Cooking is also a very effective tool to teach children about eating.
Eating for Nutrition or Intuitively?
MF: “To me what is interesting is looking at why and how we eat. So the eating culture in France has for a long time been centered around structure and pleasure of eating. If you look at statistics you will find that most of France is at lunch or dinner at specific times. So that’s structure and there isn’t room for grazing. It means at mealtimes, you listen to your appetite, it helps you choose from the offerings. I think on this basis the French are intuitive eaters.
K: “That is very interesting Marie-France. There is just so much pressure and judgement here in Australia on parents that their children are not eating enough “healthy food” that we are forgetting we are raising future eaters. We are very focused on the what and not on the how. We are currently not teaching food and nutrition intuitively. And young children, and most adults for that matter, cannot comprehend these nutrition messages. I love the French approach.
Eating with Food Beliefs
K: “Do you think that telling people what to eat works?
MF: “So years ago I remember walking into a patient’s room back in France. I said “can I come in I am the dietitian?”. The man replied “I don’t want you to tell me what to eat”. I think in these two seconds, I learned everything I needed. For French dietitians, beliefs ought to be respected, what one person eats, what they believe, is sacred to them. You have to work with those parameters. Judging how people eat or making them feel inadequate as they feed their children is a mistake.
K: “It’s really respect for each other. Simple cooking, relaxing more around food and eating family style. So Marie-France what you are saying is food is more than fuel to the French?”
Eating with Pleasure and Conviviality
MF: “Yes it’s about pleasure. Pleasure of eating is based on cooking a variety of foods to provide satisfying meals. However it is also about the company you keep. For the French meal time is still shared with colleagues, friends or family and children share in the conviviality. Kate, thanks so much for meeting with me. I know you cook for a large and busy family and you sell wonderful books and kids’ safe knives. I would love you teach me one of your favourite recipes. Then we can sit down and continue this conversation over another meal…”
A few days later Kate came to my house with her little helper, Lily, stay tuned for the video of her simple super tasty recipe.
Kate is the founder of Foost and a dietitian that believes nutrition should be simple.
As a busy mother of four, Kate understands the stresses of life, work, family and staying healthy. Author of 4 books, she has been inspiring healthier families for over 15 years and is a regular guest presenter on TV, radio and blogs worldwide.