Le Billon, a UBC professor and author of French Kids Eat Everything, spoke at a public event in Hamilton on Monday night to share her tips on expanding the number of foods children will eat. Her new book Getting to Yum lays out a plan — or as she calls it “a simple flavour ladder” — to get kids eating like adults by the time they hit grade school.
CBC Hamilton spoke with Le Billon before the event to get some of her top tips for nurturing young eaters.
1. Ditch the term ‘picky eater’
“You don’t label your child a picky eater, they are a learning eater,” Le Billon said.
“It’s a lot like learning to read — it’s a skill that they’re going to learn. Some kids are going to take longer than others.”
In her approach, based heavily on a French expertise, kids start with flavours like leeks and tomatoes before moving on to complex tastes like bok choi and grapefruit.
2. Be persistent
So, how long will it take? Le Billon’s research shows children may need to taste a food up to 12 times before they accept it, so parents need to have patience when trying out new ingredients.
“If they’re not liking it, I’d encourage parents just to say to the kids ‘that’s OK, you just haven’t tasted it enough times yet.’”
3. Embrace adventure
“I have in my kids lunches for example a surprise box, and they never know what’s going to be in it that day,” Le Billon said.
“Sometimes it’s a fruit, sometimes it’s a veggie, sometimes it’s a piece of dark chocolate to liven things up … there are ways to make this playful and not something that’s pressure-filled.”
Other ideas: let your child choose the cheese that goes on their pasta. Challenge them to pick out a new vegetable to cook. Or let them choose a meal for the family.
“Kids love it when they get to pick and be a little bit in control,” said Le Billon.
4. Don’t spend so much
Healthy eating can be an expensive endeavour, but not if your children learn to like simple, real food, Le Billon said.
“It’s not about spending a lot of money. Processed foods cost more than real food equivalents by unit of calories and unit of nutrients. That’s why it’s really great to teach your child to love lentils.”
Lentils, Le Billon explained, are inexpensive and delicious if prepared well. They’re also, she admits, “what I survived by undergrad at McMaster on.”
5. Skip the ‘nutritious’ speech
Don’t bother wasting your time trying to persuade children that broccoli is good for them, Le Billon advises.
“You’re not going to eat it if you think it’s nutritious, and gross. You’re going to like it if you like the taste,” she said.
“It’s pretty unusual not to focus on nutrition, but this is precisely what they do in other countries like France where kids eat much better than here.”