Children’s Eating Habits in France vs. United States

The way children eat is very different in every country. They are the most different in France and the United States. From children’s lunch at school to dinner at home, they’re diverse. Even the way they take their meals at home and how much they cost are unalike. It’s not arguable that the United States is an unhealthy country, unlike France where good eating habits are learned very early in life and are practiced throughout life.

In the United States the daily public school lunch consists of pizza, cheese burgers, Chef Boyardee ravioli, fried chicken fingers, French fries and it gets worse. Most American students hate the lunch that their school provides, which means as soon as they are able to drive, they leave school and go to the nearest fast food restaurant. “Critics say that school lunches contribute to the fattening of the United States.” (5) The most controversial argument about US school lunches happened when “David Stockman, Reagan’s budget director, proposed classifying ketchup as a vegetable to meet dietary requirements while also slashing costs.”

(5) Honestly, what’s next? American school lunches have to meet the recommendations of the Dietary Guidelines, which obviously is not good enough considering “30% of individuals calories come from fat, and 10% from saturated fat.” (5)

School lunches are so much more different in France. “Many schools already employ their own nutritionist, who works with a parents’ committee to ensure lunches provide a healthy, balanced diet.” (5) “A typical schools lunch in France cost anywhere from E1.50 to E4 a head, depending on region. Poorer parents only pay a small portion of that total.” (5) What we in America serve our children the French consider adult meals, as the French believe good eating habits start early in life. A French school lunch consists of “a starter of grapefruit, followed by grilled chicken with green beans, then a cheese course and rice pudding for dessert. The day’s snack is a tangerine. Once a week chips are on offer but with salmon lasagna, rather than sausage or burgers, while Thursday’s pizza is served with a healthy green salad.” (5) Children are not aloud pop or soda of any kind; they eat all of their school meals with plain water. Vending machines are banned in all primary schools and will be banned from secondary schools in September of this year.

The French have not changed their eating habits in the past ten years. According to a recent survey “French eating habits are still very closely linked to their national heritage of eating good food for pleasure.” (4) Even though they don’t change the way they eat, the French are receptive to new ideas and trends. In comparison to Americans, “76% of French people eat meals they have prepared at home, though the younger generation of singles between the ages of 18 and 29 buy convenience foods.” (4) In France the favorite place to eat both lunch and dinner is in their own home. “75% of the French eat at the family table.” (4) Without any effort, French meals are well balanced. A typical home cooked meal for the French consists of: “a starter and main dish with vegetables and meat followed by cheese and fruit for dessert.” (4)

Americans tend to do things different. Some families follow a traditional home cooked meal once in a great while. Poverty has a lot to do with why so many children grow up on bad eating habits. “Malnutrition can have a devastating effect on motor development in the preschool years. Protein energy malnutrition affects approximately half of the world’s children.” (6) Low income families tend to eat more unhealthy foods due to the cost of expensive foods. Since Americans tend to be fast paced and always on the go, we eat a lot more fast food such as McDonald’s and Burger King.

In America we have a food guide pyramid that we are supposed to follow. It tells us how many serving we should eat a day of the different food groups. There is a special food guide pyramid for children ages two to six years old. For the grain group children are supposed to have six servings. What is one serving of grains? “One slice of bread, ½ cooked rice or pasta, ½ cup cooked cereal or one ounce of ready-to-eat cereal” (1) is one serving. For the vegetable group, they require three servings. One serving is “1/2 cup raw or cooked vegetables or one cup of raw leafy vegetables.”

(1) For the fruit group, they require only two servings. One serving is “one piece of ruit, ¾ cup of juice, and ½ cup of canned fruit or ¼ cup of dried fruit.” (1) For the meat group one serving is “two to three ounces of cooked lean meat, poultry or fish, ½ cup of cooked dry beans, one egg or two tablespoons of peanut butter.” (1) For the milk group one serving is “one cup of milk or yogurt and two ounces of cheese.” (1) And last but least is fats and sweets which you should limit calories from this group.

There is also another pyramid parents can follow for their children. It’s called The Kid’s Activity Pyramid. It tells you what physical activities to do with your child. There are things you can do every day, or just a couple of times a week, it also says what you should be cutting out of your child’s routine. “The things you should be doing every day are playing outside, riding bikes, helping around the house, take the dog for a walk and pick up toys. Things your child should be doing three to five times a week are jump rope, swimming, running around and playing any physical sport such as soccer, basketball, kickball, etc. The activities that children should do two to three times a week are push ups, rope climbing, dancing, tumbling and miniature golf. The things children should cut down on are obvious watching TV, playing computer and video games and sitting around.” (3)

There are many ways parents and caregivers can help children and their development of good eating habits. It starts when your child is born, the best thing you can do for your infant is breastfeeding. “Breastfed infants are less likely to become obese than formula fed infants.” (2) Having good nutrition during pregnancy is also very important. “Nutrition during pregnancy and early life is known to affect the health and development of the new born child. A fetus that suffers intra-uterine growth restriction (IUGR) is more likely to suffer from heart problems or diabetes in later life.” (2) After infancy when your child starts eating solid foods, you should give them as much variety as possible. This way when they grow up they will be willing to eat a different variety of foods and actually want to try them. “It is important to realize, however, that children’s food preferences are learned through repeated exposure to foods.” (3) “Thus, parents and other child caregivers can provide opportunities for children to learn to like a variety of nutritious foods by regularly exposing them tothese foods.” (3)

In conclusion we as Americans need to do something about the way we let our children eat. We could learn a lot from the French and they way they do things. We need to start our children early in life learning and practicing good eating habits. I know many parents who send their children to school with unhealthy lunches, that they prepare at home! It all starts with breastfeeding and the foods parents feed their children in the first years of their lives.