The French Snack Attack

So the French are the Cat’s Pajamas when it comes to parenting these days. Not only do they have the rest of us trumped when it comes to general parenting, their kids also eat better.

I have been reading Karen Le Billon’s blog about how the French teach their kids to eat correctly, properly and nutritionally. Her post on snacking hit a cord.

I’m an American living in Rio de Janeiro. That is synonymous with major snack overload.

Every single day I am faced with a different Mom or nanny complaining that their child (or the one they care for) does not eat well! Usually they are simultaneously handing out cookies or crackers while complaining. Big picture, the caretaker is complaining that a child does not want to eat around noon when they are handing out snacks at 1030am. I wonder what the problem is here.

It doesn’t stop there. I hear the same complaint during school pick up at 530pm, while I watch the kids eat pão de queijo, biscoito globos, and other little goodies. I wonder why that little someone doesn’t have an appetite at 7 or 8pm. I don’t know about you but finishing off a bag of anything around that time totally ruins my dinner.

My Mother-in-law is just as guilty of the Brazilian snack trend. She is constantly trying to feed my children when we are at her place, all hours of the day. If they refuse food she fills them up with juices. She has a need to feed my children.

That is the thing, Cariocas love to feed children. They have some deep seeded trauma when it comes to children and eating. The thing that they don’t get is that snacking isn’t actually feeding them. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner is.

I can’t say much as an American. We own snacking. Fortunately I came from a snack free home. I got to snack on a limited basis depending on the situation. On a normal day there was no crap between meals. If I managed to get a hold of something, and my Mother found out, I had to finish off whatever meal I may have ruined solely on principal. We were taught to eat. Of course we had plenty of wonderful homemade cookies to eat in celebration afterward.

Anyway, Karen made one point that really hit me:

“Here’s the French view: there is a difference between feeling hungry and being hungry. No one wants a child to BE hungry. But the French think it’s OK to FEEL hungry. What does that mean? It means being comfortable if your stomach is empty, and being able to wait until your next mealtime–even if you do feel hungry.”

Regardless of my Mother’s efforts, I went into the adult world in the US and snacked my heart out. Because of my build, I never had to diet and the snacking didn’t hurt my figure. That being said, I had horrible eating habits. If I remember correctly, weeks would go by without me consuming a fruit or vegetable. Moving to Brazil fixed that. Being around Mr Rant’s family and their adult eating habits nipped my snacking in the bud.

That makes me wonder, why is it different with the kids here? The only thing I can think of is that snacking keeps the kids happy. Cariocas are not true disciplinarians. They do not like dealing with an unhappy child, ok none of us do but some of us manage to take it in stride.

I have had more than one argument after telling my boys they could not have a cookie at the park. It would ruin their appetite for lunch. What does the Brazilian parent do every single freaking time? They say “oh come on, one cookie won’t hurt. Just let him have it, he is upset.”

I’ll let you guess who I actually end up arguing with in that situation.

The point is, if I parented like that my house would be a dictatorship with an extremely young and irrational leader. I don’t think you should argue or control everything, but I think that food is an important battle… one that I haven’t mastered as of yet.

It makes me wonder, should we adopt the French rule of absolutely no snacking? It is the logical right thing. It is healthier. On the other hand, I love a good snack. I have no problem offering them in reason.

Are we really screwing them over by bending the rules over food?

Where do you stand?


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14 thoughts on “The French Snack Attack

  1. French children traditionally get an afternoon snack, which could be bread & chocolate, a pain au chocolat, ice cream, a piece of fruit or whatever. Still a strong cultural taboo against eating all day long. I like the idea; plus I get tired of French relatives and friends giving me crap for not confining food to meal times…. But with my scrawny 3-year old always clinging to the bottom of the normal-weight range, I don’t say no when he asks me for a banana or an apple between meals, or bunny crackers. We do a regular afternoon snack too, which I try to keep early enough that it doesn’t mess with his appetite for dinner. Otherwise we tend to stick to pretty regular meal times.

    I can’t tell if any of it matters! Nice to have rules and traditions, makes life less complicated, but are we screwing them over to do one thing or another? I don’t know. I do have one counter-example of a thriving French family where the oldest daughter grazed every afternoon from 4 to 8 p.m. and it worked out fine for everybody. So I guess I fall in the “whatever works” column.

    • I read about the afternoon snack. After school was the one “snack” I was allowed too. Seemed more like a 4th mini meal.

      I also agree with whatever works. I let my youngest have a banana as well when he wants one. They usually stay on the dining room table and he can grab them at his desire. It’s fruit…

  2. yeah whoa, there’s no “absolutely no snacking” rule in france. i was a nanny in France for a year and the kids got to have a dessert-ish sncak of cookies or yogurt after their lunch (that they never ate) and then another snack in the afternoon after i picked them up from school (usually a cookie, cracker, BAGUETTE stuffed with a chocolate bar, or a yogurt) at about 3-ish. and it wasnt just the family i nannied for, all the kids would go to the city playground after school with mom or nanny and everyone would eat a snack at about the same time. The thing is how much of it they eat. brazilians are notorious (kids and adults) for way way overeating. now i lived in Paris so i can’t say the same thing for all of France, but my college classmates would usually grab a snack and drink after our afternoon classes finished too. just like a small little plate of sliced salami or something. so the adults did it too. the thing i remember in paris is that most French eat pretty late, so an afternoon snack is necessary since the meal sizes are proper (ie not a giant mound of rice and beans). just what i remember.

  3. I support the french way of eating. They DO snack but unlike americans they dont sit on the couch and house a whole bag of cheetos in one sitting. Not to mention their main meals, while often containing extremely unhealthy sauces, are about 70% the size of ours. Another thing to keep in mind is often times kids can pound total crap and never gain a pound for years but then the mid 20′s roll around and all of a sudden fat starts sticking to the frame and then they are forced to try and change a bad habit they’ve had for years=hard.

  4. I don’t agree with the no snacking rule…. I feel that’s all I do all day :O But I eat healthier than someone who doesn’t fill their needs and ends up eating crap. A handful of nuts hear or a piece of fruit. Nothing wrong with keeping the metabolism going strong.

    My little one is also very fond of snacking all day long but she eats super healthy. In fact the other day at the park while all the little Brazilians were being fed Cheetos, she was eating frozen carrots and actually started crying because I ran out.

    I feel that at young ages snacking is important because it allows for a huge variety in diet when kids are supposed to be exploring textures and tastes.

    Anyway that’s just my view. I feel that no country is better and everyone has their vices. All we can do is lead by example when feeding our kids. If you as a parent eat like shit then your kid is going to want to eat the same thing you eat.

    It’s time for parents to own up to why their kids eat terrible. It’s not your country. It’s not snacking. It’s taking the easy and fast way out :(


  5. My friend had the best rule for her two children. They can eat fruit, anytime of the day. Whenever. But anything else they have to ask permission, and she usually said no. Now the kids are in highschool, so they rarely eat chips and what not (I know — I have seen them out of the house with friends, as well). They just grab fruit. These two boys eat well for their meals and LOVE fruit. I think snacking isn’t bad, it is the crap we give the kids to snack. I liked that idea of realizing that feeling hungry and being hungry are two different things — something I am still learning.

  6. Well, I suppose that we snack less than americans an more than french but it’s recomended that you eat every 3 hours, you just have to watch what kind of snack it is and the portions. A fruit or a glass of juice is a healthy snack, even one or two cookies might be ok at the right time, the problem is when you trade your meals for snacks…
    What really caught me was the fact tha you mother in law does the same thing as my grandmother did to me, it usually starts with: “she/he is so skinny!” and ends up with some kind of sweet treat being served. Never killed my apetite though!
    I don’t know but I fell like there is kind of an obsession with feeding people – in general. You go to someone house and you better be ready to drink a small cup of coffee and a piece of cake, or a glass of juice, or this jam, or that sweet… Saying ‘no’ will be kind of offensive! I always saw eating as a bonding thing between family or friends, everybody sharing their likes and dislikes, praising each other food. When it comes to your kids though, you should do what you feel it’s right for your kids, because the author of this and that book doesn’t know your kids, right?

    • One time I offended Mr Rant`s Grandmother because I wouldn’t eat any cake. I was pregnant and had just eaten. I was stuffed. Plus Brazilian food was making me sick to my stomach at the time. She kept saying I was too skinny and that I was being too polite in her home. It was a whole thing.

      I agree that the author doesn’t know my kids. I also agree that healthy snacks are ok. I love the fresh juice everyone drinks here.

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