French Kids Eat Everything

 

I know. I know. Discussions about French children, and their behavior, are everywhere right now (including on this very blog). Obviously, it’s a topic I’m curious about while we’re living here in France, so I hope you’ll indulge me. The other day, I heard about a book called French Kids Eat Everything. It’s written by Karen Le Billon, and it comes out in April, so I haven’t read it yet, but the title reminded me of something my children reported — that during school lunches the French kids eat everything on their plate. At every meal.

In several cultural guidebooks, I read the same thing is true for adults — that it’s considered rude not to finish everything on your plate at a restaurant or a neighbor’s home.

At our home, we don’t have the finish-everything-on-your-plate-official-rule, but since we’ve moved here, I notice that my kids do clean their plates. It seems to be a habit they’ve picked up. And I confess: I like it. I feel like they’re more considerate about how much food they serve themselves, knowing they will finish every bite. They seem to be more aware of their portions.

What about you? Do you have any official or unofficial food rules at your house? Do you ever leave unfinished food on your plates? Were you a picky eater as a kid? Are you still one as an adult?

P.S. — Drawings by the lovely Sarah Jane — she illustrated the whole book.

112 thoughts on “French Kids Eat Everything”

  1. Out of curiosity have they changed their snacking habits as well? My kids aren’t particularly big on snacks, but I’ve noticed the days when they don’t snack between meal times is when they clean their plate as well.

    I’ve enjoyed the discussion. It is a fascinating subject.

    1. Oh man! That could be a whole other post. My kids definitely snack differently than their French friends. We have a very open-door kitchen. At any time, my kids can go in and find an apple or slice of cheese, or grab a handful of pretzels. But our French friends only eat at very specific times — and pretty much always while sitting at a table. My kids (and myself) might sit at a table, or, we might wander around the house while snacking on an apple…

      1. Yes, our (Swedish-French) family experience is the same with snacks. You eat at mealtime and snack times & never “grazing.” When we visited the US with small tykes, I admit that I was always surprised with all of the “extra” stuff (pre-package snacks/if even healthy) we would be offered as we’d do our normal days out with the kids — sometimes even the extra “Sippy cup” with water for the hike to the market, felt like it actually stirred up a hornets nest. We were definitely perceived as the family “camels” — taking drinks of water BEFORE we’d leave the house, etc & eating more substantially at all designated meal/snack times. I also don’t insist that we clean the plate, but do encourage (with help of French school) trying everything & taking smaller portions so that task of a clean plate, isn’t intimidating and due to this, our kids are well rounded eater. (but children! they do have every changing palates…)I agree with you… so interesting! I love hearing about your family experiences in France — such a wonderful experience for your family

  2. We have a “gotta try it once” rule. Our children don’t always love all the things on their plate, but if they at least try it, I know they are open to the possibilities of new foods.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree with this.
      My fussy son now seems to adore mussels as his unfussy little brother adores seafood of any kind (even octopus, which he was initially frightened off in case the tentacles wiggled in his tummy!)
      My kids will now try anything but, strangely, don’t like potatoes. Not even chips (chips are what you USA peeps erroneously call French fries).
      As a Scotsman of Irish descent, I find the thought of disliking potatoes deplorable!

  3. No, we don’t have a eat everything on your plate rule – we have a try it once rule, if you don’t like it you don’t have to eat it.
    I was forced to finish my plate as a kid – being reminded of kids in Somalia that were starving…I still don’t like brussel sprouts because of it. My hubby was forced to finish his plate as a kid and thinks now he needs to finish his and his kids plates, resulting in unwanted weight gain.
    I think finishing your plate can lead to overeating if you yourself did not fill your plate – however, if you serve yourself and know your portion size, then yes to eating your full plate! But NEVER in a North American restaurant ;)

  4. Hmm… Interesting topic! My son is only 8 months old, so I don’t have any ‘Finish everything on your highchair’ rules yet. I wonder at what age the French start teaching their children this? I can definitely see how it could make you more aware of how much you are taking on your plate, understanding that you will need to finish everything.

  5. My mom instituted the “Eat all your food no matter what” rule as I was a kid. Several times that ended up with me throwing up because I seriously couldn’t tolerate the disgusting food I had to eat (i.e., pickles. I’m still not fond of them). So I didn’t make my kids eat all their food, but the rule was “You don’t eat anything else after dinner, even if you’re hungry.” My kids sometimes hardly ate as children (because they were very picky), but I didn’t give in and let them eat cereal or something different (and none of them have died of starvation, I’m glad to say). Over time, they’ve learned to eat everything because as teens they were hungry enough to try things.

  6. Growing up my sister and I ate and liked EVERYTHING. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, you name it. My brother, raised the same way used to gag and throw up at the dinner table from his “no thank you” bite of green beans. He mostly grew out of it as an adult, so there is hope for my own kids!!!

    1. It’s so true that kids are wired differently for food! My oldest, Ralph, is a really adventurous eater. He always wants to try the craziest seafood or the most exotic fruits and vegetables. He couldn’t wait to try foie gras and escargot as soon as we arrived. Ben Blair is similar. But Maude are more reserved in what they try (like their Mom!). We’ll wait and see with the youngest three. : )

  7. Anybody have any tips on how to make this happen for my six year old boy? :) We are having a terrible time getting him to eat dinner and my kids don’t snack much! He just gets grossed out at the sight of most food. He likes broccoli and steamed rice, but we can’t get him to eat much at dinner other than that.

    1. My first thought is that it would have been better to start before he was 6 :/ but that doesn’t help you now! I would 1) reduce the offerings of rice & broccili, and 2) require that he tries something new, at least one bite, and make surebto offer some new things he’s sure to love to build his confidence in yourr selections! My daughter has learned that if mommy says it’s tasty, chances are it really is!

    2. Having kids who are picky eaters is really stressful, especially if you yourself have an adventurous palate. As a picky eater myself, I understand where my fussy kids are coming from with their aversions (even though it’s still maddening), whereas my husband can’t understand why they won’t just try harder! For what it’s worth, I became a lot more open to new tastes as I got older, although I still don’t eat a huge variety of fruit… I expect my kids will get better with age. My kids each eat 6 or 7 vegies and fruits, so that’s what they eat… every day! I mix it up with a different protein each evening. They try new things occasionally at their grandparents’ houses and when we eat out. My sister’s son ate all his vegies with cheese sauce for a long while – maybe that’s an option for your little man? Or just try to get him to eat a banana every day – a friend’s doctor told her not to worry too much about her son’s diet as long as he ate a banana each day! Best of luck :)

    3. Some children truly do have strong sensory reactions to food, not only taste and smell but texture.

      If he is grossed out by the sight of food, maybe it is mixing the food that he can’t tolerate.

      Our daughter is very similar in this aspect. She is 12 now. She eats brocooli, steamed rice, chicken and oranges and milk with a few variations. I decided not to stress about it. She has a balanced diet.

      Children with no other issues, can have sensory food issues.

      Don’t beat yourself up.

  8. I do have that rule at home. I extremely dislike waste. It must be because I’ve lived in third world countries and even though not wasting anything at home doesn’t mean we are giving it to the ones that need it kind of makes me feel like I’m aware there are some out there in need. My daughter also eats anything and everything. I truly enjoy that. I guess the only thing she would pass on is eggplant and I won’t force it to eat it, I just won’t give it to her and avoid waste :) This i a great post. i enjoy reading through comments.

  9. When I was growing up, it was “take what you want, but eat what you take”. For our kids, when they were elementary school-aged, we had the “no thank-you” bite – a small portion of whatever they didn’t like , and they were required to eat that. I explained that I had read a study that says kids might need to try something as many as 10 or more times before they liked it. In some cases, it did work. I think the French approach seems reasonable.

  10. We don’t have it either. My mom always told me to eat or just try the food but if I don’t like it she didn’t force me to finish it. I think it depends on tradition and on a specific culture too.
    Now when I’m an adult I try to finish my meals because as Ana said I hate waste too.

  11. We give our kids VERY manageable portions of the entire dinner. Then we have two rules:

    1. You aren’t allowed to insult the food.
    2. You must finish what is on your plate if you want seconds of anything.

    They are allowed to choose thier seconds from the food on the table. They clear their plates when they are hungry and want more food (most nights) and when I make things they love (pizza, anything with alfredo sauce, homemade “french fries.”)

    Sometimes they don’t eat much at all, but the don’t complain about the options, they sleep fine, and they eat a big breakfast the next day.

    1. We have the same rule – if you want seconds you have to eat everything you have. And when my 9 year old son wants the occasional 3 or 4th helping of the main dish, I sometimes tell him he needs to eat a second serving of vegetables first, just to keep his diet a little more even. He’s not picky and it’s usually not a big deal to him – he just wants more food.

      1. This is basically our rule, too, although we take it a step further. You don’t have to eat everything on your plate–we say if you are full you should stop–but if you don’t finish what you have (or at least 90% of it or so) in a reasonable amount of time, then there are no seconds, and no after-dinner treats or bedtime snacks.

        We had to start this because our 3.5 year old would take *forever* at dinnertime, just nibbling and popping up to play every 2 minutes, and then she wouldn’t eat much and would be hungry later, asking for the treats and snacks she really wanted all along. We make sure to keep it reasonable by giving portions she can easily finish, and giving her tiny helpings (only a bite or two) of things we know she doesn’t really like. Really, she’s a very good and adventurous eater, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t manipulate her way into eating a diet of just fruit, crackers, and marshmallows if we let her.

  12. Growing up my Dad started a “Clean Plate Club”. The idea in general was good: You must clean your dinner plate in order to have any sweets after. I think the downfall was that I wasn’t in control of myown portion…

    So, my Dad would heap food on my plate, I would eat it all and then have dessert. It was really just a catalyst for over eating. Once I was old enough to understand how much food made me full, I was able to pair down my portions and still be a member of the club.

    The great thing was that I always had a really healthy amount of veggies and I was forced to try things that I would likely shy away from.

  13. Hm. This is a tough one. My husband grew up with the “EAT EAT EAT without paying attention to your hunger level” attitude in his house which has really caused some lifelong problems for him. We’re careful not to make a big deal if our kids don’t clean their plates. We’d rather have them stop when they’re full than overstuff themselves. That being said, lessons about portion selection are really important.

  14. We always had a rule if the kids served themselves they were to eat what they took….
    After a couple times of “eyes too big for their stomachs drama”…they learned to put just the right amount on their plates.
    Plus we had a rule…try a little bit of everything before you decide not to like it.
    =)

  15. I got into a lot of food wars with my parents when I was a kid and only really started being a good eater when I was adult and allowed more independence over my choices.

    Rather than forcing our kids to try new foods, we just ask them to give anything about which they are dubious a lick. Being able to test out something without having to commit to eating it seems like a great compromise to me. When they say they don’t like something, I try to leave it there and respect their answer. Both kids are great eaters and willing to try new foods, so I’d like to think it worked!

  16. We have a “Green Eggs and Ham” approach at our house… you never know if you’ll like it {or dislike it!} unless you try it… but you must always try it. I’m amazed at how well this works and how many times my daughter was actually surprised at liking something new {after all, Sam I Am tried it and ended up liking it, too!}.

    1. We do the same thing! In fact, when our twin boys were about 1.5 years old (and the obsession with GE&H began), one of our boys ate something and said, “SAY!” It was hilarious. He knew that’s what was said in the book after the man liked the bite. And so I took it to the next level…when they won’t try something I get a bite ready and say, “Try it, try it, and you may! Try it, and you may, I say!” And they’ll always try a bite after that phrase. One year later, it still works. It’s wonderful.

  17. I grew up with a clean your plate rule but my dad would serve us the same portion as he served himself! In retrospect it was a silly rule; even my dad agrees now. In our house, I start with a small portion to limit waste and then do second helpings if they want more. I think we overeat in the US and its because we have no portion control and associate eating a lot with eating well.

  18. Interesting discussion…I was and still am a picky eater when it comes to veggies. I do try to be good about cooking them for my hubby and son. We didn’t have to eat everything, nor do I make my 3 year old. HOWEVER he does have to eat what I cook for the family. I will not be a short order cook. Thankfully he eats pretty much anything (but is still a total kid when it comes to restaurants- all mac and cheese all the time). I like the ‘no thank you’ rule other commenters have mentioned!

  19. Oh goodness I was a picky eater – no sauce or condiments. Still won’t touch ketchup, mustard, mayo etc. I am a gluten free vegetarian adult now so I guess things didn’t change too much but I enjoy a much more varied diet. The only rule I had with my daughter was that she at least try something, she was great and now at 26, is an adventurous eater and cook.

  20. My fiancé and I were just discussing this last night! We were raised pretty differently in this respect- he had to eat whatever was on his plate, and generally wasn’t allowed to add salt or ketchup. My mom rarely made foods I didn’t like, even though I was a pretty picky child, and if I didn’t like a specific ingredient I could pick it out or eat around it. However, if I looked at a dish and said “gross!” I was served a double portion that I had to finish. Despite these differences, my fiancé and I both love nearly every type of food now- I grew out of my pickiness in high school. He still doesn’t put salt on his food, though…

  21. sounds interesting! our son has sensory issues and eats next to nothing (or so it seems!). we even did 6 months of OT for feeding issues. curious how this method would work with adhd or asd kids who have a hard time with food

    1. i was wondering if someone would bring up the idea of sensory issues. although we started our oldest on a varied diet – picture me all hyped over baby food making and learning how to freeze avocado in ice cube trays – things drastically changed as he grew older. food he was willing and enthusiastic about in the baby and toddler years were no longer accepted. i beat myself up about what he was and was not eating and became fairly insecure in my parenting choices. at 6.5yo, he was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder and aspergers. now we are working through how to approach mealtimes and snacking and variety, but i wish i would have given myself more grace for those difficult years in between. all this to day, i think the above suggestions are good. life sometimes is a bit more complicated. :)

  22. Yes, my parents had the same rule, and leaving food on your plate unless you felt very unwell, was not acceptable. I would love to pass this on to my kids.

  23. Yes, I pretty much always finish everything on my plate- but that’s because my parents raised us to ‘not waste’. Many times I couldn’t chose my portions, therefore- this ‘finish everyting on my plate thing’ has allowed me to gain several unwanted pounds.

    As for my kids, it varies. They’re only 3 and 4 so if they’re hungry and they LOVE it, they’ll eat it all and sometimes ask for 2nds. But I don’t ‘make’ them finish it if they’re not hungry. I don’t want them to develop the same over eating habits I have (and blame on my frugal parents.)

    :o)

  24. The Babby is a picky eater… somewhere there is a photo of her preferred meal. A little bread, a little cheese, a little bit of fresh raw fruit and vegetables. Cooked food, she does not like. At least not cooked food that has one thing mixed with another. She likes her military plate, for sure. We don’t have a clean your plate rule because for so long food was an issue because the Babby was a preemie and needed to gain weight. She’s still tiny, but I don’t want to give her a complex!

  25. There is the name list in France, no?, of the names a child born in France must be named? Is there an equivalent feeling in France about the food one consumes? Could it be that the food is very French, resulting in a national food culture that is easier to embrace than here in America? For instance, with very few exceptions, the food served at schools in America, until very recently, did not have a reputation for being grande cuisine; in fact, far from it. It is easy to see why kids here are picky about school lunches. I have a feeling school lunches and the whole idea around mealtime is much more rigorous in France than here. In fact, at the elementary one school my children attended, the lights were turned out in the lunch room during lunch in hopes of subduing the children into passiveness and help them concentrate on eating their lunch, with the idea of less hassle for the workers and kids who finished their lunches in 5 minutes or less. They were not allowed to talk, not allowed to sit by whomever they wanted. As soon as I discovered that, my children were removed from the school for lunch each day. What kind of way is that to engage with food or friends? It was an awful situation, but one that reflects a certain mindset about our society’s attitude towards food and eating. I think kids pick up on the weirdnesses of our food culture and it translates into all kinds of food drama.

      1. I think Carole is referring to the fact that most French children are traditionally given names from the Roman Catholic saints calendar – every day of the year honours the saints who died on that day. For example, August 8th is the feast day of St. Dominic, so any child named Dominic or Dominique would celebrate their name day, or feast day, on August 8. Usually there is cake involved!
        I’ve also noticed that although French children are given middle names (usually the names of their godmother and godfather), they are never used except for official documents. I explained to my French friend that the more trouble our children are in here in Canada, the more of their names we tend to use! In France, they tend to add a syllable to the end of the name when they are upset with their kids – instead of saying Gabrielle, they would say Gabriell-euh!

        1. i had heard of thi,s that many years ago there was a list of around 100 acceptable names (so kids wouldnt be given terrible names).I’m sure its changed over time, but it is why many french men have the names jean, pierre, Jacque etc. (I’m totally not sure of this by the way as I am australia but I have definatley heard of the ‘french list of names thing’

          1. There used to be a limited number of names you were allowed to give to a child in France, but that very strict rule, dating back to the French revolution, was gradually loosened by new laws in the sixties, the eighties, and then the early nineties.

            Since then, you can name your child virtually anything you like as long as it isn’t ridiculous or in any way detrimental to his chances in life, in which case the person with whom you register your child after his birth can ask a special judge to rule in favor or against that choice of name.

  26. We don’t encourage my daughter to finish her plate. I tell her to check in with her body, and if she’s full to stop eating. She will usually say, “I’m full, but I am thirsty.” And then she’ll drink some water.

    It was the opposite in my home. You don’t waste food. So now I am slowly trying to break that habit of feeling like I have to finish everything– especially when it tastes so good. I already know I am full, but I will continue to eat out of pure recreation. I just enjoy the flavor of food. I am sure in France the restaurants and homes serve meals with appropriate portion controls. I’m working on that.

    I think there could be a balance to serving better portions in the initial serving of food. Then I would feel more compelled to say finish your plate. My daughter does have to finish her veggies if she wants to move on to dessert.

    Thanks for sharing your views on French culture and parenting. It’s very interesting.

  27. I do not have a finish-everything-on-your-plate rule. I actually think it can be harmful because it teaches children to override their natural instincts that tell them when they are full in favor of manners! I was raised to finish everything, and now I have a real hard time stopping eating when I am full, which would be healthier for me. However, if the principle teaches children to take smaller portions (like you said your kids are more aware of now) I think it’s good. I am still serving my daughter’s food for her (she’s almost 4), and I give her small portions, telling her she can have more if she does finish everything, that way I’m (usually) not wasting food. That being said, my daughter is a really good eater– she is not picky at all, so food has never been a battle with her. I can imagine feeling differently if I had a picky child or one who had a hard time eating at mealtime.

  28. Such great comments! And thanks for the great post!

    Many of the ideas mentioned here seem fantastic, and some of them are very similar to the Food Rules that the French use with their children (at home and at school, by the way). The interesting thing is how early they start, for example ‘taste development’ starts as soon as babies start eating solid food. But we didn’t start until my older daughter was 5, and it really worked for her. So it’s never too late!

    The results are evident in the amazing things French kids eat for school lunch (vending machines are banned, and they don’t bring food from home); I blog about these menus every week at the French Kids School Lunch Project: http://bit.ly/wTAMRS. You should see what the preschoolers eat (roast guinea fowl, grated carrot salad, beets…)!

    Seeing my children eat these school menus first incited my curiosity: I began asking questions, to figure out how and why the French teach their children to eat so well. (It turns out there is a lot of science behind their (deceptively simple) approach, too.) And that’s what led to the book.

    Anyway, looking forward to your thoughts on the book, and thanks so much for the post!

  29. It’s pretty much the same here in England. I was brought up to finish everything on my plate, and now at dinner parties it is seen that the guest does not like the food if it is not all finished.

      1. I’d say so, coming from switzerland and knowing that it is so in germany, austria and italy.. but we know, that americans do see it diffrently and usually leave leftovers on their plate, which we understand as: ” I was served more than enough and am grateful.” (or so) but for europeans leftovers mean: “I didn’t really enjoy this food” or “I’m on a diet and I want everyone to know”…both not very uplifting to a host. ;) (but on the other hand, as a missionary in austria I was overfed way to often and wished there were a european uplifting way of expressing to strangers that really.. I had enough..)

  30. I’m very lucky to have a three year old with a curious palate. I’m curious about your experience with allergies and how they’re handled in France, when all the kids eat the same food. Are there any of the “no peanuts” and “no eggs” rules that we have in the US?

    1. Great question, Erin! I hope a French mom will chime in that has more experience. We’ve been here over a year now, and so far, I’ve received zero notes about allergies or forbidden foods from the school. Peanuts in general aren’t a big food here, but eggs are a VERY common food — especially here in Normandy which is the dairy region.

      I’m sure there are kids here with allergies, but I don’t know of any personally.

  31. I have one picky eater who literally has to take her vegetables like a pill – because if given the choice she would eat no vegetables at all. So I do get a bit more strict when there is drama involved at the dinner table but I think serving small portions of food to kids is healthy because if they are hungry for more they can usually get more. But if they waste a huge portion of food it bugs me.

  32. We have 2: the oft-echoed “try one bite” rule. Even if you didn’t like it last time you tried it, you try again every time it’s served. The other is that mom is not a short-order cook. Kids eat the same food as adults. I don’t understand why some people only offer children chicken nuggets, hot dogs, pizza, & pbj….

  33. I live in a household completely different from the one I grew up in. Here, the kids (age 4-5 – also two sets of twins) have no control over portion size and are subject to the “no dessert unless you finish your dinner.” Sad thing is, they would always get dessert anyways so they know they don’t have to eat. Whole dinners are thrown away. They’re also very picky and when grandma isn’t looking, will sneak bologna from the fridge if they didn’t like dinner.
    My parents had let us self-serve. I think it was reasonable because I realized after moving, back at my parent’s house, we were considerate of our other family members and if they were getting enough to eat. We would take a portion we could handle, let everyone else get their fill too, and then come back for seconds if we wanted. Essentially, we learned to “clean our plates” but I don’t look at it that way. I look at it as “not wasting food someone else could have eaten.” Very literally, because I grew up with 11 siblings.

  34. Growing up, my dad’s motto was “take all you want, but eat all you take.” So, we always had to clean our plates. My brother and I both eat almost all foods. We are far from picky eaters. But, now I have a 3 year old who is pickiest person I’ve ever met in my life, and I am at wits end over it. I ate a variety of foods while pregnant and while nursing, so I just don’t get it.

  35. I’d have trouble with the “eat everything on your plate” culture. Growing up, my mother always heaped more food on our plates when we ate our last bites, so I automatically leave just a little bit on my plate (less than a whole bite) to signify that I’m full.
    Do my kids have to clean their plates? No, but I give them very small portions at first, and they must try everything. They are 5 and 3, and I guess at some point soon my oldest will start helping herself to food. I might be more likely to ask her to eat everything she’s taken for herself, but I don’t know.

  36. i am from austria and the table manners seem to be similar to the ones in france. it is considered rude not finishing your plate. i was so surprised when i found out that some parents encourage their children not to clean their plates. it seemed to be such a waste of food! but then again the portions in the us tend to be bigger, so i can see why!

    1. The big portions are especially true at restaurants. In fact, many people order and then take half of the meal home in a takeaway box and eat it for lunch the following day!

      I was here for several months before I realized that takeaway boxes aren’t really done here. Hah!

  37. I was horrendously picky as a child. Not much better as an adult (vegan for years). I honestly don’t know if we had a ‘clean your plate’ rule as I NEVER did. Dinner, for me went for HOURS (always ate veggies, seldom would/could I stomach the taste of meat).

    I now have an 8 month old and I don’t want to pass on my relationship with food to him. I like the ‘lick’ it first approach, he won’t have to eat anything he says he doesn’t like, nor will he have to clean his plate (I never understood this philosophy). I do want him to try new foods. To this end I’m following the baby led weaning approach, and until he decides otherwise he is an omnivore eating a varied & balanced diet.

    My husband is not vegetarian, but doesn’t have the best attitude to food either – snacks the second he’s home from work, always finishes his plate even if he’s full and eats incredibly quickly. this has led to a weight gain that is proving difficult to reverse.

    Great topic, fascinating to hear how it worked/s in other families.

  38. Hmm, I’ve lots to stay on this subject given that I was in France last week! I stayed with a French family, and for them the same plate was used for all three courses – so you really had to clear them! Especially if the first course was soup; at the end of each course you’d use bread to simply wipe your plate/bowl clean.

    In my [British] household, a rule exists whereby you can’t leave the table or have pudding unless you’d eaten everything on your plate. I remember as a child being left by myself at the table until I’d eaten every last morsel, so this isn’t just the French :) However many of my own friends have commented that this isn’t the case for them.

    Cleaning the plate is no indication that all French people are good eaters, either. I once had a French girl to stay who would only eat cheese, chips and meat. She was a nightmare, to say the least – and frequently left her plate half-full.

    From my experience staying with French families, French table etiquette sadly lacks, too. Again, in my household, it’s an unspoken rule that no one leaves the table until everyone has finished, plus you shouldn’t really start eating until everyone has their food. This isn’t the case with any French family I’ve stayed with, I remember one girl once going to mess around on Facebook in between courses.

    From a restaurant environment perspective, I serve at a Masonic Hall, and these kinds of rules apply once more. We’re not allowed to start clearing plates until every last man has put down his cutlery. Wastage is also simply ridiculous. Take a room of roughly 25 gentlemen, they tend to leave ~half a bucket worth of food and about ~two jugs worth of alcohol behind after each meal.

  39. This post is so timely. We have entered a very picky stage with both my 4 and 6 year old. Since we don’t offer alternatives to what is served, 90% of the time they don’t eat dinner. This makes for early and hungry risers which doesn’t thrill me. I guess I just need to stay the course, but it is helpful to hear that I am not alone.

  40. When I was in France, it was explained to me that a big part of the reason that Europeans clear their plate is because WWII is still such a large cultural memory. Many older people remember starving after WWII and going without a lot of food, so it is considered rude and wasteful to leave food on your plate. The other side of the coin, as has been noted, is that portion sizes are small enough over there to facilitate this. You have to eat everything on your plate, but you’re generally not given too much to eat.

  41. Ooo…knew I’d forget one thing! I’ve actually eaten in a French canteen in a lycée (15-18 yrs) and it was mostly self-service, thus one could opt out of a salad starter etc. so mostly all food would be eaten since you could pick what you were eating. The waste food usually is from the hot main meal – there is a slight choice but the veggies never go down well.

  42. I usually clear my plate but my husband never ever does. It drives me a little nuts-I tend to ask him if anything was wrong with his food, because that’s the only reason that I leave food on the plate. I think a key to having a plate-clearing household though is portion control. If you serve smallish portions, its easier to clear them and helps avoid the overeating habits some other commenters mentioned.

    When I lived in France everyone in the village went home for lunch, so I didn’t really get to see the other kids eating ever. Interesting to hear about French eating habits.

  43. I was talking to my sister about this just yesterday. Like many others we have the you-must-at-least-try-it rule, and the “try” must be an actual bite – not just a lick or itty bitty nibble like my daughter sometimes attempts to pass off. I’m a big believer in giving my kids real food from an early age. They don’t get a separate meal just because they’re kids unless we’re eating out someplace and that’s what they choose from the menu. At home they eat what everyone else eats. Even as babies I would puree the veggies we were having as a side and that’s what they usually ate rather than baby food. I think exposing them to regular food as babies and young toddlers has helped my kids not be terribly picky eaters now that they’re almost 3 and 6 and they aren’t usually afraid of trying new things. My kids have an afternoon snack but that’s usually all. I don’t let them snack all day long. We don’t have a clean-the-plate rule but, like a couple of people mentioned, dinner is it. They eat what we’re having and if they choose not to they don’t get dessert with those who do eat it and they don’t get an alternative dinner. We generally eat as a family, though, and I try to put thought and effort into what we eat and am mindful of their portion size.

  44. I recently moved back to America after living in Japan for 10 years. The culture you mention in France sounds similiar to the one in Japan. My kids attended Japanese school there and were taught since preschool to eat a variety of fish, fruits, rice and vegtables. When one of my sons entered elementary school he had trouble eating quail eggs or some kinds of mushrooms. He would bring these home in his napkin. I discovered he would prefer doing that then leaving it on his plate and have the teacher discover he didn’t eat it. She wasn’t mean but it was just a social taboo. Portion sizes are also much smaller there and food prices are more expensive so you are more selective about what you buy and how much. Maybe a good thing.

  45. I was an INCREDIBLY picky child. I’m still slightly picky– but basically it comes down to I don’t eat nuts or seafood. I’ll give anything else a try.

    My parents were (and still are) the type of people who would force someone to eat something they hated out of principles. I don’t agree.

    In our house, you take the “no thank you” bite and give it the old college try. I don’t expect the kids to like everything, but they should at least be polite.

  46. My mother is Korean and we were always expected to eat everything she gave us. Didn’t matter how much it was or if we didn’t like it, we were expected to eat it.

  47. Growing up at my house there wasn’t even a question that you would eat everything on your plate. There was (almost) zero tolerance for picky eaters. Portions were not huge. Seconds only after everything eaten. Milk was served in smaller glasses so we didn’t fill up on it or waste it. Also, if you didn’t like something, don’t make a big deal about it and just keep taking a small bite each time it was served. Eventually you may like it. Which did happen with parsnips! What this taught me? Not to be wasteful, take only what you will eat, not to be fearful of new foods and enjoy trying new things. As well, when dining at someone’s house, eating everything they prepare, makes you a great guest!

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