In France, meals are extremely important. There’s a kind of ritual, a tradition, that most of us try to preserve, because we need those moments when everyone is gathered around the table, eating delicious food and sharing histories and talking about what we’ve done. We cannot imagine eating without the kids, or letting them leaving the table whenever they want. So, this is how a meal is supposed to be taken in France.
- While mom (or dad) is cooking, the kids prepare the table. Obviously, when they are toddlers they do not participate here. However, you may start asking your child preparing the table when he is two, with his own plate and cup. When he’s older and more confident, when you feel like he can hold things without breaking them, there’s no reason why he cannot help anymore. For us, it’s important that kids help their parents. That part gives them a (small) responsibility, they are involved in the process. What’s more, it is not in our mentality to have kids doing nothing in the house, with his parents at his service. Every one should participate, that’s it.
- When the meal is ready, “à table !”. Let me explain. “A table!” is an expression that one of the parents kind of cry out when he wants the kids to sit around the table. When they hear the sound, everyone is supposed to stop what he’s doing and to come quietly (or not, as a kid I use to run downstairs, more specifically when the meal was one of my favorite). Everyone is on its chair (most of the time you have your own place, and you are not supposed to sit elsewhere). When everybody’s on their chair, mom or dad bring the plate (always hot, we hate eating cooled food).
- “No, sweety. It’s not disgusting, you just don’t like it.” Langage is extremely important, and French parents try to teach their kids early to be careful while talking about food. You don’t want them to say to their grandma or their aunt that the meal she prepared is disgusting. So, “It’s disgusting!”, “That smells bad” … become “I don’t like it” or “I am not that hungry” etc… It’s a long training, believe me. During those meals, your kids will also learn the table etiquette. For instance “Hands on the table” (when your hands are under the table, it’s not polite here), “Don’t put your elbows on the table!”, “You are not allowed to talk when you’ve got food on your mouth!”… It’s long, a long journey, but in the end, when your kids act like they are supposed to during a dinner with the family or guests, you are extremely proud !
- “We don’t spoil food, finish what’s on your plate”. I guess that’s the difficult part. You’ve cooked the meal, a balanced meal, with enough vegetables, carbs, a good piece of meat or a delicious fish, served with an exquisite sauce. You spend time cooking, even though you were tired because of work. You are proud of what you’ve done. You put everything in your progeny, then add a “Bon appétit” and expect every one to eat with delight, and expect congratulations. But instead, little monster look at the dish with a weird expression on his face, and seems to refuse to eat. Ok, keep calm. “Cupcake, I want you to try before saying that you don’t want to eat it.” When he finally tries, he refuses to eat more. So, you can choose to give up (Okay, you don’t want to it my delicious food, FINE! You won’t have anything else! That’s your problem young boy, not mine !) or wage war (not recommended by Parenting magazines, because it could traumatize your kid and trigger a “phobie alimentaire”. But most of the parents do wage war, because 1) you made this dish, your pride is threatened 2)you don’t want your kid to go to bed without eating, cause you’re a good mom! 3) the kid must understand who commands here !
- “Can I leave the table, please mommy?” Kids are not allowed to leave the table if they don’t ask for the permission. That’s the rule. Even if your child has finished his dish long before you, he can’t leave. While he is waiting, he can’t play with his silverware (or worse, with toys – NO TOYS ON THE TABLE). He may discuss with everyone (but he cannot interrupt his parents conversation and cut them off). Of course, when he can finally leave the table, the child clears his stuff.
This is grosso modo how things are supposed to happen here. I try to respect that, and I taught my daughter early how to behave during the meal, because I don’t want her to be rude, I want her to participate, to discuss with us, and I don’t want to spend my energy on screaming or fight with her because she refuses to eat or to stay on her chair. Things were easy with her, she got it pretty quick. The only thing that may be problematic is the étiquette. Sometimes, she is testing us, speaking with food on her mouth, putting her elbows on the table (5 time in a row while we said STOP) etc… But in the end, I can say that I am extremely satisfied by her attitude, and when we are invited somewhere, we’ve got a lot of compliments, so I guess everything was not in vain !