We recently enjoyed a visit from a Parisian friend and her 13-month-old, and the baby’s meals struck me as very French. Our own child was never so lucky. We moved here when our kid was three months old, and I pretty much relied on family and friends back in the U.S. for advice. When I started to make friends here, I realized that the whole baby thing was different, but this was many years ago and I had mostly forgotten about it.
The biggest difference is that French baby foods are marked by time of day. Protein is for midday and never in the evening. I vaguely recall French moms telling me this back in the day. I searched around a bit to see whether baby foods sold in, say, the U.S. were marked for evening or whether nutritional recommendations said anything about protein in the evening, but I found nothing (which doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist). I considered calling up a pediatrician, but (1) they don’t have time and (2) there’s a broad range of advice out there. My friend, in fact, was horrified at what her friends feed their children of the same age–cereal in the formula to get the kid to sleep at night, sweets, etc. All I can say is that if there were only one way to raise a child, there wouldn’t be 7 billion people on the Earth today.
There are two arguments about protein at night: that too much protein is taxing on the kidneys, which are delicate at such a young age, and that protein is hard to digest and will disturb sleep. The latter argument also applies to adults, and in fact quite a few of my friends have supper (souper) of soup. And that’s it. They eat a big meal at noon, not at night. All the ones who do this are very trim and fit, by the way, even though they are retired.
Another thing is that French kids don’t drink milk. Babies get formula in bottles, but when they get bigger, they might have hot chocolate with milk for breakfast and that’s it. In France, McDonald’s Happy Meals don’t have milk among the drink choices, but it’s typical in the U.S., even in school lunches. French kids are expected to drink water (and yes, there exist French parents who give their kids juice and sugary sodas).
And then there are the menus for babies. Get a load of these:
Navarin de petits légumes, agneau français–a kind of ragoût with lamb and “small vegetables”: carrots, potatoes, butternut squash and mushrooms. This was marked for lunch.
Patate douce, chataigne, pintade fermière du Poitou–sweet potato, chestnuts and guinea hen from the Poitou department. Also for lunch.
Légumes verts, panais, boulghour–Green vegetables (peas, broccoli, carrots, zucchini, coriander), parsnips, bulgur. For evening.
Douceur de panais, carotte des Landes, polenta–sweetness of parsnips, carrots from the Landes department, polenta.
Other evening meals included broccoli, green beans and rice; and fondue of carrots, sweet corn and quinoa.
Seriously, when is the last time YOU ate parsnips?
The snacks included apple with chestnuts; apple with quince; and mirabelle plums with apple. For the all-important quatre heure–four o’clock snack.
My very clever friend orders the Babybio meals online and has them delivered–smart move to not have to carry groceries in Paris. She even had some delivered here.
To refresh my memory, I strolled through the baby aisle at the supermarket. The shelves are marked by age AND there’s a separate section for evening meals.
All I can say, is these kids eat well. I wouldn’t mind Basque-style poultry with vegetables myself!
So: similar? different? surprising? not?