Open the first chapter of Karen LeBillon’s French Kids Eat Everything, and these words from the first paragraph jump off the page: “Ask my children what their favorite foods are, and the answer might surprise you. Seven-year-old Sophie loves beets and broccoli, leeks and lettuce, mussels and mackerel—in addition to the usual suspects, like hot dogs, pizza and ice cream. Claire, her three-year-old sister, loves olives and red peppers, although her all-time favorite is creamed spinach.”
I’d barely cracked the spine (err, fired up the Kindle) of French Kids Eat Everything before I was hooked. The book is a heartwarming manifesto-of-sorts that tells how Karen and her family moved to France and cured her children’s picky eating habits. For one, the book is honest, witty and a few times chuckle-out-loud funny. But it also provides some fantastic take-aways, ideas that can readily be implemented in any home with young, picky eaters.
The food culture in France is radically different from that of the food culture in the U.S. (obesity rates attest to this; whereas France’s rate of childhood obesity is one of the lowest in the developed world, the U.S. boasts some of the highest.), and there’s a lot to be learned from the French methods. Lucky for us, Karen gives some honest, you-can-do-this-too advice for busy moms and dads who want to get their kids to not only try their beets but to enjoy them as well.
During her year in France, Karen perceived a set of unstated, commonly understood rules that set the groundwork necessary to guide young French kids into a healthy relationship with food. These rules form the framework for the habit of eating in France, and Karen suggests that these rules can be applied to help establish healthy eating patterns in North American kids too. From the very first rule—“Parents, YOU are in charge of food education”—the book empowers parents with the confidence and the methods they need to help instill healthy eating habits in their little ones.
And perhaps the best thing about the rules? They’re not ironclad. In fact, rule number 10 (the Golden Rule, as Karen dubs it) states that “Eating is joyful, not stressful. Treat the food rules as habits or routines, rather than strict regulations; it’s fine to relax them once in a while.”
In short, the book is a witty how-to manual that gives advice for curing young, picky eaters with word pictures of the provincial French countryside dotted throughout. It’s a joy to read, and you come away from the pages thinking: I can do that. So if you need a little more help in encouraging your kids to eat and enjoy whole foods, check out French Kids Eat Everything (get the Kindle version here). You’ll be both pleasantly informed and entertained!
The back of the book contains several simple French recipes that parents can whip up in no time. I asked Karen if I could share one with you, and she was happy to oblige. I’m choosing to share this Quick No-Pastry Quiche with you, because quiche is a meal we serve once every couple weeks, if not once a week. I especially love quiche for its versatility; we often throw in an assortment of veggies (broccoli, zucchini, greens) or a handful of herbs. It’s also great with a little ham or bacon. I sometimes double this so we can have a quick breakfast or lunch the next day. In Karen’s quiche recipe, she deliberately leaves out the pastry, which reduces the prep time and allows busy parents to have dinner on the table with less fuss and in no time flat.
Quick No-Pastry Quiche
Reprinted verbatim with written permission from Karen LeBillon
Preparation: 5 to 7 minutes
Cooking: 30 to 40 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6 small adult servings
Easy and quick to make, quiche is a classic French recipe that pleases adults and children alike. Quiche is also one of the most versatile recipes in the French household, as it can be eaten hot or cold, for lunch or for dinner, and works well with any combination of vegetables that you can think of. French families often make it in advance, as it lasts well for a couple of days in the fridge (or even a few hours in the cupboard—my mother-in-law tries to avoid refrigerating her quiche, arguing that it changes the texture). In a pinch, I find that quiche freezes fairly well, although most French people don’t do this. The recipe presented here is the children’s version, which uses a higher proportion of milk and a smaller number of eggs than a quiche intended for adults. The resulting dish is fluffier, less dense, and less eggy, and so more likely to please young palates. For older children or adults, reduce the milk by a half cup, and add one more egg (or play with the ratio of eggs and milk until you find the texture that your family prefers).
Most French cooks have their personal twist on this dish. For a while, my favorite was a ratatouille-style quiche, with eggplant and tomatoes. A quick survey of our extended family turned up as many recipes as there were cooks: zucchini, broccoli, carrots—almost any vegetable you can think of. Chopped or grated finely, most vegetables don’t even need to be cooked in advance.
8 large eggs
1 1/2 cups milk (or 3/4 cup milk and 3/4 cup cream)
Salt and pepper, if desired
1 cup flour
Filling suggestion (These are some of our favorites, but feel free to make up your own.):
Quiche lorraine: 1 cup cubed or sliced ham and 1 cup grated cheese (Gruyère works best, but Cheddar will also do)
Quiche aux légumes: 1 small onion, finely diced, 1/2 cup thinly sliced greens (I use spinach or chard, but not kale, which is too chewy) 1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper
Quiche provençale: 1 cup ratatouille (this is a great way to use leftovers)
Optional: dried herbs such as parsley or oregano
1. Preheat the oven to 325°F. In a large bowl, beat the egg; add the milk (or milk and cream) and mix well. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, if desired. Stirring constantly with a fork or a whisk (to avoid lumps), add the flour a little bit at a time. Mix in the cheese followed by the fillings you are using.
2. Pour the mixture into a greased 9- or 12-inch pie plate and bake for 30 minutes, or until the quiche puffs and starts to brown on top. Cool 5 minutes before serving (the quiche will settle, and you’ll be able to cut it more neatly).
Tip: Changing your quiche ingredients is also a great way to introduce new vegetables: the reassuringly familiar look of the fish may entice even the wariest of eaters.
Note: Take care not to overfill your pie plate, as the quiche will puff up as it bakes. I place mine on a baking sheet in the oven, in case of spills. The quiche will deflate after you remove it from the oven: this is normal! Kids like watching this soufflé effect.
Enjoy, and au revoir, friends! I’ll see you in the next few days with a sample week-long whole foods meal plan, and next Monday I have the first F&C guest post featuring a simple, yet effective work-out you can do at home with the little ones underfoot!