We visit France every year, either we are just driving through or holidaying there. We enjoy French food and we eat like locals as much as possible and absorb the way French do it, including the way French families treat their mealtimes in restaurants.
I never was keen on the idea of children menus in restaurants – all have more or less the same boring and unhealthy stuff. You know what I mean: chicken nuggets, pastas, sausages, chips, french fries etc. This kind of food we hardly eat at our home, well most of it anyway and it implies that children can eat only limited types of food and anything outside comfort zone will cause riots and spoils a family meal.
I wonder why and when it crept in; is it the way our children eat at home or at schools rather? Why restaurants do not or stop offering smaller plates of adult meals? Maybe we are lazy adults who do not venture to offer kids wider array of food to try because munching those nuggets keeps them quiet and occupied? Children are often branded fussy eaters. Well, they could be, but they will warm up to things seeing parent trying it out, cooking variety often and being adventurous while eating out.
I admire how French take their cuisine seriously, the meal is sacred time and it should be real food. So school meals are not the same affair as school lunches in the UK. And as we found out the French kids menu are not the same story as across the Canal La Manche.
In our family, we do not pay much attention to children menu, even when insisted upon by waiters. We usually choose a couple of things to share with children and extra plate if needed. Sometimes, we specifically ask for a smaller version of the chosen dish. In that way, the children eat real things and develop their own particular preferences. Of course we do take into account what our children like or do not like, but we do not shy away from challenging their taste buds. Our offsprings are not perfect, they might moan or be not so happy about a choice, but most of the times, they end up liking it a lot.
On our last trip to France, our big son found us a lovely restaurant situated by a lake in the old manor house. We sat out on the lovely terrace basking in the evening sun. Madam who runs the restaurant kindly offered us the children menu to consider, which in the first place we rejected.
Having gone through the menu and specials, I cast my eyes on the children menu and I must admit I was pleasantly surprised. No chicken nuggets, but a real chicken fillet served with seasonal vegetables. It seemed like a good option for the youngest one. And no, no French fries on offer!
What arrived on the plate, was an even lovelier surprise. A proper size, real chicken meat accompanied by vegetables mushed and shaped into a vegetable bed, with chunky asparagus, carrot, beetroot, mange tout, pepper and turnip playing a part of instalation. It immediately held the children’s attention. All of it was freshly prepared and disappeared in their bellies quickly. I fell in love with a way the meal was served to cater for children’s natural need of play. They would dissemble vegetable beds, asking what particular pieces were, before sliding them into their mouths.
That dinner was a pleasure and fun, very memorable. Again, French proved to me that family meals are serious matter, where the real food is a must and no one is excluded from cuisine's delights because of their age. You cannot expect adults to develop an appetite for a variety of dishes and foods if you do not expose their young taste buds to it. Bon appetite!