Healthy French Food Recipes

 I am very excited, and honored, to be doing this guest post for Karen. Her work and crusade are so worthwhile. I am a French mom living in LA, raising a 19 months old son, and writing my FrenchFoodieBaby blog about our journey in educating his taste buds and making him a gourmet and healthy eater, the French way. And I’m here to debunk some of the myths and mystique behind French family cuisine, and try to show families that the French approach is much simpler than it seems.

The French way of eating, and their approach to educating children’s taste buds, has definite benefits (including the fact that kids actually enjoy eating vegetables, and have lower rates of obesity). So the next logical step would be for more people to implement and adapt those methods for their family. And a lot of families have indeed been inspired by it, as demonstrated by the great deal of interest in Karen’s book and work in general. But I have found in my interactions with a lot of moms and families mostly in the US, that there’s this ingrained belief that French food is fancy. I say “French-style cuisine” and a lot of people visualize intricate sophisticated dishes, hours laboring by the stove, expensive ingredients… all of which would make it quite impractical to most families, and wasted on young children. (Note that I talk about “French-style” cuisine or “French way of eating”, because I’m not so much talking about what the French eat and French cuisine per se, but how the French eat, the way they approach food and nutrition. You can adopt that approach with any type of international cuisine, and in fact, a lot of French families cook from a variety of cuisines from around the world.)

I started becoming more aware of those preconceptions about French cuisine when I started my son on solids when he was about 5 months old. I was following a Mommy & Me class which happened to be around lunch time, and started bringing my homemade baby purees to class. Soon came the era of finger foods, around eight months, and I started bringing a mini-version of a “4 course meal” for Pablo in class, basically a finger food as appetizer (hearts of palm, green beans, cauliflower, etc.), a homemade protein & vegetable puree, a kind of cheese, and a bit of fruit compote or yogurt for dessert. There I was, thinking I was doing nothing out of the ordinary. And one day, another mom commented on the “gourmet meals” I was making Pablo, and that he was the “best fed baby in LA.”

This same perspective a lot of North Americans have of French cuisine, shows up again when you start telling them what French kids are served for lunch in school. When I first told my husband we were served a sit-down hot four-course lunch, he just couldn’t believe it, rethinking with some nausea about the sloppy Joes, pizzas, stale spaghetti and overcooked burgers he ate in school.

Karen’s brilliant idea to post the menus from French school lunches on her blog, really shows some concrete examples of what goes on every day in French schools, and by extension, what they eat at home too.

I am often asked by busy moms browsing through Pablo’s menus, “How can you do these fancy meals for Pablo every night?” Well, I hate to kill the bubble and gourmet aura around French family cuisine, but I’m here to tell you that it’s just not that fancy. Well… it is, and it isn’t.

If by fancy, you mean that it tastes really good, then yes it’s the idea. If by fancy, you mean some thought and finesse has been put into the dishes that compose a meal, then absolutely. If by fancy, you mean that care was put into presentation and preparation, definitely. That approach is the cornerstone of the French view of food as a pleasurable, worthwhile, sharing experience.

However…

If by “fancy”, you mean I slaved by the stove all day to prepare them, well, that’s…

Myth #1 – French style meals take hours to prepare.

Most French moms work, and are definitely back at work by the time they start their babies on solids, so they can’t spend the whole day by the stove. I found that most family dishes we cook on a weekly basis require 20-25 minutes of preparation with some additional cooking time, during which other stuff can get done.

As Karen has mentioned, studies show that the French do spend on average 13 more minutes cooking per day than Americans, cooking on average for a total of 43 minutes per day. Feeding a family a fairly balanced diet with a wide variety foods, vegetables in particular, doesn’t require a lot more time, but it does require a bit of thinking and effort. I think the French think of “the education of taste” as an important parenting and family priority. They find a way to devote it a little bit of time and effort, because eating well as a family is of value to them, the same way they would devote time to homework, or getting their kids to practice the piano.  

Tip: It is mostly a matter of being a bit organized, by making a meal plan, having some cooked veggies or soup made ahead for the week, and planning on a balance of simple preparations (smoked salmon or canned sardines or a slice of ham, or pan-fried meat or fish, or crock pot recipes) to help keep busy nights stress-free. (If cooking is stress provoking, kids will pick up on it, and it will definitely put a dent on that food/pleasure association in their mind). It is also a matter of accepting to take a little extra time to do it. Trying to think of cooking not as a chore, but as an opportunity to slow down, be in the moment, and do something really good for our family.

If by fancy, you mean that French-style cooking uses hard to find, obscure ingredients for intricate dishes, that’s…

Myth #2 – French style meals are very complex and sophisticated

To the contrary, I would argue a lot of French family dishes shine by their simplicity, from chocolate mousse, with only a few ingredients, to mixed vegetable salads simply tossed together. Most French family recipes are not any more complicated (often less) than making chocolate chip cookies, muffins or pancakes.

One French secret is the way they name their dishes. It always sounds sophisticated. As Karen reported recently, Cornell researcher Brian Wiansick found that using attractive names for foods do make them more appealing. And to children especially. And if you peruse the French school lunch menus, you will see many “fancy” names for very simple dishes. For example, saying “Jardinière de légumes” sounds better than “mixed vegetables”, it gives the image of a garden where the vegetables grew. The French, known to take food very seriously, wouldn’t give foods silly names to get kids to eat them (not on the official school menu anyway), but even the restaurant-like names on those menus might just make the kids feel like they’re important enough to be served “fancy” dishes.

And the dishes also often look sophisticated, as care is definitely given to presentation, for children included. The French really consider that the aesthetics of food is key to children’s education of taste and appreciation of cuisine. All five senses are involved in the pleasure of eating.

Tip: I pick a lot of fairly simple recipes that make their ingredients shine. For that, it is important to choose good quality ingredients and fresh produce as much as possible.

Another secret is the use of herbs and certain condiments to add some subtle flavor to dishes. My mother can’t cook without thyme and bay leaves. Tarragon, parsley, basil for salads. These simple herbs are the “je-ne-sais-quoi” of French cooking.

If by fancy, you mean that it costs an arm and a leg, that’s…

Myth #3 – French meals are expensive

I guess that this is relative to every family’s budget, and certainly the price of food has gone up everywhere. But in our family, using seasonal produce, cooking with fresh (or frozen) foods and planning our menu has eliminated a lot of waste and saved us a lot of money. We’re not talking

truffle and lobster here, but peas, carrots and chicken.

Tip: Finding ways to cook with what we’ve got left in the fridge can lead to very creative recipes and fun meals. Also the advantage of cooking on a regular basis, is great money-saving leftovers. I’m pretty thrilled on an exhausted evening, to find we have leftover watercress soup, mustard pork tenderloin and sauteed apples and onions in the fridge…

In an attempt to illustrate my points here, I picked a lunch menu served last October in a French school in St Manvieu Norrey, Normandy, sharing the recipes with you here. It sounds really nice, but is actually very simple to make, with inexpensive ingredients, taking a reasonable amount of time to prepare (with the possibility of making some of it ahead.) And last but not least, it is really delicious, and offers a wide variety of vegetables in one meal. So why not try it?

Appetizer: Tomato mozzarella salad (not much of a recipe, just slice, drizzle with olive oil, add herbs and serve!)

Main course: Chicken cutlets with “sauce chasseur” (hunter’s sauce, cool name), with jardinière de légumes (this is a fancy name for gently sautéed vegetables)

Fromage blanc (rough equivalent here would be Greek yogurt)

Dessert: Wafer cookie (store bought)

(For a home meal, I would forgo the cookie, give a piece of cheese, and the Greek yogurt as dessert, sprinkled with a bit of sugar or a few berries.)

Chicken fillets with sauce “chasseur”

Serves 4

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time – 15 + 10 minutes

Age for babies: 10-12 months in small quantity, to give a taste of the sauce. The mushrooms make a good finger food.

Note that you can use this sauce with any poultry. You could also serve it with a cut up chicken, or a whole roasted chicken.

4 pieces of skinless chicken (either breast or thigh)

1 lb mushrooms, washed and sliced

6 tbsp of butter

4 shallots, peeled and minced

2 heaping tbsp flour

1/2 cup white wine (or white grape juice, or juice from canned mushrooms, if you want to go alcohol-free)

1/4 cup chicken broth

1 tbsp of tomato concentrate

1 bouquet garni (in a piece of hollow celery rib, put some thyme, parsley, sage, 1 or 2 bay leaves, cover with another piece of celery rib and tie with kitchen tie.)

Salt & pepper

5-6 sprigs of fresh chervil (if you can find it, I’ve had a hard time finding it in LA), stem removed, minced

5-6 sprigs of fresh tarragon, stem removed, minced

Cut the chicken in strips and set aside.

For the sauce:

In a saucepan, melt the butter and sauté the mushrooms. Add in the shallots, and cook for a few minutes.

Sprinkle flour, stir and let it get a bit of color.

Stir in the wine and broth. Add the tomato concentrate, bouquet garni, salt & pepper.

Stir and bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer over medium low for about 15 minutes.

At this point, you can keep warm, covered, on very low heat, while you cook the chicken.

In a frying pan, heat some olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the chicken strips until cooked. Salt & pepper to taste.

Before serving the sauce, remove the bouquet garni, and incorporate the minced chervil and tarragon.

Pour sauce over the meat and serve immediately!

Jardinière de légumes (Mixed vegetables)

Serves 4

Prep time: 25 minutes
Cook time: 35-40 minutes

Age for babies: 8-10 months, the veggie pieces make great finger foods.

I use two magical ingredients here, which make the vegetables taste delicious and slightly sweet: the sprinkle of sugar, and the coconut oil (which is so good for you too). Kids usually love it.
You can add more vegetables or omit some, adjust quantities to your liking. This tastes really great reheated, so you can make a big batch, refrigerate and eat the next couple of days.

7-8 carrots, peeled, diced
7-8 mini turnips, peeled (or 1 or 2 medium, peeled and quartered)
15 small potatoes, peeled (fingerling type, or medium red potatoes, peeled and quartered)
2 handfuls of fresh green beans (or frozen)
2 handfuls of shelled fresh peas (or frozen)
6 pearl onions, peeled but left whole
2 garlic cloves, peeled but whole (optional)
Fresh thyme (leaves from 3 sprigs)
Bay leaf
Coconut oil
2 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sugar
Salt & pepper

In a large pot, melt the butter & coconut oil over medium heat. Sprinkle with the sugar, stir a bit, and wait until the sugar has melted.

Then add carrots, turnips, potatoes, pearl onions, garlic, thyme and green beans. Add salt and pepper, stir and cook for about five minutes over medium heat, stirring once in a while.

Add 1/4 cup of water, and cook on low, letting the water evaporate, stirring from time to time, about 20 minutes.

Add another 1/4 cup of water and the peas, and let cook until the water is almost evaporated and vegetables are tender, about 15 minutes. (There should be a little “sauce” in the bottom, a treat to soak it up with good bread!)

Bon appétit! And I’d love to hear your thoughts, if you do try these recipes and this multi-course meal!

A warm goat cheese salad, & 8 tips for an enjoyable restaurant meal with your kids

Life can be such a whirlwind, even if that whirlwind is made of lots of in-the-moment moments and exciting new collaborations. Such was this past week for me, with a few days camping in the wilderness completely offline (will share more on that soon). Also I was thrilled to have a couple of guest posts on two of my favorite (albeit completely different in theme!) blogs. If you haven’t already seen them and are inclined to do so, there’s one on parenting on Janet Lansbury’s blog, and another about writing on Shanna and Tim’s Food Loves Writing. Very grateful, for these posts brought in a lot of new followers, so if that’s you, welcome!

For this new installment of my Summer Goat Cheese Series in collaboration with Vermont Creamery’s Kids & Kids Campaign, I wanted to share a version of the French restaurant classic: the salade de chèvre chaud (warm goat cheese salad). Most restaurants, cafés and brasseries in France have it on their menu, it is what the French would consider a “run-of-the-mill” first course (or main course for lunch). This is also a dish Pablo LOVES, and which I would order for him in a heartbeat in a restaurant, as I think would a lot of French parents for their kids (or themselves for that matter.)

This is giving me an opportunity to write a somewhat practical post on taking kids (including infants and toddlers) to the restaurant.

One of my favorite connecting time with Pablo is when the both of us go out to lunch once in a while. We have taken him out to eat with us since he was a couple of months old, and continued to do so every so often since then. Between 6 and 12 months, I would bring his food with me (I would pack some vegetable finger food as a first course, a puree for the main course, some cheese and a yogurt for dessert) and give him a taste of what we were having depending on what it was. After 12 months, Pablo started to eat pretty much the same as us, I could easily just order for him from the menu.

Probably one of the greatest unspoken French rules of eating, is that a meal should be thoroughly enjoyable. If it is stressful or rushed, it feels like a waste. On recent trips, and as Pablo is at the height of toddlerhood (27 months now), I have been very grateful and so happy to see how great he is when we take him out to eat. He loves it, he stays at the table and is fairly well-mannered (the walls usually remain clean when we leave!), he eats heartily and with interest. I can relax and enjoy the meal with minor adjustments here and there.

A lot of people have witnessed this and expressed great surprise, and have asked me what my secret is. I never thought of it as a secret, but thinking back on it, that thoroughly enjoyable meal with our children has a few preconditions. Here are eight strategies and tips that have worked for us:

1 – We eat together as a family on a daily basis

So sitting down together for a meal, and eating the same (real) foods as us is nothing out of the ordinary for Pablo. It makes sense that children that are most often fed alone, before the grown-ups, wouldn’t do too well sitting at the table in a restaurant for a while. I’m really big on the family meal for many reasons, this one included. Plus, when children are fed separately, their meal is usually much faster than a family meal would be. (I’ve actually noticed on a couple of occasions where I ate a meal without Pablo, how much faster I eat then. Eating with him, encouraging him to eat slowly and mindfully, and being engaged with him during our family meals has helped me to slow down my eating greatly too.)

I should add also that thanks to a few strategies practised over time, our meals, at home or at the restaurant, are mostly sans power struggles or boundary testings, which is a blessing.

2 – We eat in courses at home

Just like at a restaurant. Pablo is used to eating a first course, then wait a little bit before the main course, then cheese and fruit or yogurt for dessert if desired. I’ve talked about the many benefits of eating in courses in this very popular post. This is definitely an added benefit. When we go out to eat, the waiting factor is a non-issue. While we wait for the food, we have a nice little conversation about what we ordered and how the chef in the kitchen is preparing it, that usually gets his imagination going. Or we people watch, Pablo loves that too 🙂

3 – We engage him as an integral member of the meal

If we go out with Pablo, it is to have a nice meal with him. Otherwise, we go out without him, which we sometimes need to do and that’s fine. So I always make sure he’s part of the conversation, like any person you would have dinner with. This is definitely a time to connect. (When you think of it, how rude would it be to go out with someone to then proceed to have private conversations that exclude them?)

4 – He’s used to real food, and a wide variety of it

Forget kids’ menus. In most restaurants I’ve been to, they are a crying shame (as is the idea of kids’ food, in my opinion…) So I always order on the regular menu for him, and we share some of our dishes with him. The portions are often so big anyway, it works out perfectly. For example, recently at The Black Cat in Cambria, I ordered the celery root cilantro soup (which inspired this post) to share with him along with a couple of appetizers for us, and we shared our entrees with him, so he could get a taste of everything (which he loves).

The fact that he eats just about everything is a big factor as well, due to the fact that he’s been exposed to a wide variety of foods (vegetables, meat, fish) since 5 months old and especially during that golden window 6-18 months roughly where infants are so willing to try new foods and put just about anything in their mouth (a crucial period to steer away from kids’ foods). Even if he were to reject anything new now (which is not the case), he’s already tried so many different things these past two years of life that I would be hard pressed to find a (real) food he hasn’t already had. So no matter where we eat, there will always be something he will enjoy eating.

5 – He’s used to mindful eating

I usually avoid distractions at the table, so the meal is an end in itself and a pleasurable experience deserving of our full attention. Same goes at the restaurant. I definitely avoid all screens across the board (I will admit seeing kids or adults focused on their phones or other screens at the table drives me crazy). If there are television screens in the restaurant, I try to ask for a table away from them (or better, choose screen-free restaurants!)  I might bring a small book or a crayon or two if the meal or the wait get a bit long.

6 – We go at the right time

I try to have realistic expectations, i.e. make sure Pablo’s not too tired, that he’s had a good afternoon nap or good night sleep if it’s lunch out. Also I try to make sure he’s had plenty of independent, self-directed play prior to the meal so he’s relaxed and ready to connect (but not overtired). And we go early enough so he doesn’t start to fade mid-meal. At home, we usually sit down for dinner between 6:45 and 7p, when we go out, we try for 6:30-6:45 to have plenty of time to enjoy the meal. I also make sure he’s bathed and in his pajamas when we go (or for a fancier meal, I bring his pajamas with me and change him at the restaurant after the meal). Thus the meal is the last, relaxing event of the day for everyone.

7 – We make sure he’s hungry


Snacking is very limited in our household, so the family meals are enjoyed fully and eaten with good appetite. Pablo has an afternoon snack (usually pretty light, he doesn’t seem to get that hungry) between 4:30 and 5pm. If we go out to dinner, I might offer it a bit earlier to insure he has a good appetite.

When we get to the restaurant, we also try to limit eating too much bread before the food arrives. (Bread is never served first in a French restaurant typically, but to accompany the meal in reasonable quantity, definitely not the thing to get full on when you’re most hungry.)

8 – Choosing the right restaurant


We don’t necessarily go for the typical “family-friendly”, as it can mean a loud environment. So first we choose a restaurant where we enjoy the food (seems obvious, but my point is that that takes priority over being “kid-friendly”.) We also try to go to restaurants that do have high-chairs or boosters: Toddlers tend to get fidgety and expecting them to sit still in a booth bench for example, is unrealistic, they’re bound to want to slide around, jump etc.

Also we choose restaurants that are not too loud. I found that Pablo gets tired and over-excited and stimulated fast with a very loud place (as we do.) So a place that lends itself to conversation is best (though since we usually go earlier than the crowds would, that often works out).

There you have it! I hope this is helpful. Would love to hear your tips and feedback!

In the meantime, enjoy this warm goat cheese salad, and if you want more information about Vermont Creamery and the Kids & Kids Campaign, check out their Facebook Page and Pinterest page too. As good as this salad was, their cheeses are so scrumptious I always enjoy them most pure, from the tip of my fingers 🙂

Golden Beet Warm Goat Cheese Salad, with Sorrel Almond Pesto

Serves 2/3

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 45-60 minutes

Age for babies: 8-10 months, the pieces of beet topped with warm goat cheese make a great finger food.

Lamb’s lettuce (mâche) (or other lettuce of choice, watercress would do nicely too)

2-3 golden beets

For the pesto dressing:

20-25 leaves of sorrel (or other herb of choice, or use the beet greens – see note below)

2-3 tbsp sliced almonds

Olive oil (I used 1/2 cup here)

Juice of half a lemon

Salt & pepper

Preheat the oven at 450°F. Cut the greens off the beets, give the beets a wash and wrap them individually in foil. Place in a baking pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until tender when you prick them with a knife. 

When done, remove the foil and let them cool. (You can do this a few days ahead and just have the cooked beets in the fridge, ready for salads etc.)

Make the pesto: Combine the sorrel leaves and almonds in a food processor, and add the olive oil progressively until you obtain a thick but pourable dressing. Then add the lemon juice and season to taste. (You will probably have leftover dressing, which can be used on any salad).

(*Note that you can make any other kind of pesto dressing of choice here, check out this awesome one from Food Loves Writing)

Peel the beets and cut medium thick slices lengthwise. 

Preheat your broiler at 500°F, and place the tray at the top position, close to the heat.

Prepare your plates: put some mâche in each plate, add a little dressing on top (alternatively, you can put all the mâche in a bowl and toss it with some dressing prior to plating).  Place a few slices of beet on top of the mâche.

Then take the cheese out of the fridge and cut thick slices lengthwise with a knife or cheese wire cutter if you have one (one Coupole makes 3 to 4 thick slices).

Place the slices of goat cheese on a non-stick baking pan, or on parchment paper in a baking pan, and broil for a few minutes, until it starts to get golden. (Watch this carefully, it melts fast! It should only take a couple of minutes).

Place the warm goat cheese slices on top of beet slices in each plate, top with a little pesto dressing, and serve immediately.