Monday, March 22, 2010

Not a juice box in sight

Isla has an unrelenting hatred of the cantine, the lunch room, at her school. I can't blame her really, because it is obvious they want her palate and they want it now, while it's still young and pliable.

But seriously, when I try to get to the bottom of it, I ask her in my most non-threatening voice, why, why, why she complains so much about the cantine, she says:

"Because they always give me yucky food there."

Granted, I have never eaten at Isla's school cantine, but I am having trouble believing her.

One obvious reason for doubting my dear daughter is because she is a bit of a liar.

Another is because, what the French don't know is that Isla already has a very discriminating palate. And by discriminating, I don't mean distinguished. Her palate essentially discriminates against anything that doesn't taste, smell, or look like chocolate, doesn't consist of at least 50 percent sugar, or isn't French fries. All other food is it is basically stupid, poopy, yucky food.

"Ca c'est pas bon! Je n'aime pas!"

In essence, it might be too late for her. She might just be too far gone, too far off keel, despite all that wheat germ I put in her Yo baby yogurts, and all that spinach I still sneak into her pesto, to be righted. Yet, just when I'm starting to fear scurvy or some other sign of grave nutritional deficiency, she turns up at the dinner table and starts shoving broccoli, or Saag Paneer (curried spinach) into her cake hole with fervor.

French schools are known for their, how do I say, superior culinary offerings. Lunch is not so much a vehicle for sustenance as it is an opportunity to learn about the finer things in life. Short of wine with their meal, French school lunches are sophisticated affairs.

The French do not treat children like uncivilized babies whose digestive systems, and imaginations, can't handle anything more savory than tater tots and chicken fingers. Instead, they see children as deliciously -blank slates on whom to test their most daring culinary concoctions, including these:

Among them, at least the things I can kind of translate: lentils, beef curry, celery root remoulade, red cabbage viniagrette, carrots with parsely, steamed leeks with fines herbs, beets and corn, spinach in cream sauce, oriental fish, lamb...

This, for example, tray of moules frites (mussels and fries), artichoke, plain yogurt, none of that neon crap here, and flan, is not something you see being served to four year old's everywhere.

But I've got a feeling Isla's problem with lunch has more to do with the company than it does with food.

"But I don't like being away from Sofie," she says, when pressed. Sofie is her teacher.

"Why can't Sofie come with me to lunch?"

"The same reason I like you to eat lunch at school, sometimes, Isla, Sofie needs a break." (Sofie has 29 four and five-year-olds in her class.)

"Well that's stupid."

Tonight, in bed, she was going on, and on, about how much she hates the cantine and how she cries to Sofie whenever Sofie tells her she has to go, and she doesn't understand why Sofie doesn't just call me when she tells her she doesn't want to go to the Cantine and I said,

"Isla, that's not going to happen! You go to the cantine on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, three days a week, and that isn't going to change, so stop wishing it would be different."

Okay, Mummy," she said, kissing me. "That's very kind of you."

Not only does my girl have a discriminating palate, she's obviously got a rather discriminating ear as well.

For more insight into the psyche of my second- born, along with a story about the boy next door, click here.


Anonymous said...

Nicely written. Good food for thought.

Erin@TheLocalsLoveIt said...

Kids preferences are funny. I can't get The King to eat broccoli but he'll do a shot of wheat grass in a second. Sushi, loves it. Curry too.

Maybe she could take a photo of Sophie in her pocket to lunch.

Steph said...

Oh, my! It sounds yummy to me - sign me up! Of course I like eating anywhere when I don't have to cook it.

That Sophie picture sounds like a neat idea.

Karin (an alien parisienne) said...

"Among them, at least the things I can kind of translate: lentils, beef curry, celery root remoulade, red cabbage viniagrette, carrots with parsely, steamed leeks with fines herbs, beets and corn, spinach in cream sauce, oriental fish, lamb..."

And donuts for dessert on Thursday, lol. Glad to see there is a little evidence of Homer Simpson on Thursday at least! :D

Those are some pretty daring dishes to serve four year olds -- things like moules frites, especially.

I've been hearing about school lunches in France for a while now, since my best friend has been raising her half-American, half-French kids here in France. I'm glad that the school lunches try to train a palate, but Erin is right: kid preferences, even French kid preferences, are finicky at that age.

'Course, my fianc矇's half French kids (who are now young teens) complain about the school lunches, like their older counterparts like to complain about anything and everything. Maybe Isla is just becoming more French in this regard, lol.

I think it is sweet that she has an attachment to the teacher.

Just a thought: is there something else fearful about the Cantine that could be causing some anxiety?

Thank you for yet another glimpse into your lovely family, Besty.

Betsy said...

That is a good idea, about the picture, Erin. She needs a nice little locket with a pic of her teacher in it. Hmm.
I realize I am coming off a bit like mommy dearest in this post with my lack of compassion. I think it is a bit of the girl who cried wolf here. When you live with a child who can whine and complain about the very air she breathes sometimes, it gets hard to decipher what's real from what's not. But I do sometimes wonder what is going on at the cantine and probably should put on my American helicopter parent hat and invite myself to the cantine one of these days. I highly doubt any French parents will be there.

Sarah said...

Hey Betsy! When I read your post, I thought of this other blog I read:

You should check it out! I am an elementary school teacher and I am always curious about what kids eat at school for lunch. Scroll down and check out the post about a school lunch in Japan. Anyway, just thought you might be interested.

Corine said...

Isla you are sooo much like my Ethan...we need to take you both to the Cantine of Willy Wonka ;) I am amazed at how sophisticated the French menu sounds. Here in America I shrug at their selections and remember how I would mold my food into buildings instead of ingesting it. There is a new show in the States with Jamie Oliver who is trying to bring fresh & healthy foods into the American culture. Good luck on that one.

mooserbeans said...

The French prob. have the right idea about food. Lily subscribes to the same diet as isla and would be very upset at the French menu.

Off topic, I love the pictures. The hat is adorable! So cute, so chic, so French:)

mooserbeans said...

Oops, Isla.

Emma said...

ooh yum. Maybe i can eat at Isla's school too! And doesn't she look French in those photos with her little beret and wine glass!? Haha, what a sweet heart.

Thanks for your comments over on my blog. Part of my reason to do midwifery is because I had such a great one when I had Ruby. I hope I can be as inspiring as she was one day.

Anonymous said...

I like how every meal has a cheese serving. Meals are taken very seriously here in Italy with some sort of pasta or rice dish first, followed by a meat or cheese dish, vegetable or salad, bread (always!) and fruit. In my town the public school system charges 4.12 euro a meal which seems expensive to me but I have two good eaters who probably get my money's worth.


-alex said...

This is so timely. I was just reading the school lunch menu for my newly minted Japanese first grader. Same thing holds true here in Japan. At the bottom of the menu, they even state that the purpose of lunch is to cultivate sociability, and increase understanding of traditional food culture. Try telling that to my son when it's stewed seaweed with sardines.

Anonymous said...

I love this menu. Even though kids have a delicate palate, it is never too early to expose them to a variety of foods. Their palates need training like potty training, sleep training. When meals are viewed as a social function you are less likely to overeat or to run to them whenever you need comfort. A cheese piza slice on the run is not the same as a sit down session with bread, butter and cheese with your friends.
The problem with American kids is that they don't get exposed to grown up foods early and they get indulged instead with sugary food that is bad for their development and their habits. Picky child eaters become picky adult eaters who in turn reinforce the cycle with their own kids.
I live in the US but I was not born here. We ate whatever was in front of us for economical reasons. Meals were made from scratch (no frozen options or delivery). It was a good thing. I try to instill the same with my own children. I also notice how the overwhelming majority of my kids friends will not touch anything beyond mac and cheese and chicken nuggets. It's sad to realize how much joy they are and will be missing in life that comes from good food.

Meowmie said...

Tee hee! I looked at the menu for the coming week and saw they have chicken nuggets. Would you believe, DD would turn up her nose at those? What a strange little thing I have.

All these school meals seem so alien to me. Never had them as a kid myself, and it is rare to have school-catered meals here in Australia now.