How French Children Acquire A Taste For Life cover

How French Children Acquire A Taste For Life

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One of the most common New Year’s resolutions people make is to lose weight by dieting. The idea is that restricting the pleasures of tasty foods will lead to greater fitness and a finer physique. But if these rewards are so valuable, why is it so hard for us to stick to our resolution? Maybe the problem is that when we try to lose weight, we also lose the pleasure of eating.


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How French Children Acquire A Taste For Life

Sticking To Resolution

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions people make is to lose weight by dieting.

The idea is that restricting the pleasures of tasty foods will lead to greater fitness and a finer physique. But if these rewards are so valuable, why is it so hard for us to stick to our resolution? Maybe the problem is that when we try to lose weight, we also lose the pleasure of eating.

The Spice of Life

The Spice of Life

©iStock

Wanting It All

What if we could have it all? Keep the pleasure and stick to our resolution?

In the US, we tend to compartmentalize pleasure, separating it from our daily chores and relegating it to special times. We have happy hours, not happy days. We have guilty pleasures, as if enjoying chocolate or a favorite movie is a moral failing.

In Search Of Pleasure

In France, pleasure, or “plaisir,” is not a dirty word.

It’s not considered hedonistic to pursue pleasure. Perhaps a better translation of the word is “enjoyment” or even “delight.” Pleasure, in fact, takes the weight of a moral value, because according to the French, pleasure serves as a compass guiding people in their actions. And parents begin teaching their children from very early childhood in a process called the education of taste, or “l’éducation du gout.”

The Education Of Taste

The education of taste means teaching children to appreciate and savor the wide variety of flavors in the world and to eat properly at the table.

In my eight months conducting research on French parenting in Paris, I found that the education of taste begins very early in families and is reinforced in daycare centers, where even two-year-olds are served formal, yet relaxed, four-course lunches with an appetizer, main course, cheese plate and dessert.

Acquiring Taste

Acquiring Taste

©iStock

Stimulating Practices

But taste education goes beyond cultivating your children’s palate.

It’s about awakening and stimulating all the senses as well as the mind and emotions. On a survey listing 50 parenting practices with infants and toddlers, 455 French mothers and fathers in my study rated what we called “stimulating practices” as more important than responding to basic needs and teaching manners.

Stimulating practices included reading to children, playing music and giving them massages. The ultimate goal of stimulating children is to develop their understanding of what gives them pleasure.

Give To Gain

The moment that tied it all together for me was when I asked a mother in my research study why it was important to train her children to behave properly in public.

She simply replied, “Because if they know how to behave properly, they will know how to adapt and get along with people. And that will give them pleasure.” Adhering to social rules is a means to greater pleasure. You have to give up something to gain something greater.

Work Hard, Play Hard

As Americans, we are taught to deny pleasure and venerate self-sacrifice and hard work.

And when we finally take time off to have fun, we often do things in excess. We party hard. We eat and drink too much. And then we feel guilty. When we enjoy food too much, we say we’ve been “bad.” Maybe if we didn’t deprive ourselves of simple pleasures all day every day, we wouldn’t feel so compelled to overdo it on weekends.

Avoid Self-Sacrifice

Avoid Self-Sacrifice

©iStock

Developing Individualism

A comparative study found that when American parents talked to their children at the dinner table, they talked about what children should eat in nutritional and moral terms.

When the Italians talked at the table, they talked about what their children wanted to eat, and encouraged them to develop their individual tastes.

Mom’s On To Something

One of the most surprising things that French mothers shared with me in my research was their belief that stimulating children’s appetites for a wide variety of life’s pleasures can actually deter them from becoming addicted to drugs!

Those moms may have been on to something.

The Conversation

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