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Maman Says

Secrets of a French Mom: Food Edition

Florence Mars, co-author of Say Bonjour to the Lady: Parenting from Paris to New York, explains why French children don't snack and other mysteries.

Written By Florence Chataignier Mars
Photography Matthew Kristall

Meals are way too important for French parents to let anyone, let alone their own children, spoil their pleasure. If you ever expect to have a peaceful meal with your children, you absolutely must start the training as soon as you can.

Contrary to what one may think, the correct number of meals per day is four: breakfast, lunch, "goûter" and dinner. There is a strict zero-snack policy in-between those meals. If your child complains 120 times that he is going to die of starvation and you feel you’re on the verge of doing something you will regret, such as abandoning the child on the highway or locking him in the basement, propose to him instead a healthy snack that he doesn’t like.

“Poor dear,” you’ll say. “I didn’t realize you were dying. Here, eat this tomato.” Feel free to substitute your child’s least favorite vegetable.

Next, and this is critical: No screens AT ALL around the dinner table. No video games, iPods, iPads or iPhones. No television in the corner of the room playing the news. This rule is also good for you, dear maman and papa. Do I need to explain that the family eats dinner together? You are setting the example, so even if you’re burning to read the texts (and see accompanying photos) from your secret office crush, do not look at your phone. In my house, phones are not allowed on the table; they are too tempting. Plus, they look terrible on the tablecloth. The family meal is a moment for all to share.

“We share the food, but we also share the conversation,” as my grandmother says.

And I will add one small but crucial detail: We do not share the content of our plates on Instagram because nobody cares what we are eating.

"Remember the golden rule: The fork goes to the mouth, not the mouth to the fork."

A child is a lovely thing, especially when he earns his keep. He should be expected to set the table and clear the dishes (start with a set of something unbreakable). He should also refill the family water pitcher. And did I mention that water is the only permissible beverage for little cheri? As soon as he reaches the age of four, kitchen duties should begin. A good place to start is with the trimming of haricots verts.

The child must sit straight and remember the golden rule: The fork goes to the mouth, not the mouth to the fork. He must chew with his mouth closed. I cannot stress enough how important this is. And while we’re on the subject of chewing, the same goes for chewing gum. The best, of course, would be to ban the consumption of gum completely; if it must live on, then it should be chewed silently with a closed mouth. I sometimes attend charity dinners where the ladies wear the most incredible evening gowns and the food is divine and the flower bouquets are bigger than trees but then the charming lady next to me starts smacking her gum noisily and that is the end of the dream.

And finally, I know it sounds lovely but please do not teach your child to say bon appetit. It is perfectly incorrect.

Follow Florence on Instagram @florence_mars.