Q&A with Karen Le Billon Author of ‘French Kids Eat Everything’

KLB photo dusty rose outfitTake a deep breath, and be inspired. Karen Le Billon is a professor at the University of British Columbia. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, The Sunday Times, The Observer, and Huffington Post, as well as being featured on Good Morning America. She was born in Montreal, and raised in Canada, and earned her PhD at Oxford (where she studied as a Rhodes Scholar and she met her French husband Philippe). She  loves to garden, knows her chocolate from her chocolate, has two daughters and with her wonderful family,  they divide their time between Vancouver  and France.

In her charming memoir ‘French Kids Eat Everything‘ Karen tells the story of how with her young girls and Phillipe, they left Canada and moved to France to spend a year in her husband’s provincial hometown. She shares her revelations during this time in France, of their lives, and how her daughters eating habits dramatically changed.

Karens girls were originally fussy (snacking) eaters who wouldn’t dare try ‘adult’ food, yet being immersed in French culture, they naturally developed an adventurous, healthy and sensible appreciate of food, and most importantly learnt how enjoyable it is to share meals together as a family, and became never afraid to try ‘just a little’ of all the foods that are on offer.

From Karen’s blog I have loved learning about the french school lunch system, and how the meals follow a four course structure: vegetable starter; main dish with vegetable side; cheese course; dessert. All meals are served with fresh baguette (eaten plain, usually one piece per child!) and water. No flavoured milk, juice, sports drinks, or pop. No vending machines. No fast food or junk food. It all makes sense right? Nb. France has one of the lowest rates of overweight children in the developed world, and Britain and the US some of the highest.

talitha-french-kids

She has recently published her second book ‘Getting to YUM : the 7 secrets of raising Eager Eaters‘, (available for purchase in the US, UK and Canada) which will teach your kids to eat, just as you teach them to read. Her blog, is a fascinating read covering parenting issues, the french kids school lunch project (menus) that are collected from schools, family friendly recipes, and guest blogs from other ‘foodie’ lovers, as you will find out, she is as equally charming in real life, as she is in her books.

Where did you train, and did you have any mentors that helped you along your way?

I’ve been lucky to have many inspiring mentors, including NYU Professor and Author Marion Nestle.

Which were your favourite parts of education, and if you could go back (fees all paid by us!) then what else would you study?

I did an amazing undergraduate degree in “Arts and Science” at McMaster University; I wouldn’t change that experience, and would love to do that degree over again!

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Where would you escape to for a weekend away ?

Corsica, one of the most beautiful islands in the world!

What are the 3 most important items in your handbag?

Great question! 😉

  1. My moleskin black notebook (yes, I still use one).
  2. Papier Poudre (when you’re in need of a quick freshening up – a favourite “on the go” beauty product)
  3. Solid perfume from l’Occitan en Provence. It comes in adorable little pots that fit in a pocket, and is my go-to item for travel.

Where would you love to spend an afternoon with your favourite people, and why ?

Walking along the beach and sea wall in Vancouver, on a sunny afternoon. Because it’s a place where nature meets culture – one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Which are your 3 favourite designers/ shops ?

I assume you are referring only to clothing?!

  1. France’s Cyrillus stores (for kids)
  2. Anne Fontaine in Paris (gorgeous shirts)
  3. Gravity Pope for amazing shoes from all over the world

What products have made the top of your birthday list this year?

A mini-iPad!

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Which is your favourite place (museum, park or venue) to spend a creative afternoon ?

The Guggenheim, New York or Bilbao – I love both!

What do you use for inspiration with your work that you can not live without?

Dark chocolate–the darker the better. When I’m in Vancouver, there’s a tiny company on a little island off the coast of Vancouver that makes the most amazing chocolate ever – Denman Island Chocolate. When we’re in France, I love Henri Le Roux or Pierre Hermé.

Which are your 3 favourite websites/blogs at the moment ?

Design Mom – I feel like we have parallel lives, moving back and forth between North America and France! Sarah Jane Studios – She is a great designer, and illustrated both of my books. Beautiful clothes, fabrics, drawings! Marion Nestle’s Food Politics blog – Savvy commentary on food & politics – two of my favourite topics.

Your favourite recipe books

That is seriously difficult. Let’s limit ourselves to cookbooks for children/families. I love everything Mollie Katzen has ever written. How about her Pretend Soup cookbook? And The River Cottage Family Cookbook.

A favourite quote: “If you don’t ask, the answer is always no.”

Can you leave us one creative secret/tip to share please?

Creativity is 99% persistence. I set aside time to write every morning – before anything else on my “to do” list.

Thank you so much Karen, we are off for a quick snack now… (cheeky me) honestly I am so inspired by your blog, I can now only think about small portions of beautifully fresh food, dream of serving sautéed chicken with green peas à la barigoule (artichoke sauce) for supper, and just remember how much fun can be had preparing our meals together as a family. xo

Photo by Elliott Erwitt. Illustrations by Sarah Jane Wright for French Kids Eat Everything

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