Yes, escargot. Cute little snails. Still in their shells. Wait, here me out.
Kids love interesting objects, nature, and eating with their hands. Escargot, done simply in olive oil and not-too-much garlic, tastes a lot more like chicken than most things people say tastes like chicken. Only juicier. Honest! Get them past the initial hurdle of a strange, new food served in a shell (which for some outgoing kids is a major part of the fun), and they’ll love the taste and smooth texture.
2. Duck confit
Duck confit will change everything your child thinks about dark meat. Just one taste of sublime, tender, oily duck thigh and the dark meat goes first at your next Thanksgiving. Duck confit is addictive. Though some poultry comes close, nothing can quite sate a taste for duck like the real thing.
Since returning from a recent trip to Paris, my nine-year-old has taken to saying, oh-so forlornly, when faced with a chicken-dinner dish, “Chicken just isn’t the same now that I’ve had duck.” Amen, we have a dark-meat convert.
Pork and beans, French-style. Okay, and some duck, probably pigskin, sausage, and whatever else the chef has lying around. This hearty dish comes in a variety of forms, but I’ve found kids most enjoy the drier, casserole version over the runnier, stew version.
Whatever’s in there, make your kids at least try everything in the dish. And the dish! What’s more convenient than an entire self-contained meal served in a earthenware pot? Bravo French culinary artists.
4. Buckwheat crepes
“A crepe a day keeps the doctor away,” says my son after experiencing his first crunchy-creamy crepe in a homey eight-table on Paris’ Ile St. Louis. He and his mama quickly devoured two ham-and-cheese and cream buckwheat crepes, licked their lips, and pondered a third.
Widely available and ideal for all three meals and snacks, crepes are the Swiss Army knife of French food. Eggs, ham, cheese, nutella — it doesn’t matter what you put inside, the end result is a smiling, full-bellied child. Find the best buckwheat versions at restaurants specializing in food from Brittany and northwest France.
When in doubt, there’s always pizza. Pissaladière is so simple, and sneaky: onions, garlic, and anchovies served on a crust slightly thicker and doughier than traditional Italian pizza crust. Yes, you will get your kids to eat anchovies — pissaladière is often served with the onions and anchovies pureed together into a kind of salty paste, which they will devour as quickly as pepperoni, none the wiser to the anchovies.
All they have to know is that it’s pizza. It’s not lying if you don’t tell them something, right? This is often an appetizer item, perfect for getting the kiddies fed faster.
6. Quiche lorraine
Here’s one you can try at home. Just mix eggs, cream, and bacon into a crust of your choosing (yes, go ahead, use that pre-made pie crust) and bake. Once you have quiche lorraine down, get adventurous with ingredients. My family treats quiche mornings like pizza nights — everyone lends a hand as we try new combinations of fillings.
Quiche lorraine is the perfect introduction to French food, a confidence booster for any young eater. Quiche, much like crepes, is readily available throughout France and perfectly suitable for any meal (though you may have trouble finding it for breakfast) or snack.
7. Crème brûlée
Creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside, a freshly browned crème brûlée is your child’s initiation into the interesting world of food textures and decadent French desserts. Kids dig cracking through crust into the creamy pudding middle.
With all the sugar and fat in this one, it’s best to plan a post-meal trip to a park, playground, or the Eiffel Tower’s stairs. For that reason, my wife and I found it a better lunch than dinner dessert. While we’re on the subject, yes, you should be having dessert with lunch because it’s France and you can.
More than just a sandwich, the croque-monsieur is an institution, a staple since the early 1900s for workaday Frenchmen seeking a hearty but quick lunch. This ain’t the school cafeteria’s grilled ham and cheese. Crunchy bread, melted Emmental or Gruyère cheese, smoky ham slathered in Béchamel sauce and served hot is a sure bet after a morning of sightseeing.
Served with cheese on top (or “inside out,” according to my son), it becomes quite the novelty. Add an egg and, voila, you’ve got a croque-madame. It’s a lot of sammy, but mom and dad will happily take care of any leftovers, no matter how much French onion soup, frites, and steak tartare they’ve had.
9. Pain au chocolat
Bread stuffed with chocolate — obviously it makes the list. Kids love chocolate, especially in the morning, so it’s a great bribe, er, incentive to get them up and moving early. Perhaps best of all, it’s easy to eat on the go, even for tiny hands.
So make like a true Parisian and start your day right with a cafe au lait and pain au chocolat to go. If your child learns to love only one authentic French meal from this list, it just might be this one. And that’s a start.