Of all the books I've had fun reviewing lately, this one most challenged and defied my expectations. Looking at the cover of Winning the Food Fightby Natalie Rigal, I expected the usual: fun food presentation ideas ("turn an apple into an adorable choo-choo train!"), kid-friendly recipes ("Rockin' Rollin' Rainbow Wraps!"), and some kind of nutritional pyramid.
Instead, what I found was a scientific look into what researchers call the "psychology of taste". How do children's taste preferences develop, and why? What is the effect of gender or age on food preference? What causes children to gravitate towards certain foods and shy away from others, particularly vegetables? Rigal, a researcher and senior lecturer on developmental child psychology at the University of Paris at Nanterre, does a great job of collecting and exploring the vast array of scientific literature on the subject while interposing accounts of her own experiences with her children at the table.
If studies like "Neophobic Behaviors and Appearance Percentages Among Children Two to Ten" are your idea of fun, this is the book for you. (In case you're wondering, 56% sorted out mixed foods, 45% examined their food and 31% grimaced, but only 8% turned their head away.)
The study I found most charming highlighted for me the vast ocean of difference between the food culture of France and the one here in the U.S. In a study done in France on children aged 2 to 3 years during lunch at a day care, cauliflower "was chosen in 51% of the cases when prepared au gratin, in 49% when served with a béchamel sauce". Tomatoes were chosen in 52% of the cases when stuffed, but only 27% when served "à la Provençale". Wow. Where I live, 2 to 3 year olds in day care generally get a choice between the dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets or the fluorescent orange mac-and-cheese.
This is not the book to turn to on a busy weeknight when you're wondering what you can fix that the kids will eat; you'll find no recipes or fast-food hints here. But of all the books I've looked at recently, this one has provided me with the most fascinating food for thought.