My mom likes to tell the story of how, when I was a toddler and we lived in France, she would buy a baguette at the market and I would pull it out of the shopping bag and eat a good third of it before we even made it it home. I think the point of this story might be to show that as a child I was a bit of a pig. (I like to point out that this probably could have been avoided had I been strapped into a carseat, or at least wearing a seat belt.) Apparently I’ve always loved French bread. Which can be a little tough to reconcile with my belief in the benefits of eating a healthy diet and especially whole grains.
Of course I am a huge advocate of eating whole grains, and especially of feeding them to your children. There is a ton of evidence that whole grains (whole wheat pasta and bread, unprocessed oats, brown rice, etc.) are much better for you than their processed (and usually white) counterparts. In fact, one recent study even links whole grain fiber to longer life, claiming eating it lowers your risk of dying from respiratory and infectious diseases — as well as heart disease — and by as much as 50%.
While I mostly avoid refined, white flour — and for years successfully hid from my kids the fact that white bread existed — I do think there is a place in a healthy, balanced diet for the occasional baguette. Okay, maybe more than occasional. Okay, I buy one several times a week. The food lover (and unabashed Francophile) in me just can’t quite give up the crunchy and chewy deliciousness of French bread. And while I know they’re generally made from white flour (I’ve tried many whole wheat versions by the way, and they just don’t cut it.), I can still defend eating baguettes because in my book, eating something real is always going to be better than eating something processed.
Besides, baguettes are very useful. They make great after-school snacks topped with peanut butter or sliced turkey. I’ll often leave one sitting out on the counter while I’m making dinner, and the kids will occasionally come and tear off hunks, which keeps them from whining about how hungry they are. And if dinner isn’t coming together, I can always make a perfectly satisfying meal of soup and salad and a couple slices of French bread. French people eat baguettes with jam or butter for breakfast almost every day, and aren’t we all supposed to want to emulate French people? Don’t get me wrong, I don’t advocate forsaking whole wheat toast or steel cut oats for French bread every day, but once in a while, it’s a fine breakfast option.
Have I mentioned that my kids love French bread? I let them have it for breakfast on Fridays — okay and sometimes Mondays. My recommendation is, unless you’re gluten intolerant or trying to lose weight, don’t be afraid of the occasional baguette. If you buy one and it doesn’t get eaten within a day (highly unlikely), just slice it and put it in the freezer in a plastic bag. You can use the slices for toast, croutons, or of course this killer roasted chicken. You don’t even need to let it thaw before putting under the broiler.
I do have one caveat though: French baguettes should be made from four ingredients: flour, water, yeast, and salt. If you pick up a loaf in the grocery store and it contains other, possibly unpronounceable, stuff in it, then it’s not the real thing and definitely not worth the — refined, white — calories.