I read a lot of food blogs, both the recipe ones that inspire me to try something new, or simply trigger my drool reflex, and the real food / traditional food ones that inspire me to eat better, treat my body better, and make better, simpler choices for my family. And I’ve noticed a giant chasm between how kids are fed in the US compared to Italy. I had never really thought about it, but now, what with the internet broadcasting everyone’s opinions and choices (and judgments) all over the place, one tends to notice things more.
For example, American kids seem to snack all the time. When they were toddlers I wouldn’t leave the house without a snack, whatever time of day it was, and sure this did save me occasionally, when I was running late, to avert hunger related meltdowns, it isn’t really necessary beyond the initial toddler phase when they haven’t yet completely regulated their meal times. And yet, if I’m going to go somewhere for any extended amount of time I feel the need to bring a snack. Italian kids don’t snack. They have three main meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner and a snack around four o’clock. All kids eat like this. They don’t munch on crackers at the super market. Mothers don’t cut up carrots to take with them every time they leave the house. And the kids somehow survive. That was the first difference I noticed.
The second difference I noticed was when they started preschool. My kids go to a small (tiny) neighborhood preschool, there are only about thirty-five kids aged 3 to 6. They have three teachers, the janitor, and a cook. The cook is beloved by all. Every morning she goes around to our little village shops (which are nothing more than a butcher, a mini market, and a bakery) and she buys whatever vegetables are freshest, whatever meat looks good, and the freshly baked bread for the kids’ lunch. Sure, she has to follow the dietary guidelines of the Italian health ministry, but basically she’s like a mom cooking for her kids.
In typical Italian tradition, the children get a primo (first course – which is generally soup, or pasta, or risotto) and then a secondo with vegetables (main course – generally protein, meat, fish, an omelets etc.), occasionally they get a one-course meal, like pizza or polenta with meat sauce, but that’s a special occasion and usually includes a salad. Dessert is always fruit, or fruit salad, once a week it’s either pudding or yoghurt. They eat really well. They only drink water. They take turns, setting the tables and passing around the breadbasket and then clearing the tables, wiping them down and putting the chairs up for the floors to be cleaned. They love being in charge of something. There are even days, when the cook makes fresh pasta that the kids go up and help her, once a year they make pizza as an activity and then eat it. I have a lot to complain about in Italy, and I certainly have my share of frustration at three-year olds being served coke at birthday parties (because three-year olds really need the caffeine rush), but the school system really has its stuff together, at least food-wise. Children don’t pack their lunches here, it’s all provided by the state. Of course, not all school get the quality that we do because some schools don’t have a cook on staff but outsource to a caterer so the food is reheated and sometimes over cooked, but still the meals are well-balanced and nutritious.
So for once, a post wherein I don’t complain about Italy, where kids eat really well even at school, which should surprise absolutely no one considering how obsessed Italians are with their food!