Monday, January 19, 2009

Food For Thought

Italy is nothing if not the land of food. It's pretty well-known, well-loved, and there is not a man, woman or child of our acquaintance who cannot exhibit their passion for palatable meals with lengthy, mouth-watering discussion. So one day last month, while enjoying my morning cappuccino I happened to be perusing a local publication and came across the school lunch menu for December, and it just highlighted once again how tasteful the bel paese is when it comes to cuisine.

Let's take a gander at some of the samplings, shall we?

1)Pasta con melanzane (with eggplant); Robiola or Stracchino cheese; Bread; Steamed carrots; Fresh seasonal fruits

2) Minestrone with mixed beans; Stuffed Zucchini (with lean meat, baked); fresh bread; Fresh seasonal fruit; Fiordilatte gelato

3) Spaghetti with white fish; Baked Sole; Spinach with a drizzle of olive oil; fresh bread; Banana.

Nice, huh? What the heck, let's look at one more:

4) Pasta e Fagioli; Frittata; Beet Greens with a drizzle of olive oil; fresh bread; Fresh Pears

Sounds pretty darn good. Looks well-balanced; I mean, you've got your primo, your secondo, your vegetable, your fruit, and some crusty bread. Every Friday features fish, as is still the custom throughout Italy regardless of religious affiliations (or not).

Looks typically Italian, is what I concluded. The dishes we eat regularly, either at home, at friends', or in local restaurants. It seemed so normal that it took me a minute to register, this is a school menu. And it sure isn't like school menus in the US. I looked online at my hometown's school menus. Brace yourself.

Mini corndogs. Pizza. Hot dogs. Chicken nuggets. Sloppy scoops (which I assume is a Sloppy Joe?) And something called Bosco sticks, which I've never heard of and I'm not sure I want to know what it is. For "healthy" fare they have a taco salad one day. And vegetables. Mashed potatoes with gravy. French fries. Canned peas, canned green beans. Fruit? Mixed fruit cocktail, which I can assume is canned, or applesauce.

Both menus are for elementary school children. Gives you a little food for thought, no?


Fern Driscoll said...

How too bad American lunches have sunk so low. When I Was A Girl (ahem) we got full meals for .25, including, meat, starch, veggie, salad, milk and dessert. Second dessert cost .10. It was good food, a good value, and a great way for tax $$ to be spent. Some few American schools are experimenting with 'real' food but I fear the majority are shopping in the pizza/tacos aisle.

Dana said...

So, so true. My daughter attends an asilo where the food is prepared on site. (Did you know that some have food brought in everyday?) Her menu is varied and fresh and healthy and wholesome. It is also served in courses. Love it! As a result, we have a 4 year old who eats almost anything. She, however, won't hear of ketchup and doesn't care for chicken nuggets or french fries. We are so incredibly thankful. I work in an American school and I see the menu everyday; it's clearly a shame. Kind of ironic that even though we are in Italy, the school is American -- so the kids get the crappy American menu. Hmmmm.

janie said...

I want to be a school child in Italy! One of the other problems here in the US is that many parents never give their children the same food that they are eating. Instead of trying to develop their palates for good, healthy food, they feed them "kid food" and fast food. Such a shame! We have neighbors who are supposedly very concerned about "the environment" and being "green" and day after day they feed their kids fast food! Why not start with one of the most important things-your children's health!

Gigi said...

I agree with Janie, it's all about developing a childs palate. I raised my grand-daughter for a year while my daughter was in Iraq. She'll hear of nothing but good Italian bread, no canned pastas or sauces, prefers Extra Virgin Olive oil, with hot seeds, for dipping and don't even try to pull in to a drive through

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

Our Caribbean parents never fed us a different dinner from what they ate once we were on solid food.

I don't understand this kid's menu thing. I notice Italian kids in restaurants here and there isn't a kids menu. The parents might order a lighter sauce (something not too spicy) for them but that is is.

Anonymous said...

Are the Italians as concerned about what goes into their children's minds as much as they appear to be concerned about what goes in there tummies? Recently read an article that the Italian school system is way behind other EU countries and therefore it's becoming increasingly difficult for children who go through the Italian education system to compete for jobs.

Mama Jo said...

Valerie, What an amazing menu roster! Think I'll send it to our local school board office. With food like this -- tasty & fresh, the American obesity epidemic could be derailed easily. But it's like in too many homes -- no one is actually in the kitchen cooking in the cafeterias.

Valerie said...

Fern - even when I was a kid we had pretty balanced meals, but then that was at the Catholic school. I can't speak for the public schools back then, but I assume they were better than nowadays.

Dana - Amazing! I am really surprised that the American schools here don't have Italian cooks.

Janie - So true. Where did "kid food" come from anyway? We didn't have that crap when I was kid (thank God!) I remember when chicken nuggets came out and thought, "bits and parts of pressed chicken with tasteless breading dipped in sugary sauce? Ick!"

Gigi - You're right. I saw our friends' 6 year old order and eat a heaping plate of spaghetti with frutti di mare, relishing the calamari, clams, and mussels. Their palates can certainly be developed instead of hindered!

Ragazza - I'm with ya!

Anonymous - I don't have kids so I can't speak about that, though we had American friends here who put their kids in the local schools and the children told us that their classes here were further advanced than the equivalent classes in the US. But I dunno.

Mama Jo - Show them the menu contrast! But you're right, the parents need to cook and eat healthfully, themselves.

Michellanea said...

I agree with you completely on this! And now that I have a kid, it's one thing that scares me about potentially moving back to the U.S. for him to go to school (well that and school shootings). I just blogged about your post and linked back to you. I hope that's OK! Michelle

Megan said...

First time I am commenting- my husband (an Italian) just took a job in Fabriano so I am a Marche-newcomer. Your post is so spot-on. I love checking out the weekly menus for schools that pop up on comune websites and newspapers. I'm always shocked by the quality and variety of dishes served and feel so relieve that my future kids will be fed on a diet of local and seasonal foods instead of what I received as a school kid in New York City cafeterias: chocolate milk, canned fruit and veggies and gray hamburgers.

Cath said...

My 4 year old goes to school in Italy and is menu is like this one - lovely! He is a very fussy eater but will eat most of what is on the menu when he sees his friends eating it too - it is so important for kids to see other kids eating proper food and not just junk. I always avoid kids' menus when we are in the UK as they are usually just terrible. He much prefers something simple but "genuine" as the Italians say. At the moment he loves mussels!

Valerie said...

Michelle - Great, help spread the word!

Megan - Welcome to Marche! You are going to love it...especially the food :)

Cath - I think so-called kids menus should be banned. They just encourage bad eating and labeling it as before kids is a huge blunder, as if they wouldn't or shouldn't eat *real* food.

girasoli said...

I work in a public school and can personally attest to the disgusting meals served. Chocolate milk is given to kids - they only get white if they ask for it. The so-called "healthy" taco salad is a taco shell filled with greasy (you can see the grease) ground beef cooked in seasonings with an 1/8th of a tomato chopped up and shredded iceberg lettuce. I could go on and on. And the habits the parents push like the kid foods are another topic. I would give anything to have the school lunches the kids in Italy are served. I wouldn't have to worry about fixing lunch every day (since I refuse to eat the school lunch). Oh...and breakfast yesterday - cinnamon toast (old hamburger bun for the toast) and a packaged apple turnover with sugar icing. Great post!