Friday, September 17, 2010

Happily, Happy Meal-Free

Foodie Eleonora and her son Little E
We are thrilled to welcome our first guest blogger, 
Eleonora Baldwin, to 
2 Kids and a Dog!
-Alexia, Nick, Luce, Liam and of course, Amleto 

You can tell the boy is the son of a foodie. He eats octopus, asparagus and minestrone, which don’t make him too popular in school. Especially since everyone found out he has no idea what a Happy Meal is.

My 4 1/2 year-old son doesn’t eat a lot, but he eats well. His daily diet is healthy, rich and diversified. He feeds on green leafy foods and seafood, and he likes to explore flavors, unprompted by us grown-ups. After a long period of distrust, last spring he finally admitted artichokes were actually OK. He’s daring and totally unpredictable in his taste; during our Tuscan summer vacation, I couldn’t keep him off the chicken liver pâté crostini, but by the same token, he totally shuns Jell-O and white chocolate.

Little E. also snacks on Nutella and covets the occasional glass of soda, don’t get me wrong–but that’s just how kids eat here in Italy: simple and, for the most part, unprocessed. Children normally consume 4 balanced meals a day, and the ingredients that compose these are locally sourced, naturally organic and seasonal. The farmer’s market purveyors are like family; they raise our kids as much as we do.
Little E enjoying his gnocchi

Breakfast is not huge, but it includes milk, dunking biscuits or bread, fresh fruit or juice. Lunch is a two-course deal (pasta + meat/fish/poultry, or pasta and veggies) and a piece of fruit at the end. Merenda–typical mid afternoon ritual snack–is part of every Italian kid’s daily eating routine; this means post-school playtime hours are filled with healthy slices of sourdough bread rubbed with a fresh tomato, or drizzled with olive oil, or smeared with butter and then dusted with sugar. Dinner usually includes soup of some sort, lots of vegetables and a light protein, like cheese (ricotta, stracchino, chunk of Parmigiano), an egg or some lean prosciutto ham.

Last summer in California (and we’re talking Bay Area, food revolution mecca) the chef of a famous restaurant came out of his kitchen sanctuary to compliment me at our table because my then 3 year-old was eating steamed abalone and spinach soufflé (which of course the waiter had erroneously served me instead). I was amazed to notice how restaurants overseas have “children’s menus,” and how generally poor they are in terms of variety. It’s mostly s either a slice of pizza, fried chicken nuggets, a bland burger, or a hot dog. That’s hardly nutritious! The crayons and table activity sets that came with the greasy preparation were a bonus, but I’d end up swapping the kiddie platter, while my son feasted on my frittata.

Little E at work
Italian children learn about fine nutrition from infanthood. Good food starts with their first solids. Like every mother in Italy, I weaned my kid off his bottle by feeding him bowls of freeze-dried lamb and rice porridge, diluted with vegetable stock made from scratch, and a thread of raw extra virgin olive oil. Slowly my pediatrician integrated increasingly more complex vegetables, cereal and proteins, and by 10 months, my son was scoffing velvety vegetable purées, teething on carrot sticks and fingering his way through an entire steamed Dover sole.

Not all Italian children may be this sophisticated in their daily eating regimen, but pretty close. And the good news is that Italian school lunches live up to the home-style standard. Nutritious 3-course cafeteria meals are served hot every day, and since 2005 Italian school kitchens have gone 100% certified organic (and some recently fair trade too).  Grilled fish, pasta e ceci (a thick pasta & chickpea soup) and bananas are my son’s favorite foods. But that’s not counting potato gnocchi dressed in pesto sauce and cow’s milk ricotta. 

Mixing the pesto into the ricotta
Here's the recipe, with little E's permission:

100 gr (1/2 cup) potato gnocchi (for my ‘gnocchi from scratch’ recipe click here)

3 tablespoons cow’s milk ricotta
Parmigiano cheese, grated
Boil the gnocchi in lightly salted water.
Work the pesto and ricotta with a fork to obtain a creamy texture.
Save some starchy gnocchi cooking water.

As they surface, fish out the cooked gnocchi with a slotted spoon, toss them in the pesto/ricotta condiment and stir to coat well. Add the saved water for a creamier effect. Dust liberally with grated
Parmigiano and watch your little tots wolf it down, happily.

Eleonora Baldwin - When not shooting on location around the world on a film set as script supervisor, writing a food/travel column, or leading foodie tours, you'll probably find her busy cooking in her Roman kitchen. Eleonora is currently editing her Italian cookbook manuscript, and is the busy author/editor of 4 popular websites: AGLIO, OLIO & PEPERONCINO, focuses on Italian cuisine, food history, travel musings, and local hang-outs. ROMA EVERY DAY is a daily photoblog in which she captures the essence of the Eternal City through her camera. ROME CITY GUIDE FOR KIDS is a helpful resource for travelers and expat parents in Rome. FORCHETTINE, written in Italian, is a food-lover's online guide in which she reviews restaurant facilities and regional specialties in Italy. You can also follow Eleonora on Twitter @passerotto, on Flickr; and on her Facebook page Aglio, Olio & Peperoncino Culinary Adventures

Thanks for stopping by Eleonora!  Can't wait to try the recipe...


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