Having just returned from an action-packed 10 days of family vacation in France and Italy, I am reflecting on our adventures, and here, on eating abroad. We stayed in apartments in both Paris and Florence because we enjoy exploring foreign markets, and discovering the food of the country while doing some cooking. But we also loved eating out and experiencing how local people eat. I have been fortunate to travel a fair amount in my life and live abroad during my childhood and in college, but this was my children's first trip to Europe! It was one of those parental moments, when their excitement and curiosity fills you up!
My children loved going to the markets - recognizing familiar foods, and discovering new ones. Trying to figure out the produce scale with touch screen in french was a highlight for them! We enjoyed a lot of foods we don't see much of in the northeast like figs, persimmons, and many varieties of local mushrooms. The produce was beautifully presented and enticing for all!
Our restaurant meals were wonderful, and one of the things that fascinated me were how children ate with their families. Especially in Paris, it was remarkable to see young children sitting at a nice restaurants eating real food. At one lunch, an adorable three-year-old sat in between her parents slurping mussels out of the shells. At another lunch, there were two young children chomping away on steak frites and salad with their parents. It caused me to wonder, are there any picky eaters in Europe?
I happened to bring along the book, French Kids Eat Everything, to read on our trip. It came out a couple of years ago, and I had never read it cover to cover, but always wanted to...When in France, right? Part of french curriculum in schools and culture centers around teaching children to eat french food, according to the book. Another major difference the author describes is that french parents don't see eating good, real food as optional. Rather, they see it like potty training or teaching children to read. They don't give up, because apparently being picky in Paris is simply not an option!
My own children did fine eating in Europe. They are somewhere in between adventurous and picky - liking some unusual foods while shunning some ordinary ones. But in all of our travels there was not one children's menu. I was proud of them for trying a lot of new things, and even for ordering favorites which may have come with unexpected sauces, add-ins, or other differences. Miff was happy to eat quiche in Paris and crustless quiche in Italy, and decided she loves shaved black truffles (uh-oh!) while Moe would pretty much like to eat Nutella crepes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the rest of his life! In Tuscany, Miff requested some "steak" that my husband had ordered. Although I am totally not into trickery, forgive me that I didn't clarify which part of the cow it was (tongue). She loved it, (and had three helpings!) Let's keep that between us, okay?
Here are five things I learned about eating in Europe versus United States:
1. There are no children's menus. Children are expected to eat regular adult food. (Ahem)
2. Portions are appropriate, not gi-normous.
3. Children do not walk or stroll around constantly munching on food in little containers. They wait until the next meal.
4. Children go out to eat at nice restaurants at young ages and eat the same food their parents are eating.
5. Food is not sold everywhere imaginable like it is here. I actually saw a beautiful fruit stand in the Paris metro - not something I remember in NYC subways!
In honor of the yummy quiches we enjoyed and wonderful local mushrooms, this is an extremely fast version that makes a great breakfast, lunch or even dinner! Kid-approved!!
Crustless Quiche Muffins
Yield 12 Muffins (36 mini muffins)
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 cup low fat milk
3/4 cup grated cheese (I used parmesan here)
1 cup chopped mushrooms (or any other vegetable)
Spray muffin tin with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients until eggs are mixed in. Pour egg mixture into each well, about 1/4 cup. Cook for 20-22 minutes (18 minutes for mini muffins), until cooked through. (I made them mini this time, but prefer the larger muffins for this recipe).