26 October 2012

Italian primary school experiences :: {three}

La Merenda

Each day we send Young One off to school with a snack tucked inside her rolly polly, monogrammed backpack. I should clarify that Richard sends her off, as he is the official snack packer in our house. While there are times that he lapses or purposefully packs a sugary treat, most days of the year he sends her off with a nutrient-rich snack.

I may have blogged about this before...I can't remember...I know I've had lots of discussions about it.

More often than not, these healthy snacks have brought a measure of ridicule to our girl. Who would have thought that raw baby carrots could be the center of such attention? Well, when you are the only kid in the whole school where snack trading and sharing is king bringing such an odd thing, then it becomes a bit of a liability. While I think it's a perfectly good thing to send her with a baggie of cherry tomatoes or freshly-picked cherries, her schoolmates find it odd. They also shun most other fresh fruits and veggies along with cheese. Forget peanut butter. That's entirely different. Some kids could easily handle being so different; mine cannot.

She reports again and again that the kids do not bring fruits and vegetables; the parents provide crap snacks. It's been a bit of a challenge to find five days of healthy options without using fruits and veggies. Some days she just has to be different and settle for grapes.

Enter "Fruit Friday."

At a recent class meeting, the mothers agreed to send kids with fruit as a snack each Friday. I later learned that it is an initiative across the province of Vicenza (and perhaps beyond). I cannot begin to accurately recount the discussion that proceeded the final agreement. Worries of bruised bananas and lost containers and temperature fluctuations and fruit-hating hungry children plagued the mothers. I am not kidding you. I am not exaggerating. I know you have a difficult time believing me because this is ITALY after all ... where food and children trump all, where school lunch is balanced and fresh and varied and served in courses. Ketchup is not a vegetable. Chocolate milk is not a choice at lunch. Ever.

If you live here, then you've seen the aisles upon aisles lined with prepackaged junk at the big supermarkets. People are buying that stuff...a lot of it; otherwise it wouldn't get the shelf space. They are feeding it to children. What the heck is happening here?

It's a bit of a conundrum for me.

Another puzzle ... my little American girl is known in her class by the kids and the mothers as a kid who eats her veggies at lunch and brings (mostly) healthy snacks. The irony. A Polish mother (the only other foreigner in the class) onced inquired about those raw baby carrots as they are not commonly found locally and then commended us for the snacks we send. How does she even know? Before the first "Fruit Friday" Young One was singled out by her teacher as an example for the others to follow. Eat like the American.

It's been one of the biggest suprises in this Italian primary school experience.
This "Fruit Friday" has given my conformist child permission to bring fruit on other days, too; though I doubt she will ever bring a baby carrot again. Oh, how I miss the celebration of diversity at times!

I should note that a friend who has a third grader at a different school in the province, shared that the snack is provided by the school there and is usually fruit or yogurt. However, another friend confirms that snack habits at her child's Italian primary school, also in the province of Vicenza, are much like those of Young One's.

Disclaimer: I hate generalizations. This is my limited experience at my daughter's tiny primary school lost in northern Italy. If you have a different experience with this, please share!


  1. "merendine" are a huge business and, yes, most parents buy them, and, yes, most children snack on them. In my boys high school, they've even introduced a vending machine for those teens who (during the 5 school hrs) might be in danger of withdrawal from merendine.

    1. Ma perche?
      Or is perfectly okay in an otherwised balanced diet and (some) Americans are now over zealous with the insistence of good and nutritous for every single bite? And made to feel ever-so-guilty when we are not!
      Or is it the start of a scary trend in Italy?
      Ma perche?

    2. Don't know why, but I remember when merendine came into the market when my little sister (10 years younger than me) was in elementary school.
      Anyways, I just saw this (I didn't actually read it, no time, and because we don't buy merendine it doesn't really concern me too much at this very moment in time):

  2. My son's primary school gives out the fruit that comes with lunch at the cafeteria, for merenda instead of eating it after the meal. They believe that the kids will eat it more willingly if it is given out as a snack instead after lunch, when they most probably will not be interested in food but playing (dopo mensa). Many kids do not eat fruit at any rate, so the parents chip in and supply merenda for the whole class with crackers and cookies.
    Usually if the fruit is cut and dished out like a fruitcup, it is eaten.
    PS I remember being considered as a weirdo, eating a plain pbj sandwich :)

  3. It is the same thing at my daughter's middle school. We eat a mostly "whole food diet" for medical reasons and they both take fruit or veggies for snack nearly every single day, and nearly every single day they are the only ones who do. No ever invites them to trade snacks, for sure. The other kids stare, joke and no kidding sometimes even ask "What is that?"!!! The teachers very often encourage the other kids to bring snacks like the Americans. My girls do not really enjoy having one more thing that makes them so different from (read: weirder than!) all the other kids. But they are independent, free-thinkers and they are handling the lack of "celebrating diversity" pretty well. IMHO- there is no way merendine (or as one kid brings- 2 slices of pizza AND a sandwich) every day could possibly be really good for kids, perhaps that is why there is such a problem with childhood obesity (at least at our school ;-))!

  4. Very interesting. I know exactly the kind of pre-packaged junk you speak about. I thought that European parents seemed much more relaxed about giving their kids sweets and treats and soda. Such a paradox as American children are the ones struggling with obesity. I bet it has to do with fast food. I always felt different as a child, not about food but other things. I wanted desperately to be like the other kids. I think for kids who are sensitive to this it is important (to the degree possible and that you're comfortable with) to help them feel like the other kids. . . just my 2 cents.