This week I’m blogging about school lunches in Italy. This is the third post in the series. If you’re interested, start from the top.
Undoubtedly, what’s on kid’s plates at school varies from region to region and from town to town. It wasn’t hard to find out what kids in Bologna are eating at school because lunch menus are posted online. I downloaded a sample menu from one of Bologna’s three central kitchens (centro pasti) to get an idea of what kids are eating at school. This is the menu for the first week of February 2014. 
Each day there is a first course (primo – usually pasta or rice), second course (secondo – meat, cheese, or fish), side (contorno – usually a vegetable), and a snack (merenda). The snack is typically served in the morning before lunch. Looking at the menu for the whole month, the menu seems varied with very little repetition. The meal plan appears thoughtfully planned with a balanced number of vegetable-based, meat-based, and fish-based dishes across the week and the month. One thing to note is that kids aren’t given a choice. For the most part, the same food and the same portion sizes are served to all kids in a class. Students can submit a request for a special meal for one of two reasons: either religious reasons (e.g. Muslim students who don’t eat pork or Jewish students who keep kosher) or medical reasons (e.g. food allergy – in which case they need to provide a doctor’s note).
What’s a centro pasti?
A centro pasti is a central kitchen where food is prepared for schools as well as other public institutions such as hospitals, universities, and care centers for the elderly or the disabled. The central kitchen may be publicly owned, privately owned, or a combination of the two. Food may be completely prepared at the central kitchen and then sent to the schools warm. It may be chilled at the central kitchen and then reheated at the schools. It may be partially prepared at the central kitchen and then cooked at the schools. A friend told me that pasta at her son’s elementary school was always boiled onsite. God forbid Italian kids have to eat precooked pasta! And still, some schools don’t use a central kitchen, but have a full kitchen at the school. To keep things interesting, there’s also option E) All of the above, meaning some towns use a combination of these models.
In Rome, the meals are prepared in kitchens at each school. In Turin, the meals are prepared in a mixed system that uses both centralized kitchens and decentralized kitchens. In Piacenza, in the province of Bologna, prep work is done in the central kitchen and then the prepared food is delivered to 27 school kitchens where the final cooking is done. The central kitchen also completely prepares the meals for 7 additional schools, to which the meals are delivered warm. 
Up next: How’s the food?
 Strassner, Carola; Løes, Anne-Kristin; Nölting, Benjamin and Kristensen, Niels Heine (Eds.) (2010) Organic Food for Youth in Public Settings: Potentials and Challenges. Preliminary Recommendations from a European Study. ICROFS, International Centre for Research in Organic Food Systems, Tjele, Denmark. Proceedings of iPOPY session held at the BioFach Congress 2010, Nuremberg, Germany, February 20, 2010.
Photo credit: Screenshot from Teaching Channel’s “How They Do It in Rome: Nutritious School Meals.”