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Eat at school. Canteens: the 10 most common mistakes – Italian Cuisine

Eat at school. Canteens: the 10 most common mistakes

From the experience of Foodinsider, Claudia Paltrinieri analyzes the menus of school canteens in a book and reveals the lights and shadows of the meals offered to Italian children

Eat at school it is a book that was born from the experience of Foodinsider, or a group of parents who joined in 2015 to "transform the school canteen into a health tool for children and for the planet". They are those who actively participate in the so-called "canteen commissions", giving votes, proposing improvements, sometimes fighting to get them. On the other hand, school catering is a phenomenon with significant numbers, if we count that in Italy there are 380 million meals served in canteens every year.
In addition to being a founding member of Food Insider, Claudia Paltrinieri, author of the book, is the creator of the canteen rating, or a grid for judging the meals offered to children. In the book Eat at school has selected the experiences, skills and case histories collected in these five years of work. And there is no lack of critical issues on which parents must watch and, if necessary, intervene.

Protein share too high

An example: pasta with meat sauce, cooked ham and peas, three protein sources in the same meal. Added to this is a tendency to abound with red meats, which however Paltrinieri notes as it is gradually being reduced. Added to this is the use of preserved meats, or cured meats, which are recommended to be totally eliminated from the menus. Also because the same reasoning can be applied to cured meats that Paltrinieri does with regard to cheeses: it is not correct for canteens to offer meals that are not actually cooked internally, such as cold cuts and cheeses, which on the contrary can be save-dinners for parents often in trouble at the end of the day. Add to this the attention that Paltrinieri emphasizes towards "hidden" proteins that are often not counted in the balance of the menu, such as egg in the dough or parmesan on the pasta.

Improper combinations

Another common mistake, adds Paltrinieri, are the improper combinations, which end up unbalancing the children's diet. First course pasta and side potatoes, first course with pasta or rice and pizza or polenta as a second course: in this way children are weighed down with carbohydrates. Conversely, the reverse also occurs, perhaps with a first course of legumes combined with a second one based on eggs or cheese, which involves an excess of protein.

Poor variety of cereals and legumes

"Pasta and rice are dominant on menus with a 4 to 1 ratio." Apart from a few exceptions related to the territorial characteristics, the velvety, the past, the Roman dumplings, the dumplings are almost unknown in the canteens of Italian children. We find barley and spelled only in central Italy and the polenta practically stops in the north and does not exceed the Rubicone. As for the wholemeal versions of pasta and rice, despite being recommended by the WHO guidelines, in Italian canteens they are almost unknown.

Monotony in vegetables

Vegetables are often the weak link in the food chain for children. Yet little is done to make them appreciate, often offering them as unattractive side dishes, including salads, carrots or raw fennel. The result is that the pot ends up being discarded evenly. Already if they were offered as an appetizer, suggests Paltrinieri, it would be possible to take advantage of the pull of the hunger of the children. Or make them become a second course in an intelligent way, perhaps combined with the easiest potatoes, or in strudel, patties or other "smart" dishes for children.

Fish and eggs: too easy if packed

As far as the difficulties of managing large numbers and food safety can be understood, Paltrinieri stresses how often products already pasteurized are used to prepare eggs and fish is almost always breaded and frozen. The result is that children end up eating anything but homemade products and that the menus are too repetitive, with omelettes that make up the lion's share and fish that becomes hopelessly stick-shaped.

End of meal: no to sweets and fruit

That the fruit should be eaten is not in question, but the end of the meal is not the ideal time to offer it to children. Rather, its ideal location, suggests Paltrinieri, is the mid-morning snack. On the contrary, desserts should really be banned from schools, especially if we talk about snacks, puddings and fruit yogurt. Yes instead with white yogurt and, if you really want to gratify the children every now and then, Paltrinieri suggests desserts made internally with a low sugar content.

Underrated bread

"Too often," says the author, "the importance of bread quality is underestimated in the canteen." On the contrary, he adds, this should play a crucial role, since it constitutes a sort of "safe haven" for children that children can count on when they do not like the other proposals on the menu. We hardly speak of a short chain or we know the flours or we propose breads that are perhaps made with wholemeal and organic flours.

Condiments not disclosed

Even if it is not said that there are flaws in this sense in school canteens, the mistake is nevertheless not in informing families about the condiments used. A good quality extra virgin olive oil must be communicated, also to convey to the parents a sense of tranquility on the general quality of the raw materials used in the canteen.

Dried fruit, seeds and olives, these unknown

It is true that in the school catering guidelines, warns Paltrinieri, they are not present, yet it is the WHO that promotes these foods for a number of good reasons: «They educate children on new flavors, they are good for health and should be included in habits even at home . As the author suggests, they can be used as condiments for main courses, or as a "crunchy note" in salads and vegetables.

Organic on the rise, but not everywhere

The increase in attention to organic food is evident, yet a little leopard-like. In the canteens analyzed by Paltrinieri in 27% of cases the use of bio exceeds 70%, but in contrast 19% does not even reach 30%. What the author points out is that, in cities where there is an important organic presence, such as in Bologna, there has been an important intervention by the parents, who actively collaborated in the definition of the specifications.

Cooking school: fast legume meatballs – Italian Cuisine

Cooking school: fast legume meatballs

Have you forgotten to soak legumes and want to use them quickly to prepare meatballs? Here is the trick of the chefs of La Scuola de La Cucina Italiana

Not only soups and soups: whether you are vegetarian or not, you will have tasted it at least once burger or legume balls (for example falafel, typical meatballs of Middle Eastern cuisine).
Thanks to their correct intake of proteins, beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas are often used as a substitute for meat, to prepare dishes that we typically consider "carnivorous".

The trick to prepare fast legume patties

Whole dried legumes should be soaked for at least one night in plenty of cold water so that they re-hydrate well.
Did you forget to soak them and want to use them as quickly as possible?
Rinse them well, drain them from the water and proceed with a double sbianchitura: boil the water, add the legumes for a minute and drain. Boil again and repeat the same operation. Continue cooking with a pinch of baking soda, which allows you to soften the outer skin more easily, in medium hot water. This is because, if the boil is prolonged and too intense, there is a risk that the legumes will break.

A recipe: Spiced chickpea meatballs with vegetable brunoise and sweet and sour tomato sauce

Ingredients for 4

For the meatballs
250 g Boiled chickpeas
50 g White bread
7 g Curry
10 g Parsley
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

For vegetables
100 g Celeriac
100 g Carrots
100 g Daikon
100 g Potatoes

For the sauce
300 g tomato sauce
50 g Shallot
50 g sugar
30 White vinegar
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil


Put all the ingredients in a mixer and mix everything together. Once a workable compound is obtained, remove from the mixer. If necessary, adjust the flavor and form meatballs about 3 cm in diameter and one cm high. Place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with oil and bake at 200 degrees for 10 minutes. They will have to gratinate.

For the vegetables: Clean and wash the vegetables. Cut them into fine cubes and cook them in a saucepan for a few minutes with salt and pepper oil. To preserve.

For the sauce: Chop the shallot and let it dry in a saucepan with oil, sugar and salt. Then blend with the vinegar. Once blended add the sauce and cook for about 20 minutes. Place the hot meatballs on the plate with the tomato sauce and hot vegetables. Finish with a drizzle of oil and some aromatic herbs.

Legume flour: some ideas

You can also try legumes in flour, to be used to flavor the dough of bread or crepes. If you mix legume flour with corn starch, you can also prepare a batter for frying vegetables, meat or fish.

To find out many other tips, consult our cooking classes calendar.

Heinz Beck's cooking school opens – Italian Cuisine


THEthe Campus "Prince of Naples", the High Cuisine School directed by Heinz Beck, it is officially open.

The inauguration ceremony was attended, among others: Luca Mascolo, mayor of Agerola; Danilo Iervolino, president of the Pegaso Telematic University; Heinz Beck, scientific director of the Campus; Giovanni Cannata, rector of the Mercatorum University; Alessandro Bianchi, rector of the Pegaso Telematic University; Vincenzo De Luca, president of the Campania Region, in addition to the 32 students who passed the preselections.

The educational offer proposed by the Campus, the result of collaboration with the Pegaso Telematic University and the Mercatorum University, is structured in 3 Degree courses (GASTRONOMY, HOSPITALITY AND L-GASTR TERRITORIES, L15 TOURIST SCIENCES and LM56 ECONOMIC SCIENCES, 1 First Level Master in High Hospitality, 3 Professionalizing Courses in HIGH ITALIAN CUISINE; HIGH PASTRY AND SOMMELIER, 4 Amateur Courses: DOP and IGT IN THE KITCHEN; COOKING FOR WELL-BEING; FROM FLOUR TO PIZZA and ESSENCES IN THE KITCHEN.

179501The courses provided are in a blended formula (online part and part in presence) to guarantee participants an adequate theoretical knowledge combined with a practical experience of excellence. Internships are planned in the realities of excellence in Italian catering and the most exclusive high-rise hotels. The network of alliances includes agreements with top-level partners, including: Gambero Rosso, the Italian Chambers of Commerce abroad, the network of restaurants that have received the “Ospitalità Italiana” trademark, the Ministry's Telematic Merchandise Exchange for Agricultural Policies, Unioncamere.

Following this, the "Prince of Naples Campus" hosted a journey of taste: 20 chefs, 5 pizza chefs, 4 patissier chefs, 10 wineries, 3 distilleries and several dairy and cured meat producers. The organization of the festival, dedicated to quality companies and restaurants, has collaborated Sergio Sbarra, gourmet expert. The same route of taste was opened to the entire Agerolese community from 7pm onwards and until 11pm.

Campus "Prince of Naples" marries the renewed requirements of environmental protection, in fact all the dishes will be served in disposable biodegradable dishes; and is sensitive to the needs of users with food intolerances, for this reason a collaboration with Schar was activated that presented the new dough for gluten-free pizza. While the inaugural cake was made by pastry chef Ciro Maiorano.

November 2019

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