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  • What Do Italian Babies Eat?

    Discover the foods that have the littlest set oohing and aahing, literally
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    Italian babies have to be the best fed in the world. I'm not sure how healthy the food is but it sure is tasty – and it usually sets baby up for a healthy, not to mention somewhat gourmet (at least by American standards) palette for life. Of course, many mothers – and even a few fathers – in the Boot cook baby's food for them. When they do, the baby generally gets fed whatever the rest of the family is eating. It just gets pureed in the blender first.

    Of course, Italian mothers, who are among the world's hardest working women, also rely on jarred baby food. While there are a couple of brands on the market, Plasmon is the Gerber of Italy. I haven't done any formal research, but when I traveled with my then 6-month-old son to Ischia in Italy, everyone told me this was the stuff I had to buy. So, I did.

    Among Plasmon's offerings, you'll find some interesting flavors. Of course, the standard baby biscuits, mashed up peas and rice, and pureed meat are on the menu. But you'll also find the following: Plasmon - Cavallo Baby Food

    • Baby olive oil – A milder version of extra virgin olive oil is available for kids. And I used it to top off a number of dishes I served my son, when he was in Italy as an infant and toddler.
    • Chamomile Tea – Italians consider this a panacea. The mild version for babies comes in a packet of powder that goes into a bottle with warm water and usually is given in addition to mamma's breast milk. The idea is that this drink relaxes baby and keeps the tantrums at bay.
    • Rabbit – Ischia's most famous dish is coniglio Ischitano. Before baby can say the word, he can eat it in pureed fashion. My son actually loved this staple of our diet. And he'll eat it cut up like the rest of his now, too.
    • Horse – You read that right. I'm still flabbergasted about it. But Plasmon and other baby food brands offer pureed horse meat for your baby's consumption. There's a horse's head on the jar in case you thought it might be beef. I could never wrap my head around this, so I never gave it to my son, even though Italian doctors suggested it after he suffered through 40 days of diarrhea in the Boot. I've never seen adults in Italy eat horse, but I am well aware that mortadella – "when it was delicious" – was made of horse meat. It is now pig, or at least that is what everyone tells me. And I don't want to know the truth if it isn't because I can't get enough of it.
    Now, you could just pop open one of these jars and feed it to the baby. But that would be sacrilege in Italy, home of the inventors of pizza, pasta, and all that is delicious in this world. Moms heat it up.

    In the United States, babies are often introduced to food with a bit of oatmeal, mushy and easy to digest. Italian babies would never eat oatmeal. (In fact, Italian immigrants to the United States often recall social workers trying to force feed the stuff to their children and called it "pig's food.") Instead, babies in Italy first sample pastina. You're supposed to wait until your doctor gives you the go ahead around four months, but most of the moms I know in Italy start giving their baby pastina at two months. I didn't follow Nonna's orders on this one. When we got to Italy and my son was six months old, I served him his first bowl of pastina.

    Once baby is down with the pastina, you start adding to it. Generally, you make a broth of chicken stock, carrots, and celery, boil the pastina in it, and then add one of the jars or your own pureed meat and/or vegetable. You always add a dollop of that olive oil for enhanced flavor. For variety, some nights, you add formaggino (a very soft, mild cheese) to plain pastina instead of the other stuff. Formaggino is something I've learned every Italian relates to his childhood.

    Eggs are another staple for babies in Italy. It's rather a big deal, the first time baby eats a soft-boiled egg. Now, I let my relatives convince me to give my son this when he was about seven months old, but I'm not sure it was so wise. My brother, who is in the restaurant business, is still critical of the decision.

    What Italian parents do is get a fresh-from-the-chicken egg, boil water, and place the egg in the boiling water for a couple of seconds. For me, an American, they left it there for a whole minute. Then, you carefully break open the very tip of the shell and use a tiny spoon to get out the still basically raw yolk to feed to baby. People photograph it, and it's a bit of an adorable mess with egg on baby's face.

    The problem, of course, is the chance of salmonella and baby's vulnerable immune system. I'll be honest with you, my son experienced 40 days of diarrhea during this period of time in Italy. I don't blame the egg because it seemed to be the change of water from the United States to Italy and the travel. But I wouldn't advise soft-boiled eggs to babies no matter what the gourmands in Italy say. I felt pressure to “do as the Romans.” You, on the other hand, should do what makes you comfortable with your bambino.

    To be perfectly honest, my son still loves eggs, and he prefers to eat them poached or fried with runny, runny yolks. He will not, however, put pasta even remotely close to his mouth. He was given breast milk and plain pastina in the wake of his diarrhea. I don't know if he associates the pastina with his illness, but he will spit pasta in your face if you give it to him. It hasn't stopped all the nonni from trying. The family is a big part of feeding baby. Everyone – from zii to nonni – get in on the act. It's part of the joy and the buon appetito.

    Di Meglio uses the written word to help families create memories and stick together. You can follow her on Facebook at Francesca's Newlyweds Nest and on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 7/14/15


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