By Eleonora Baldwin
talians love children. It's about the only truth not up for debate in an otherwise argumentative society. Fortunately, this love (and tolerance) extends to eating and being fed. Restaurants will never raise eyebrows at a family with children in tow. Kids are welcome even in the most posh eateries. In fact, most establishments have an ample supply of high chairs, usually crafted in the same style as "grown-up" seating often with a plush cushion to boot.
North American-style children's menus don't exist in Italy, but there are still plenty of ways to craft an appropriate meal. For starters, you can work with your waiter, usually a fairly easy task since meeting a child's sometimes fussy dietary needs is part of knowing how to speak "kid" language, which Italians are more fluent in than most. Most places will gladly produce mezza porzione (half portions) of kid-friendly foods and assure that your child's order is sent to the kitchen first.
That said, a few words to the wise:
First: Though Italian dining hours have become more flexible in recent years, they don't cover the customer-oriented "what you want, when you want it" North American norm (same goes for special dietary needs). Few are the restaurants that serve a full-service dinner at 7 p.m. (7:30 is usually the start time for a family meal). If you're looking for a sit-down family meal before 6 p.m. expect it only at a cafe table or a fast-food spot. Pre-noon lunch is also uncommon, with most Italians (and their kids) taking only coffee breaks before the start of lunch, usually about 1 p.m. at the earliest. The hours between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. are dead to dining, since the Rome work day extends to 8 p.m., with dinner coming afterwards. Once again, a local cafe (known generically as "bars" in Italy) is your best bet in mid- to late afternoon.
Second: Take-out is still a rarity in Italy, though some places will do their best to bundle up leftovers. But over-ordering assuming you can take it home is a bad idea, and that includes pizza. Eat only what you're up for at any given meal.
Finally, if you're on a summer trip, remember that air conditioning isn't a sure thing (part of the reason Rome residents dine after 9 p.m. in the hot months). Some places have it, many don't. If your kids complain, bribe them with two sure things: pizza... and gelato.
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