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Italian school lunches go organic, low-cost, local

Italian schools hope to teach Europe about nutrition and sustainability.

“The Mediterranean diet is about to become part of UNESCO intangible cultural heritage,” said Rome councillor Laura Marsilio, head of the education, family and youth department at Rome’s City Hall. “We want to promote it."

With the help of the high-end chef Angelo Troiani and a team of nutrition experts, Marsilio proposed the first menu inspired by Italian regional cuisine.

“I believe the children will have the opportunity to understand that Italy is a unique mix of rich differences,” she said.

Each month, Rome’s school menu offers food that you could easily find in any typical trattoria.

March offered a Tuscan veggie soup called “ribollita,” beef chops simmered in Chianti wine and olives and a fresh side of fennels. April came with Liguria’s pesto ravioli and veal-rolls with peas. May was Naples’ month, with tomato and mozzarella “pizzaiola” pasta, Sorrento-style scallops and sautéed zucchini. The new academic year will begin by paying homage to Sicily.

“This is an investment on our children’s health,” said Marsilio. “And a learning opportunity.”

Rome’s school district provided each class with posters describing the regional menus, with references to the different traditions and local folklore.

In the Eternal City, 70 percent of all food served at school cafeterias is organic. Ingredients come from 400 Italian organic farms, one-fifth of which are located in the Roman countryside and Lazio.

Each meal costs about 5 euros (or $6.40), but this is subsidized for low-income families. With its bigger budget, Rome can afford to cover most of the costs, charging families only 2 euros per meal (or $2.60).

But Marsilio, the sporty, 40-year-old who is also a mother of two, intends to raise the bar.

“This year, we’ll also send menu suggestions to the families for their children’s dinner,” she said.

And perhaps taking a leaf from Michelle Obama's White House gardening book, schools in Rome might see gardens producing fruit and vegetables in their backyard soon. Indeed, on the First Lady's recent official visit to Rome, the mayor launched a project for the first city garden, though the details remain vague.

In the Meantime, Marsilio said to expect school gardens to sprout up over the coming academic year.