On 1 December 2011 the Courier reported that Â«The collaboration di Milano Ristorazione, the company that prepares meals for 70,000 children of Milanese schools, with the ‘super-consultant’ Franco Berrino, called to promote healthy eating in schools, was finished… The prevention specialist, when he had accepted the collaboration with the Municipality, had set some conditions: no preserved meat, therefore goodbye hams and salamii, nor sugary drinks, including fruit juices and sweetened yoghurtsi, foods such as fast food, salty or sugary snacks, snacks and products containing hydrogenated fats or glucose and fructose syrup are prohibited».
The reason for the resignation was that Milano Ristorazione, after having removed cured meats from the school menus, had distributed a newsletter to families in which it recommended supplement the children’s diet with cured meats for dinner. Meanwhile, some newspapers headlined: “Children reject the Berrino diet: proposing bizarre menus, reducing meat and removing favorite dishes has not proved to be appreciated”.
It was one of my many failures, after all, a career without some catastrophic failure is not an honorable career. With Elena Alquati, the talented chef and founder of Â«L’Ordine dell’UniversoÂ», and with the mothers of the Milan canteen commissions, we experimented with the menus in several meetings with classes of elementary school children. We had cooked with them and found that the simple dishes of the traditional Mediterranean cuisine they had been very successful. But a freshly cooked dish for 30 children is different from the same recipe that stands hours to be transported to schools. Many things change: from the commitment of the cooks, bored by a repetitive job without the recognition of the gratitude of those who will consume that meal, to the organoleptic deterioration that the dish will undergo in transport, to the conditions in which it is consumed, with disposable crockery, noisy environment, unmotivated assistants.
The report card that evaluates the school menu
Fortunately, when Dr. Berrino has thrown in the towel, the mothers of the canteen committees have kept insisting why school canteens changed. Claudia Paltrinieri, a mother from Milan, founded an association – Food insider – which she proposed to assess the adequacy of school menus throughout Italywith a score that rewards those who remove cured meats, reduce red meats, promote whole grains, legumes as the main source of protein, a variety of vegetables (not just potatoes!), mid-morning fruit, seasonality, organic food, integration with the territory, local agricultural products. Evaluation penalizes foods instead artificial, manipulated by industry, stored and packaged in plastic. The “point menu” initiative has had overwhelming success: the latest assessment by Foodinsider, relating to the 2021/2022 school season, ranks the school menus of 55 cities with scores ranging from over 200 (Fyear, Parma and Cremona) to less than 50. Milan is today in 28th place with 101 points. In Cremona, with 32 kitchens for 3,000 meals, they offer a variety of cereals (seven different cereals, often wholemeal), a variety of fish dishes, legumes five times a month, meat six times (five white and one red) and washable crockery is used. In the municipalities with the lowest scores, meat is present on average 10 times a month (including five red), then there are cooked ham, tuna, sticks, junk desserts and disposable tableware. Comparison with excellent realities stimulates improvement, many menus have changed significantly and more administrations are actively collaborating with Foodinsider.
The law of Minimum Environmental Criteria (CAM, August 2020), which regulates the new tenders for canteens, has given a hand to the change. Among the objectives of the CAM there is the Mediterranean diet, more organic, local and seasonal food, the elimination of processed food and plastic, the monitoring of waste, less industrialized services connected to sustainable local production, the training of cooks and, most importantly, communication with families, teachers and children. Bologna, Florence and Turin have made tenders that no longer favor the economic discount, but quality, according to the CAM criteria: with a fixed base price of around five euros the one who proposes the highest quality wins. An experiment has been launched in Turin to activate canteens Â«freshÂ» who provide meals through kitchens inside or near the school. In Sesto Fiorentino the kitchen is centralized but uses almost exclusively local organic products (with a positive effect on the local economy) and the cooks interact with the schools, listen to the suggestions of the children and cook delicious dishes such as baked chickpeas (the same ones that had reached schools inedible in Milan), cauliflower fritters, farfalle with fish sauce, medallions of baked trout and millet, penne made with ancient grains. You can change, and Italy is changing. We expect that too Milanocity of excellence, will give its creative contribution to the health of its children.