Special Report: Eating Our Way Through Europe!

As you may know our family had the opportunity to go on the trip of a lifetime this summer. For the first time ever we took our daughters beyond the borders of the US, and together we visited England, France, Switzerland, and Italy – and what an experience it was! This was one of those trips where “scope creep” ruled. We initially decided we wanted to visit my cousin and his family who have been living in Paris for a year, and the plans just grew from there. Because once you take the plunge to buy plane tickets to travel all that way – why not? One thing I learned from this trip is that our daughters, at 8- and 6-years old, are at the perfect age to go on an adventure like this. They were total troopers even when we pushed the limits more than intended (dinner at 9:30 anyone?). I was really impressed with how well they dealt with so many new (and foreign) environments, the six hour time change, and the days that sight-seeing honestly wore out all four of us. I was diligent about having them keep a daily journal (that they also taped mementos into – like train tickets and museum passes) so they will hopefully remember this experience for years to come!

Europe Visit

Now, let’s discuss the food! For the very first time since our switch to real food we were honestly in just a “go with the flow” mode while on this trip. At home I am very diligent about packing my own food for trips, asking questions before ordering at restaurants, planning ahead, and the like – but with us being gone for so long, knowing there would be a language barrier, and also visiting places that are known for an overall “fresher” cuisine we had little choice other than to just relax quite a bit. And we survived of course! Although, I will say now that we are home, I am looking forward to getting back on track in the real food department :)

Europe Food

Some of the dishes these countries are most known for…

  • London: Bangers and Mash (Sausage and Mashed Potatoes)
  • France: Pastries, Croissants and Crepes
  • Switzerland: Fondue, Pizza (with a potato pancake crust)
  • Italy: Homemade Pasta, of course!

I was adamant about eating local cuisine whenever we could. While the sushi in Rome was tempting – I did not give in! I will say though that we did eat Indian food in London, because (we were told) London is actually known for their Indian cuisine. And I am so glad we did because it was some of the best I’ve ever had. Other than that though we pretty much stuck to “When in Rome…” well, you know the drill :). One of the reasons I was excited about this trip was to experience some different food cultures and also be inspired by the cuisine. Part of what I do for a living is develop recipes, and I can’t wait to work with the new ideas I came home with.

In the meantime though, and in no particular order, here are some food-related observations I took away from our trip…

  • I found it interesting that every single restaurant we ate at in France (except for one) had a kids menu. The offerings were better than what you would find in the US, although still very much “kid oriented.” In my experience kids menus are much fewer and farther between here at home. I am not sure what to make of it, but it was definitely not something I was expecting.
  • In France they like to eat things RAW. And I am not just talking about veggies and fruit – raw meat and fish was not uncommon. One dish in particular consisted of steak that had been chopped in a way that made it look very similar to ground beef – and it was served in one big red pile, completely raw!
  • Also in France we had the opportunity to shop at a farmers’ market. The butcher vendor had me on my toes…their “whole” chickens still had all the parts you can imagine attached, the kabobs were made with organ meats, and they had some sort of tiny animal brains for sale (no, thank you!).
  • At supermarkets milk and eggs were generally not refrigerated. The milk was ultra high temperature pasteurized, which is also something that is sold here in the US and technically does not need refrigeration. In other news – yogurt is BIG business there…the yogurt aisles go on and on and on and yogurt was part of my breakfast most days. The yogurt was refrigerated in case you are wondering :)
  • Processed foods are not quite as “super-sized” as they are here in the states, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t consumed. There was certainly no shortage of McDonald’s locations or bottles of Coca-Cola’s from what we could see. No one is perfect after all (not even the French)!
  • Speaking of portion sizes, in all honesty we found restaurant portions to not be too far off from the US. Just like we do here at home my husband and I often split meals (usually an appetizer and an entree) – that is when it wasn’t a set menu. They sure do like their set menus (pick one from each category) in France!
  • Artificial food dyes are in fact accompanied by a warning label on packaged food and therefore not used as commonly as they are here.
  • It was interesting to see how true these countries were to their stereotypical cuisines. From buffalo mozzarella and thinly sliced proscuitto found at the gas stations in Italy to croissants on every corner in France – they sure do live up to their reputations!
  • Our least favorite food was honestly in Paris. I am not sure if we were guilty of high expectations or just ran into too many tourist traps, but it just did not compare to the wonderful French cuisine we experienced when we stayed in the countryside south of Paris.
  • In Italy many restaurants didn’t even open for dinner until 7 or 7:30 – quite a different schedule than we are used to here at home. And many of their restaurants notate which menu items are frozen/premade versus made fresh in house  (we were actually told it was required).
  • Apparently the French don’t measure out for recipes much (at least the way we do). The farmhouse we rented (through VRBO.com) had no measuring cups or spoons to be found…and, according to my blog readers who reside in that area of the world, the French either wing it or use kitchen scales instead.
  • Okay, this is not related to food, but it’s related to health. Europeans sure do love to smoke! Yes, they seem to be ahead in so many ways when it comes to eating more wholesome and fresh foods, but we could not get over how many people were smoking cigarettes every place we visited. Even including a waitress as she was waiting on one of her outdoor tables – true story.

For those of you that have also traveled to (and eaten your way through) Europe I’d love to hear your thoughts and impressions in the comments below! And with that I’ll leave you with some more pics of the good eats we were able to experience on our trip :)

good eats

On one last note, the French sure do know how to celebrate birthdays! My husband turned 37 while we were there and just check out the birthday dessert plate they brought out (much to my surprise!). Forget the candle – it’s a full blown firework! What a memory!

firework

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76 thoughts on “Special Report: Eating Our Way Through Europe!”

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  1. My husband has never been able to eat fried food here, even as a kid. When we went to Switzerland this past summer, we had Wiener Schnitzel, another popular dish, several times (with fries…). Interestingly, none of that ever bothered his stomach, even though it was all fried food! I would love to know how they prepare it and what ingredients they use, since it’s obviously very different from how they prepare it here.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi Kate. I think traditionally it is cooked in lard or clarified butter. We fry most things (in this country) in cheap, chemically processed, refined oils. That might be the difference. ;)

      1. I just came back from living in Germany for 3.5 years, and I notice such a difference in the food here in America vs. in Germany (and other parts of Europe I traveled to). I laughed at the image of the waitress smoking while serving tables. I know I saw a lot of smokers in Germany.

        I felt great, physically, eating foods in Europe. I do puzzle over what the difference is in America, but like you said, it must be the weird food additives/processing that happens to our food. Interestingly, Germans do use oils like canola (called rapsol in German).

        I really enjoy this blog, and I really agree that eating real foods is the key to health (not to mention taste).

  2. Thanks for the post! In one of your pictures it looks like you had Creme Brûlée? If so, was it thin or thick (like pudding)? Did you have boeuf bourguignon? Also, what was the birthday dessert served for your husband? I am very interested in French cooking and healthy eating, and would love to know as much as I can. I make these items from the Julia Child cookbook and am wondering how close mine is to the real thing. Thanks again for your inspiring blog!

  3. We’re planning a trip to Europe next autumn, can’t wait! Very interesting observations too. Although I blog about food recipes, I rarely measure anything with cups or spoons unless I’m baking. I like the best guess and taste test method. :)

  4. Its true that the French don’t use measuring cups or spoons, no Europeans do, its very much an American thing, which is why you would never find a set in a rental house. I live in Ireland, and don’t know anyone who uses cups!!

  5. As a native Texan with 4 kids living in Austria for the last 13 years, I can relate to your experience. I blog about and help people with the Autism and ADHD diet, which we also follow, so food for us must be restricted to no gluten, dairy, soy and artificials.

    All measurements are done by weight, which I’ve grown to like much more than volume of cups and spoons. It’s much more accurate.

    Though still not perfect, I love the fact that the food here is healthier thanks to the laws being stricter than in the US. Yes, many of the exact same junk foods from the US food companies are available here now, but they use natural ingredients like real sugar instead of HFCS and natural food colorings because the laws are different. If they can do it here, they can do it there… sadly, they just don’t have to.

    My first culture shock about Austrian culture is that they take 2-3 hour lunch breaks from store hours. They literally close up the whole store for that time. It has changed a lot so that the major store chains don’t do it, but the smaller locations still do. Everything closes around 6-7pm daily, between noon and 6 on Saturdays, and everything is closed Sundays. No late night or weekend runs to the store!

    For the food, they are very particular about good quality, organic, and no gmos. It’s not always prepared the best way, like deep fried schnitzel and fatty sausages of all kinds, but I like knowing the quality is good and I can prepare it how I want!

    Sorry for such a long comment, but I’m a passionate foodie myself and you hit a topic of interest! :) Love your blog – thanks for sharing!

  6. I was lucky enough to spent some time in Spain this summer. Most of the time I lived with a local family, so I was able to experience what the locals eat every day. I found it interesting how often foods were repeated. We ate the same soup two or three times a week–the three weeks I was there we only ate three different types of soup (and soup was served every day as our first course at lunch). Also I found it interesting that the concept of diet food did not exist. My Spanish “mom” was trying to lose a few pounds, so she was eating what she called sad food. It was the same food we ate, but minus the ingredients she thought were fattening. Learning about different food cultures is one of the big reasons I travel–how people think and choose to experience food is a great way to learn about people and their culture.

  7. We also live in Italy and I am so glad you had the opportunity to come experience life here!! Now you can see the struggle with doing the real food idea here – with variety . Sure we can eat the heck out of some Italian food, but after 2 years even I need a break from homemade pasta. There is another really important caviot to European living. Did you notice the size of the freezer? Barely any room for a gallon of Ice cream. Europeans, especially older ones shop day to day. There is no “freezer” meals and especially here in Italy the idea of a pre-packaged meal grosses them out. But the society here is more geared to a real food lifestyle. Generally if the wife works full time the grandparents take care of the kids. You will not find daycare’s here like in the states. Also they take 2-3 hours off every day to come home for lunch. Lunch is generally the biggest meal of the day during the week. With every Italian I know Mama(grandma) usually makes the lunch. They eat later, but dinner is a 3-4 hour ordeal. It is a social time. Like in the book why french women do not get fat – NO ONE eats on the fly – No eating in your car or at your desk. Italians work to live not live to work – and this makes all the difference in their health. This is why where I live is one of the healthiest areas of the world. You can’t just change your diet – you have to also change your lifestyle and outlook – that is what eating and living overseas has taught me.

    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts as well – I feel like I need to go back again and even pay more attention next time around! So much to take in when we were only there for a few short weeks.

  8. I love the timing of this post. We are headed to Paris & Germany (several cities) in about 10 days. My youngest is 6 so I am so glad to hear that things went well for you!
    Interesting that the food was disappointing in Paris. I’m really hoping for good bread, cheese, wine & fresh local produce. Meat too I guess. We shall soon find out!

  9. Very interesting thoughts. I live in Germany and wanted to share a few of my own.
    Almost everyone I know with kids buys fresh whole milk. The real kind that spoils fast. The other milk is mostly used for coffee.
    When in italy and france, if they have a kids menu, it’s probably for turists. In restaurants for locals, either the chef will come out to talk to you or the waiter will suggest a smaller portion of a normal plate. For babies -in italy- it’s often free! They love bambini!
    Also, they like to add sugar to so many things! Italy again.
    In France, they get upset when I say we are vegetarian.
    Most of the time, we like to cook ourselves because of my daughter’s allergies and we love visiting the local markets.
    Another thing, many cheeses are not pausterized, europe wide, and pregnant women are not advised to refrain from eating them.
    Lastly, our best experience for healthy fresh vegetarian food: Greece and Israel. Fresh fruit is always available! In germany kids eat way to many french fries. Maybe it’s because of the produce of each country. In winter almost everything is imported.
    Anyhow, just found you site and have been enjoying reading from like minded people.
    Oh, and regarding another post of yours: since I told the children’s doctor that we use real salt, they get a supplement.

  10. Theresa Von Duerring

    I was also surprised, and disgusted, by the popularity of smoking in Europe, especially by the young people. I wonder why they avoid food dye but inhale poison?

  11. Hello! I live in Italy with my husband, while he is stationed here with the Army. It was very fun to read your comments about European cuisine – especially your thoughts on Italy! it is SO true that restaurants do not open until 7 or 7:3opm, we have become quite used to late dinners here (no kids for us, so that helps!). But it is very common for us to be out to eat and see parents with toddlers stroll into a restaurant at 9pm or later! And I have also noticed how big portion sizes are. I think, when we moved here, I mistakenly came with the idea that portions would be smaller, so it would be easier to eat the proper amount. No way! Especially because most restaurants, at least in our part of Italy, have sections of the menu – First Course, Second Course, etc, and we felt like we needed to order something from each section. Luckily, we’ve learned that it is ok to just order what we want…. well, they might think we are crazy Americans, who knows! But apparently Italians have a very scripted eating schedule – they eat certain things at certain times of the day. I’ve been told that is why they are so skinny. And the smoking – drives me crazy! Especially when we are eating outside and the people next to us our smoking. Weird. I guess it is just something we have to get used to! Oh – and one last thing! :P I have been taking an Italian cooking class, and I have noticed that the chef doesnt measure anything, unless it is on a scale as well. I dont know if all Italians cook this way, or just him. But it’s been fun to learn to cook some yummy Italian meals!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about European food! :)

  12. Measuring cups are indeed an american thing. You will not find them anywhere else, same with Fahrenheit, pounds and ounces etc.

  13. We were also disappointed in the food in Paris. The best food we had on our visit was crepes from a street vendor! The best food we had, hands down, was in Germany. So fresh and flavorful! Austria was wonderful as well. We’re looking forward to going back in a few years and exploring the French countryside to find those delicious foods that everyone raves about!

  14. I lived in Germany for three years and went back to visit a few years back. I’m surprised you weren’t crazy about the food in Paris…we had nothing we didn’t adore! Also loved the food in Strasbourg. The wonderful thing about Europe is everything is really fresh and not impregnated with all sort of preservatives. The hotel we stayed at was on the Rue Cler which is a big market street in Paris….wonderful food and such great memories! It reminded us very much of the Viktualienmarkt in Munich where we were blessed enough to live. Food seemed like a celebration when we dined out. We were never rushed….in fact, quite the opposite. It’s one of the things I miss so much here in the USA. I dream of going back to live in Europe for a few years. There are some different things to eat, but the open air markets are superb! One of my best memories is I was pregnant with my first child and craved a watermelon. My hubby spent the equivalent of $20 1984 dollars to buy me this little watermelon that was imported from Israel. OMGosh, was it amazing. Things I really miss…schweinshaxe (a cardiologist nightmare I assure you! =P), fresh lychees, spanferkel and pickled peppers stuffed with kraut from a stand on the corner of the Viktualienmarkt. They are just an example of some things I miss!

  15. My husband, mother, and son all went to Europe for the first time in 2000 when our daughter was stationed in Germany with the Air Force. We traveled to France, Luxembourg, and Switzerland as well as traveled around Germany. We have since gone to Austria and Belgium. The food was wonderful and the fun thing was that if my husband could not tell from the menu what he wanted to order, he would just walk around and look at what other people were having, then tell the waiter he wanted “what that person was having”. It was great!

  16. That’s for the blog. We just visited London and Ireland. I’d have to say I preferred Ireland’s food over England’s. Their “traditional English breakfast” is overrated. I ate it about twice and then opted for toast and jam the rest of the time. Thanks for inspiring me to eat better.

  17. I lived in Paris for 3 years and was saddened to hear about your disappointment in Parisian cuisine. We have loved so many of our meals there! I am not quite sure what you were expecting, but maybe you can elaborate more on what displeased you? Did your cousin have any good recommendations?

    I just came back from Paris for a visit in June. It is as delicious as I remember it. The strawberries have so much more flavor, the pate is locally made, and the baguettes are as delectably fresh and crispy on the outside and moist on the inside as I remember. I am sorry you did not get the same impression!

      1. Confit de canard is a family favorite for sure. Who can argue with duck that is slow cooked in its own fat and then preserved in its own fat? Glad you were able to have it in Paris!!

    1. Oh I am sorry to hear that. I honestly think we ended up in some touristy places. One meal that wasn’t so exciting was at the restaurant in the Musee D’Orsay. The others were just places we stumbled upon after doing no research. We just lucked out a lot more in Southern France – especially when comparing the two side-by-side. I am sure there are fabulous places in Paris as well we should have just planned it out a little better!

      1. We ate at that restaurant once in the Musee d’Orsay as well! You are absolutely correct in that it was terrible!! I remember it being awful as well! It is hard to know where to eat, that’s for sure. On our last trip, we were pleasantly surprised by a delicious meal in a restaurant RIGHT next to the Champs des Mars. I thought it was going to be a total tourist trap being right near the Eiffel Tower, but it was delicious! You just never know!

  18. Hi!
    We just found out that my husband is going to be stationed in the southern part of England for 3 years. we just set our moving dates today for mid November. We couldn’t be more excited to explore and travel and eat! We have a 4 1/2 year old, 2 1/2 and a 17 month old. It should be interesting! It’s been great to hear everyone’s experience that they have had while traveling.

  19. What a wonderful opportunity you had and you picked great destinations.
    By the way the raw beef is called Tartare and it is wonderful, hope you had some.
    Also you should have tasted the brains, its very good… you just have to forget what it is!!!!
    I’m suprised to read that you didn’t eat well in Paris… you probably went to some tourist trap like you said, because French food is awsome!
    Anyhow, if you ever feel nostalgic about Europe, take a shorter trip to Montreal, Qc Canada. The food, the entertaiment and the people are great. It’s just like being in Europe with a twist, and a lot of people speak english too!!!

    1. Hi Val – I took a bite of the tartare and it was quite good…had some onions mixed in. No way Lisa is eating brains, although I’ve had some pig brain back in the states (Georgia, to be precise). Thanks for the recommendation on Montreal…I never thought about it like that. Reminds me of seeing poutine and gravy on the menu just north of the border at Wateron Lakes National Park (although nowhere near Montreal of course).

  20. I’ve often wondered how eating in another country affects health. I have been to Russia a few times, once for almost 2 years, and each time I seem to leave feeling healthier, odd as it may seem to some since their cuisine is stereotyped as unhealthy in some minds…I lived with a Russian babushka for three months on a foriegn exchange program and she cooked the traditional meals every day. A large breakfast of eggs or kasha. And another large meal for lunch or dinner, usually a couple courses, tomatoes/cucs then black bread and soup then pasta or potatoes and meat/chicken or some form of cabbage roll or stuffed bell pepper, etc…followed up by tea and a treat (chocolate, cookies, or both:). This is the same standard fare whether on a train, a cafeteria or restaurant. Sure there are Mc Donald’s, Ice cream stands on every corner even in the winter! and you can find soda and pastries in most shops, my favorite is the huge crepes made to order with Nuetella melted in the folds…but these were “treats”, the standard fare which includes lots of fish as well, and some kefir and often pickled vegetables… seemed to make me feel lighter and stronger. When I tried to seek out my “American” favorites, I never felt as good. It seems their produce is fresh from the fields, the meat may not be as industrialized…Maybe all the walking for public transportation also added to the feeling:). thanks for the memories!

  21. Hello, two summers ago I was in France for a month and I couldn’t agree with you more on most topics! I was lucky to spend time with my family from the south of France, so I got to feel what everyday family life w like everyday! Fresh bread at every meal, 8-course lunches and so much fresh food! On hikes we would stop on our way to the trail head for bread and ham and fruit. No mayo, or other condiments! And they knew the best places to get everything! The food was amazing and I can’t wait to go back! Chocolatine was my favorite French pastry too!

    Also, I couldn’t believe how many young people smokes! I was with mainly 25-yr olds the first half of my trip and I had to manage. Every car trip in those tiny cars where the other 4 passengers were smoking was crazy! Me as someone who has never smoked ever, I was using my allergy inhaler every night! But I must say, they would out hike me on the trail wearing cheap sandals while smoking! Crazy… I felt like that was a true demonstration of what good food and exercise can do even for smokers!

    Thank you for sharing your experience! People don’t believe it until they go their and experience the culture.

  22. Ahh, I spent a week in Paris a few years ago and fell in love with the city. I found the food very good, but I avoided the touristy places since I was with friends. The pastries at the two corner bakeries I stopped at near my apartment were divine. Of course, I don’t have anything to compare it to. I just know it was a thousand times better than Americanized French pastries. I had that steak tar-tar you mentioned. It was quite, um, interesting. My friend ordered it so we could have a taste of something, um, unusual. I don’t think I’d order it on my own again. I’d love to go to Italy. I’d double love to take my family. But that’s not in the budget anytime soon.

  23. The only country we visited in Europe was Greece. I totally agree with the smoking. It was everywhere and there are no restrictions as to where they smoke. I really don’t like it and have asthma I think because my mother smoked when I was young. Just to have to avoid it was hard. YUCK!!!

    Good to know about the food in Paris! I would have totally thought it would be fabulous!!

    Oh to do more travelling abroad. One of these days. We used to go frequently but the Grandparents have a harder time with the kids for a longer time. My youngest is 4 so maybe in a few years we’ll be able to go with them.

  24. Jennifer Miller

    My husband and I took our (then) 18 month old to Switzerland last fall. We hiked in the Berner Oberland and stayed in Wengen. We did try to get her to eat what we were eating but there were times she wouldn’t. We stopped by the local market daily for our “lunch” foods and yogurt for the kiddo. She actually inhaled all the different yogurt we gave her. I love how everything is fresh. Our hotel served us pumpkin soup (I don’t like pumpkin) because someone had given them a pumpkin. It was dee-lish.
    When we were in Rome, I ate a street crepe with Nutella every night on the way back to our hotel. I figured we had walked all over the city, so why not. You know, when in Rome…

  25. I was in Israel and the hummus and pita bread that they just put on the tables was always my favorite part of the meal. Oh, and the olives, soo good.
    And yes, the yogurt overseas is to die for. It’s so good, I would have yogurt over any other dessert.
    You are right, the food in Rome just wasn’t as good as out in the small towns.
    I loved having odd things that I would never have tried at home. When I got pizza with a sunnyside up egg in the middle, I would have never thought it would be good, but it was awesome to dip the crusts in.
    And the little fishes I tried in Croatia were so good, it did make me feel a bit weird seeing them all whole, but they were so yummy.
    Oh, and the cooking class I took in Thailand, best best coconut rice and mango ever!!
    And the beans and rice in Dominican, so much flavour!
    And the little cakes we had in Holland, I still remember how wonderful they were.
    And the cappuchinos, and little outdoor cafes…people watching…maybe it is time for another trip.
    lol, Thank you for making me remember all the good things, and giving me the travel bug again.

  26. Thank you for sharing. My fiancé and I are planning to go to Europe sometime in the next couple of years while my daughter is stationed in England and my cousin in Germany. It will be fun to gather others’ input to add to theirs and hopefully make for a well-planned trip!

  27. We just moved back from Belgium (after a 2 yr tour) and I miss the pastries! I loved the crepes in Paris! They were so good. We did never ate any authentic French food while there, just usually grabbed a quick sandwich from a street vendor (my fave was mozzarella and basil panini). The best food I ate in Europe was in a cute town in Belgium called Rochefortl We also had great authentic Italan food in Luxemborg. I didn’t try Indian food in England, but I did have fish n chips while in London and they did not disappoint. So good! Glad y’all got to experience a new part of the world! So fun!

  28. I have been all over Europe and was not delighted with the food in Paris. The other places we went in France the food was wonderful. Paris did let me down as well. When you go back to Europe go to the Netherlands. My father is from the Netherlands and it’s a wonderful trip. You have to experience Indonesian food when you are there. Long ago Indonesia was a Dutch Colony so they know how to make the food correctly. Also, make time and go to Ireland. I have found there cuisine to be very tasty. You don’t have to get the typical Irish food. On the Irish coast they have lovely healthy food. Travel is so healthy for the mind and body!

  29. So pleased you had an enjoyable visit to Europe. I am British but live in U.S and am pleased you enjoyed Indian Food in England. It is wonderful and no comparison to U.S. Hopefully you visited Harrods and walked through the food hall, it is certainly an experience. Also Marks and Spencer is a wonderfuL large store with an exceptional food hall, plus great clothes etc. hope you had scones with fresh cream and strawberries in England, the cream is to die for as is the yogurt, it tastes so much more pure. There are many good restaurants in Paris but can be very expensive. Hope your daughters experienced eating their food with a knife and fork. Reading your blog makes me homesick, so much history in Europe and wonderful cafes to sit outside and people watch. I am impressed that you took your daughters to Europe, travel is a large part of their education and their are so many fascinating places to see in the world. Keep traveling.

  30. Fabulous! I loved reading this. I especially love that you made your girls keep a journal. I wish I had done that on some of our family vacations in the past.

    Those food pictures were just spectacular. (So hungry now!) I’m glad you “went with the flow” on your trip – though I’m sure because the food generally is less processed there it was easier.

    And yes, the smoking has always shocked me too. 20 years ago I was flying to Greece and one of the flight attendants was smoking in the galley. UGH!

    Thank you for taking us on this journey with you.

  31. Thanks for sharing… I am glad to hear that you and your family had a wonderful experience. I was hoping that you would share your itinerary with me? I am planning a trip for my family next year in June to England for me nieces graduation and we were hoping to include other countries in our travel.
    Please let me know.

    Karen

    1. Karen – We flew into London and stayed there for 2 nights. Then we took the high speed train to Paris. From there we rented a car and drove to the Farm House (closest town was Cluny). South of there we flew out of Lyon directly to Rome and then went on to Positano for 3 nights. Then we took a car and then train to Cinque Terra and went back to Rome to fly home. The whole trip was a blast, but Cinque Terra was our favorite. I hope that helps with your trip planning!

  32. Hi I’m from Switzerland five minutes from France, (by foot) (you didn’t spoke much about tSwiss food, did you like it. And my mum is from England and now live in the States.
    I miss the food from Europe, is more diverse from here, and of what I recall smaller portion. Yes is hard when restaurant or grocery stores close early in the evening, but also give the opportunity for worker to spend time with family or away from work. I went back two years ago with my family and had a great time. We ate too much bread and cheese, which is lacking where i live here, now.
    When people ask me what is a typical meal from Switzerland is hard for me to answer because my mum that made the meal is British and I lived in Geneva which is very international. Wish to have more European food here and less easy access to process food. Glad that you enjoy your Trip…

  33. What a great experience for your daughters and what a great age. I went to those same countries about 25 years ago and had almost the exact same experiences with food. I also lived in Italy for a few months in college and lived on wine, espresso, bread and cheese. I loved all the baked foods in Europe! There is something in their water that just makes them taste superior to anything you can buy in the states. Loved the fish n chips in England, Rosti in Switzerland and everything in Italy.

    We recently went back on a family trip in November with our daughters (10 and 13) and my father. And we were still amazed like you at how everyone still smokes.. You can see our food journey on our blog if you are interested.

    http://www.flavorseeker.com

    Love your site!! Thanks for sharing and all that you do for all of us!

  34. My husband and I went to Italy on our honeymoon 5 years ago, and the food was my favorite part! We were confused about our water options most of the time, and we were often ready for dinner before the restaurants were open, but it was a great time nonetheless.

  35. We just got back from Italy and the food was even better than I dreamed. Most of our time was spent in the Tuscan region so there was no fast food or junk food, only real food, which is what I went to Italy for! Well, food and art… I had made a list, in Italian, of all the foodsv( and drinks ) I wanted to experience on our trip. I was not disappointed. Although this was a trip for just my husband and myself, our son was at camp that week, I did notice that none of the restaurants had a kids menu. In my opinion, kids menus are mostly junk and when we eat out our son usually orders real food off of the regular menu. You could order smaller portions in Italy and all the kids we saw at restaurants were eating real food. No chicken nuggets and fries!!!! Everyone was so friendly in Italy and very helpful. I had fun in the grocery store shopping for breakfast items. The snack section was very very small compared to US stores. We also noticed more people smoking than at home. I would go back anytime!!

  36. What a great experience this way for you and your kids!!!
    Me and my husband traveled and out our way around europe at the ripe age of 18. And let me say we were on a very tight backpackers budget and our experience was a little different. We ate a lot a junk food and bread. As well as indulging in a few to many beers.
    I lived in europe for a year and put on 20kgs!!! So a little bit of a different experience! Though I am sure if I went back to europe as an adult that my food experiences would be a lot better!

    The best experience we had was at the daily fresh food markets in Barcelona, Spain! Delicious and fresh and cheap!! That was the best we ate the whole time!

    A contant dinner favourite was corn chips on bread with vegemite! YUCK!!!

  37. I was so glad to hear you went ahead and decided to just “go with the flow.” I’m currently traveling overseas (Hong Kong & Australia) and decided to just “go with the flow.” We do our best but vegetables have been hard to come by and I really love to dive in and try the local cuisine. It’s not hard to feel pretty safe with what I’m eating here. They even label the eggs on the street market so you know where they come from (in Hong Kong). Sadly, I had to explain to my tour guide why buying U.S. products isn’t always the safest choice.

  38. I live in Belgium, have travelled a lot around Europe and know somewhat about European customs and I can tell you Europeans surely aren’t necessarely healthier than Americans. Gastronomic cuisine in most European countries equals tons of meat (and lots of raw meat indeed), potatoes and vegetables mostly for decorative purposes only. Seeing where the meat comes from (whole fish, chickens, pork heads,…) doesn’t seem to bother or discourage lots of people, especially in France. In more than half of the restaurants you won’t find any vegetarian or vegan dish and they won’t pay attention to possible food allergies (here in Belgium I only know one place where I can eat a gluten free lunch).

    Even though we might have stricter rules about what needs to be written on the package (like for example artificial food dyes), I can assure you lots of big, international companies know how to escape these rules. Most foods contain no further information than ‘natural dyes’ (insects? plants?) or ‘vegetable oil’ (olive? palm?) and a lot of people believe what they are eating is healthy because of the way big companies make them believe their products are natural while they’re actually super unhealthy processed foods.

    Also most people do use measuring cups, don’t worry :D Mostly international ones with American cups as well as the metric system printed on them. It’s just that vacation houses don’t always think through what people might need in the kitchen. Also French people eat a lot of pastries or bread for breakfast and bread for lunch, making pancakes is considered something you do occasionally, mostly to eat in the afternoon on special occasions with family for example. But we mostly use kitchen scales to make them, indeed :) The metric system makes it easier to use kitchen scales to weigh dry elements and measuring cups for liquids.

    And lastly: we do refrigerate milk once opened (it’s written on the package you have to), even though all the milk you can buy at the supermarket is pasteurized. We keep eggs in the refrigerator as well, I have no idea why some supermarkets don’t do it.

  39. We live in Europe (Belgium) and prior to that were in France for 5 years. France is one of the biggest markets for McDonalds in the world. Luckily there is plenty of real food to be found, tho the same debates about food are to be found. There is also a book written recently about how the food in general has seriously gone downhill, with many places serving pre-made meals, especially in Paris which is probably what you noticed. Here’s a link to a blog about this, which also mentions the book by Alex Lobrano:

    http://www.davidlebovitz.com/2010/07/bistro-bummer/

    I don’t think France is the food mecca it once was. What is amazing there tho are the school lunches. Check out this calendar of school lunches from the school my daughter used to attend:

    http://bures-sur-yvette.votreextranet.fr/
    (you have to set up an account to view them)

    Cheers

  40. I’m interested in how gluten free friendly your trip was. Did you notice anything specific on the menus? I have a son with celiac and I was wondering how difficult it would be to travel overseas with him. So glad you got to enjoy such a wonderful experience!

    1. I actually did notice a gluten free sign in one of the cities…it must have been London because I remember being able to read it :) That was my only encounter with anything gluten-free though.

  41. yes I would have to agree food in the south of France was better than food in Paris it’s not that it was bad just not as good. I had the best meal and cake for my 16th birthday in Biarritz.

  42. What a wonderful trip–and what wonderful food! I tend to agree with you about trying to stick to local foods and dishes–another exception, like England, would be the Netherlands. You can find great Indonesian food there–and as in England, it’s because of colonialism.

    Baguette’s not yet old enough to handle a European trip, but I very much want to take her some day.

  43. Just got back from Europe also — traveled with my husband and teenage boys. We did a lot of shopping in grocery stores to eat “local”, also noticed that a lot of Europeans smoked! Our most fabulous meal was at a mountain top restaurant in Positano Italy on the Amalfi coast. The family owned restaurant serves family-style meals from food grown in their terraced gardens. They have their own chickens and pigs too. What comes out of the garden-farm that day is what’s for lunch! Absolutely the most delicious meal I’ve ever had — the pasta was so FRESH! If you’re ever in Italy on the Amalfi Coast — be sure to eat at Fattoria La Tagliata in Positano!!

  44. We loved the food in France so maybe you went to the wrong places. But we didn’t order any organ meats or steak tartare (raw chopped beef)!

    Wow, the desserts! Lemon tarts! Chocolate eclairs!

    And the carafe of house wine was the best wine we’d ever had.

    We were very annoyed by people smoking everywhere though. Disgusting.

  45. Oh, also I found the food in Rome to be pretty lackluster. But the food in Florence. Ah! I’m sure that’s probably a factor of it being a bigger city and also my Florence hostel had a fantastic “do as the locals do” listing of restaurants. I had a lunch I will never forget (liver of all things!) at a restaurant where tables were shared. Luckily one of my dining companions spoke Spanish and was able to help me navigate the menu. :-)

    1. That’s interesting what your experience was, because I had the exact opposite! I went 2 weeks to Florence as a tourist (over 10 years ago) and found the food surprisingly disappointing. Now, later on in life, I spend 1 month in Rome every summer as a “married-in” local ;) and enjoy the food so much that I have “re-entry food blues” when we come back to the U.S. I think, like many things – when traveling it can be your entry point into the city’s food culture. The locals always know where to get the best things and tourist traps are often just that.

      Oh, and speaking of organ meats… I was once told that “I’m not a proper Christian” (in italian, by a very grizzled and indignant grill chef) because I wouldn’t eat the very popular tripe dish at our Roman wedding dinner ;)

  46. I know just what you mean about the measuring cups! I lived in Granada, Spain for 3 months in 2004 and we had no measuring cups at all in the apartment I lived in. I shared the place with a Spanish girl and two Dutch girls and none of them seemed concerned about the lack of measuring cups. :-) That and learning to cook on a gas stove (and light the sucker) were both quite the experience!

  47. My husband and I were in Ireland while you were traveling, and I was keeping up with your photos. Everyone told us to prepare for not so great meals in Ireland (the Irish have never been know for their cuisine), but I have to say, traveling along the coast allowed us the freshest seafood. We found that many restaurants (not pubs) listed where they got all of their meats,seafood, veggies, bakery, etc from. While we couldn’t guarantee that every cut of meat was grass-fed, it made me happy knowing we could drive the 10 miles to the nearest farm to see where the cow came from. I’m thrilled to read your stories, and love that your girls got to experience other cultures in this way. We look forward to the day we can travel with children in the same way.

  48. So happy you posted about your trip! We are heading to Italy later this month w/3 girls (ages 11, 9 & 6). For a portion of the trip we’ll be staying w/family. I am looking forward to the trip, but also a little anxious as my 9 yr old has celiac disease. From what I have been reading we should be able to find restaurants w/gluten free options. I am hopeful! Glad you had such a positive experience!

    1. Donna,
      I live in Italy and there are certainly restaurants that have gluten free options. Don’t worry, I think you will be okay. If all else fails, the supermarkets also have gluten free sections. Good luck and have a great time in Italy!

    2. In fact, when it comes to celiacs in Italy, the public health program even provides a monthly allowance to celiacs with which to buy gluten free groceries. My aunt in Rome can’t use up her allowance on her own appetite, and always stops by my mother in law’s to drop off gluten free packaged treats from her special store…

  49. I am glad you had such a good trip to Europe. When we think of France, we think of Baguettes, cheese, olive oil, foie gras, saucisson and wine, never criossants and pastries! With regards to the milk, I think you must be talking about the long life milk found in all supermarkets and sold by the case, indeed it is not refridgerated and does not need to be kept that way, very useful in case of emergency like the hurricane strength storm of January 2009 when we had no electricity or water for 9 days! However all supermarkets sell fresh milk in the refridgerated sections and you will also be able to find “lait cru” raw milk, in many too which is always the best choice when available.

  50. We took our 20 month old to Amsterdam & Paris last year…it was the best vacation of our life. I swear we ate and drank and didn’t even put on a pound. The food there just seemed so much fresher and healthier. I found Paris to be super kid friendly and just friendly in general (which I was not expecting). And you can’t beat buying chocolate crepes on every corner! Amsterdam supermarkets were great…nothing like the big box stores here. Of course there is processed food, but I felt like we had access to better items over there.

    Your trip sounds amazing…I can’t wait to get back. Thanks for sharing your amazing experience with us!!

  51. My sister and I visited Switzerland with my parents the summer after I graduated from high school (which sadly, was nearly half a lifetime ago now). We ate fondue nonstop, and also adored raclette, with the potatoes and other items dipped in cheese. We also thoroughly enjoyed the Swiss chocolate. When I was in Italy, I remember being amazed at the gelato and loving all of the really fresh pasta and pizza that was available. Still hoping to make it to France one day…

  52. This post made me hungry! I am going to Paris and Italy for my honeymoon in September and appreciate the info!

  53. I spent a summer in Italy in college – in a small town named Urbino. We stayed at the college dorm and ate most meals in the dining hall there. I had fresh mozzarella every day – it was my favorite. I was fortunate enough to travel to Cinque Terre and cooked with some delicious fresh pesto – which the region is known for. Last fall, I traveled to Brussels, Paris & Amsterdam. Also had amazing meals in all of those places. We did see some raw meat in Brussels and Amsterdam too! Sorry you were disappointed with the food in Paris. We managed to find a small cafe not too far from the Eiffel Tower where we also sampled some fresh mozzarella & some soup. Glad to hear you had such a wonderful time & thank you for sharing your adventures!

  54. So the food looks great. However, I’m dying to know where you STAYED. Is that coming? Welcome back stateside.:)

  55. We lived in Geneva, Switzerland until 2 years ago when we returned to the US. One was a baby when we arrived in Geneva and the other was born and there for 6 years, so it’s all they knew. My youngest daughter is an especially good eater, as she always ate lunch at school as of 2 years old. I was envious of their “Fourchette Verte” (green fork) 3-course meals! Healthy eating and portion control just came naturally there. I was happy to find your blog and website, which have helped me navigate the food scape in the US. One thing you didn’t mention is how menus always tell the source of the meat. Eating Locavore is also easy there. Thanks for sharing your trip!

  56. WOW! Looks like you had a wonderful trip! Happy belated birthday to your husband and so thrilled you had an exciting safe trip. I am truly inspired :)

  57. Wow, what a great trip! I went to Europe for a student ambassador program when I was a kid and just LOVED the food in Switzerland. I don’t recall a single meal I didn’t like there. And yes, I recall few raw items in France. I tried a few and actually… they weren’t bad at all!