‘Eating like a Spaniard’ is not just about eating what Spaniards eat, but also about when and how they eat. In a little over a month, I have finally adapted to the typical Spanish meal patterns. It’s almost impossible not to because of the way the days are structured here, especially now that I’m a few weeks into my teaching job.
Here’s what my normal day looks like:
9:00 am – The school day begins
11:45 am – The kids have a 30 minute break outside for recess/desayuno (breakfast)! So strange to me that it’s this late in the day. What’s even more strange is that it’s not what I’d think of as breakfast, but more like a snack that everyone brings from home. Almost every single kid can be found running around the school yard holding either
- jamón (ham) or salchicón (similar to salami or pepperoni) on white bread
- a muffin, crêpe, croissant, or white bread with Nutella spread on it
- a drinkable yogurt
- a banana
usually accompanied by a little box of juice or chocolate milk. It’s pretty funny how little variety there is. And in my eyes, I just see a lot of processed red meat, refined grains and sugar. But this is their norm! And in the school of approximately 500 kids, I think I could count on my two hands the number who are overweight. Certainly different from the 1 out of every 3 children in the US who are overweight or obese. Okay, getting side-tracked. Onward.
12:00 pm – My recess duty is over and my break begins (hallelujah). I meet with the teachers in the staff room, where the school provides an array of coffee, tea, juices, bocadillos de jamón (of course) cut to share, fresh fruit, and packages of muffins and tortitas de maiz (exactly like rice cakes but made with corn). Not gourmet, but definitely not a bad deal! This snack holds me over until lunch.
12:15 pm – Break’s over, time for my last class
1:15 pm – Done with work! Time to commute home.
2:30/3:30 pm – LUNCH 🙂 It really has become my biggest meal of the day. Because for me, only having that small snack break all day leaves me ravenous. And if I go out for lunch, wine or beer is usually included with the meal so I just might enjoy a tinto. A big meal + a glass of wine? I finally understand the need for a siesta.
8:00/9:00 pm – Tummy’s grumbling, time for “dinner!” For Danielle and I, dinner meals can vary widely. Anything from tortilla de patata to pasta or pork dishes always with lots of veggies! It’s a smaller meal though, because I ate a larger lunch and it’s getting close to bedtime.
So that’s my typical weekday meal sitch! The one thing I haven’t relinquished? My breakfast. Spaniards are not big breakfast people, which may be linked to the fact that they usually eat a very late dinner. You certainly won’t hear anyone reciting the eye-roll-inducing American phrase, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day!” But not only do I LOVE (American) breakfast food, I wake up hungry and I NEED it – and frankly, I’m of the opinion that most people do. In fact, I realized I wanted to go into nutrition after writing an article for my high school’s newspaper about the importance of breakfast and why it shouldn’t be skipped! My education has only reinforced that opinion; this RD is a huge advocate for starting the day with some fuel in your tank! There is a large body of research supporting the importance of breakfast for concentration and alertness, weight management, preventing insulin resistance and more.
So the fact that Spaniards might have nothing but a piece of toast with tomato and olive oil is loco to me… but then again, they still don’t have as many diet-related health problems as Americans do, so there must be other factors at play. Such is the confounding European paradox.Regardless, I eat a comparatively hearty breakfast around 7:30 am- eggs, hot or cold cereal with fruit, or sometimes the more European brie and jam on a baguette – because I doubt the kids will like me much if I’m #hangry in class.
When the school day ends at 2:00 pm, there is lunch available in the comedor (cafeteria) for the faculty, staff, and students who stay after school for various reasons. However, most kids are picked up by a family member and they go home to share lunch together. I love that! Since this is radically different from the US, you might be wondering how that is possible – I know I was. Don’t the parents work? How can they get their kids in the middle of their 9-to-5? I’ve learned that many Mamas don’t work full time here, so many times they can get the kids, but if both parents do work during the day and neither or them have their lunch break at 2 as well, the students may also go home with grandparents.
It’s crazy how different this is from the US. It’s becoming more and more rare that families sit down together for dinner in the evening, let alone a meal in the middle of our day! I love Michael Pollan’s perspective on the social component of eating. He asserts that sharing food and conversing over a meal together is a uniquely human experience, and has been for centuries.
“The shared meal is no small thing. It is a foundation of family life, the place where our children learn the art of conversation and acquire the habits of civilization: sharing, listening, taking turns, navigating differences, arguing without offending.”
Eating socially is highly prioritized here in European countries, whereas isolated eating (eating alone) is increasing in the United States. While Europeans take a 2 hour break to savor a home-cooked meal and good conversation, many Americans work straight through lunch, eating take-out at their desks. I’m not naïve enough to think we’ll ever totally adopt their ways, but I do think we could benefit from taking just a page out of their book. 🙂