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How to Eat Like An Italian

Updated on January 16, 2015
Broiled zucchini and red potatoes
Broiled zucchini and red potatoes

What do people in Italy eat on a daily basis? If you are doing research or want to adopt some Italian eating habits, this hub will show you how to eat like an Italian.

Italians eat mostly fresh foods. People tend to live at home until they are married, and there is usually someone at home (parent, grandparent, wife) that takes the time to cook the meals, often from scratch, so this makes it easier for people in Italy to eat fresh foods the way they do.

The lifestyle in Italy is more slowly-paced than in America, and more emphasis is placed on quality meals rather than the quantity of food on one big plate.

Nutella on bread
Nutella on bread

What do Italians eat for breakfast?

Italians do not eat large breakfasts. Like many Americans, they will stop somewhere to get a coffee in the morning. Capuccinos, espressos, and lattes are all popular. There are many coffee "bars" in Italy, and Italians will often drink their coffees simply standing at the bar or while walking to work.

They are also fans of bakery items like biscotti, breads, croissants, and rolls with toppings and fillings like butter, jelly, and a mass-produced version of what is traditionally called gianduia -- Nutella. Nutells is quite popular in the United States. If you toast some fresh bread and top it with Nutella, you are closer than ever to eating Italian.

To make this easy and cheaper for you at home, on the weekend you can make your own large batch of fresh croissants with a filling and defrost one for yourself each day of the week. To save money you can also make coffee in a French press rather than buying expensive single-serve pods. The French press method is traditional and also still used by many people throughout the world. Most people who drink coffee across the world do not have access to machines like Keurig.

Tuscan Minestrone
Tuscan Minestrone
Fruit and custard tart
Fruit and custard tart

What do Italians eat for lunch?

To enjoy their mid-day meal, Italians eat around 1 p.m. and go back to work around 3:00. The Italian lunch is the largest meal of the day. This two-hour break gives the people time to eat and socialize. Most people go to local restaurants for their lunches, just as they do in the United States. Italians also burn off more of the calories they consume at lunch by walking home at night.

Typical foods and courses for lunch are:

  • Appetizers - examples are olives or bruschetta: toasted bread topped with chopped tomatoes, oilve oil, and herbs. If you know about Spanish food, you can liken this to a Tapas.
  • Pasta or rice dishes - freshly made pasta with white, butter, olive oil, or tomato sauces, often topped with herbs and/or vegetables.
  • Fish or meat dish with vegetables - Italy has many varieties of fish and shellfish that are uncommon in America. (At home, the beef, pork, and chicken people eat are provided by a local butcher that each family has a relationship with.) Next to their meat or fish they will often have cooked vegetables like green beans or broiled zucchini, or whatever vegetable is in season.
  • Sometimes dessert - usually fruit, but occasionally cakes or pastries with fruit and cream fillings: tirimisu, fruit tarts, cheesecake, cannoli.
  • Coffee - espresso is common, but coffees are most enjoyed at breakfast.

What do Italians eat for dinner?

The Italian dinner is served around 8 or 9 p.m and features lighter fare. Common foods are typically trays of olives, fruit, cheese, and meat, and soup and salad. You can think of it as what we in America would eat for a Summer lunch -- something light that fills us up but doesn't bog us down.

How You Can Make Changes at Home

If you would like to eat Italian-style in your own house, you will notice it differs from Italian-American style. Italian-American meals are much heavier on cheeses and do not emphasize vegetable as much.

So first, instead of just making a pasta dish like spaghetti and meatballs, you will want to add courses. Eat some bruschetta first, followed by a green salad, followed by your pasta (but a smaller serving), followed by fruit for dessert. Replacing the excess of cheese and spaghetti with greens and fruit will also probably help keep you slim!

Here's to eating Italian-style!


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