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Rome and Venice with 4 kids, good food on a tight budget

Hello! Our family of six is traveling to Europe this summer and I am trying to plan some of our meals. I refuse to eat fast food in America so there is no way I'm eating KFC in Europe. My children are not picky and want to try local cuisine. We are just limited in our options due to budget constraints. 45 days is a lot of meals. We are looking for good affordable places to eat that a local family would go to for lunch or dinner. My kids are very picky when it comes to gelato so
I don't want to waste money on cheap non in house made gelato. There is nothing worse than being in an unfamiliar place and having to spend money on horrible food because you feel like you have no options. We will have an apartment to cook some meals in also. We love cheap local counter food.

We will be in Rome 6 nights and Venice 4 any suggestions would be great. :)

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  1. Do you know what neighborhoods your apartments are in - that will help us tailor your advice. Cooking meals at home or bringing prepared foods into your apartment will reduce your food costs considerably, as will eating food like pizza.

    1. As Jen noted, more info on the neighborhoods would be helpful to provide some specific advice. Having travelled with my kids to Italy for their entire lives, I will offer a few general tips:

      Definitely have breakfast at the apartment. Italians aren't big on breakfast, except perhaps a sugary pastry. When my kids were younger, I used to take pancake mix (Trader Joe's is quite good), maple syrup in a plastic jug, and a jar of peanut butter. Juice concentrates are also nice to have. Eggs, yogurt and fruit are readily available.

      Take refillable water bottles. Rome is very hot in the summer and you'll spend a small fortune in bottled water by the end of the day, especially with 4 kids. Pop a few bottles into the freezer the night before and take them along with snacks and/or a picnic lunch to keep everything cool. They'll be ready to drink by lunchtime. I would also recommend taking an insulated bag and a bunch of Ziploc bags. For the occasional picnic lunch, it's much cheaper to buy bread, salume, cheeses, fruit than to purchase prepared sandwiches. (A decent knife and a small, thin cutting board are also great to take with you.)

      In general, and this will depend on the ages of your children, I found it preferable to have lunch out and dinner in the apartment. Dinner starts late in Rome, especially by most American standards. The mid-day break gives the kids a rest from sightseeing and a chance to cool off during the heat of the day. One exception might be going out for pizza in the evening, since many places only serve pizza at night.

      One gelato tip: avoid the gelato at Piazza Navona and head instead to Gelateria del Teatro, off Via dei Coronari. It's about a ten-minute walk from Piazza Navona, away from the crowds, and very, very good.

      1 Reply
      1. re: lisaonthecape

        Hey, we always used to enjoy going out for a bag of those sugary pastries in the morning - the kids did too, with their milk and fruit. Italian fruit juices are good, so big bottles of milk, water and fruit juice, fruit and bread (not necessarily all from the same place) as well as cheese, salami and yogurt, were among our first grocery purchases. I agree completely with Lisa on the Lunch Out, generally dinner in strategy. It seems to work vest with a family (and even us, as aging adults)

      2. Besides all the above advice, it would be helpful if you state the ages of your kids. No matter how well you've trained your children, a 4 year old and a 15 year old will have different habits. Also an idea of what your planned budget is for the big meal of the day. Both of the above will helpful with recommendations that are appropriate for your family.
        For Venice, you won't have to worry about KFC or any fast food chains; except a single McDonald, they do not exist there. That is not to imply that there is no bad food in Venice; on the contrary. What doesn't not exist is very good sit down meals on the cheap. There are good 'value' osterie but from our experience, there is no such thing as 'hole in the wall' with excellent food. Occasionally, one might luck out with an excellent plate.

        4 Replies
        1. re: PBSF

          That is what everything I have read about Venice has said. So we are best to just eat in the apartment there? I have no idea what our food budget is. All the people we talk to said it should be the same as here. We spend about $800 a month. That's $27 a day. There is no way we can eat for that price on vacation.

          Our apartment is near the metro stop Ponte Lungo.

          1. re: newstarr

            You need to give some serious thought to a realistic food budget. For good quality gelato, you can expect to spend 2-3 euro per person, depending on the serving size. A sandwich can easily cost 4-5 euro or more. One of the best lunch bargains in Rome is at L'Asino D'Oro, and that's 12 euro per person--plus, probably not an optimal choice for 4 kids. Pizza bianca at Antico Forno Roscioli or Forno Campo de'Fiori would be good budget options, but this is take away and not sit down. I haven't tried this, but apparently 4 euro will get you pasta, a glass of wine and water at Pastificio, which is the cheapest meal I've ever heard of. I would be really impressed if you could manage on 100 euro a day.

          2. re: PBSF

            Oh and our kids are 10, 11, 13, & 17 years old.

            1. re: newstarr

              I agree with the above poster about having a more realistic food budget. It is not just for Venice; reading your other posts, your family is visiting mainly the big city/capitals of Western Europe. Except for Lisbon, they are all expensive for visitors. Example: in Paris, a decent macaron is 2 euros and more than 3 for any of the famous places such as Laduree, Hermes.
              Every year, we spend a couple of months in Venice and also Paris. We cook and eat in about 80% of the time and for just the 2 of us, we would have difficulty staying within your daily budget. That doesn't include eating out. We are not extravagant eaters; food just more in big cities in Europe, even for simple everyday staples.
              To give an idea: a big salad and individual pizza at the above mentioned ae Oche will be about 15 euros. At standup bar/cafe, a tremazzini is 2 to 3; a panini and wedge of pizza 3; as for a decent family osteria such as San Trovaso: antipasti/primi are around 8, secondi 12. There are good value places, mostly in Cannairegio, where a complete lunch can be had for about 12 euros: antipasto/main plate/glass of wine and coffee. Many of these places do not open for dinner or do not offer the fixed menu then. And there is usually no choices. That is about as cheaply as one can eat out and get decent food.
              Bacari and cicchetti eating can be on a budget but it depends on how much one eat; for 4 hungry teenagers, probably not cost saving but they are an important of Venetian life.
              One thing that is inexpensive is gelato. Unlike Paris where a good ice cream can cost an arm, it is 1.20 euro for a good size scoop. Exceptions are a few 'designer' gelaterie that have sprung up in Venice: Grom and Venchi. My favorites are del Doge, Le Mela Verde and Lo Squero; also try Alaska, Ca'Oro, Millevoglie, Paolin, Le Boutique del Gelato.

          3. Where will you be staying in Venice? Here are some good places for families - and lots of local families eat at them:

            Alla Strega in Castello (pizza, fries, and salad - that's it)
            Casa Mia in Cannaregio (pizza, pasta, meat etc.)
            Taverna San Trovaso in Dorsoduro (same as above but fish too, portions are huge and prices are reasonable)
            Ae Oche (good local pizza chain with three Venice locations)

            You will also see bars everywhere with tramezzini, half sandwiches with all manner of assorted fillings that you can eat at the bar (sitting down will raise the price, of course.)

            It does help to know where you are staying, wouldn't want you to have to traipse across town for a sandwich....

            2 Replies
            1. re: Shannon

              Thank you! We are staying in the Jewish Ghetto in Venice.

              1. re: newstarr

                Ae Oche has a location close to the ghetto. Its on the Lista di Spagna at Cannaregio 158. Also very close by is Al Timon, where you can get really tasty crostini with various toppings for 1 euro each. It is on the fondamenta just over the northern bridge out of the ghetto. They also have full meals there, but I have only had the crostini.

                Another good place for crostini close by you is Vecia Carbonara on Rio Terra de Maddelena. You can order your crostini and wine/water and take it back to a nice big room with windows on a canal. There is no table service, so no worries about paying more for your crostini and wine than what you would at the bar. I often stop there for a little snack on my way to the Billa if I am staying on that side of town.

                Speaking of the Billa - it is a large supermarket on the Strada Nova, east of the ghetto. You will definitely run into it at some point.

                Casa Mia is also walking distance as is Alla Strega though that is a bit more of a trek.

                You are definitely in a good area to eat reasonably - just look for places with locals in them, and don't go to any places with menus in 5 languages or guys trying to lure you in.

            2. hi newstarr,

              I hope one of the Rome residents stops by because who knows the area where your Rome apartment is very well and can give you some good tips about finding a neighborhood trattoria and pizzeria there where you can go when you don't feel like cooking.

              What I would like to add is that you if you plan to eat meals in the apartment, you need to consciously build a food shopping strategy into your sightseeing plan. Finding a supermarket near your apartment that is open continuously and on Sunday mornings will be an asset (ask your landlord). Likewise, knowing where is the nearest fresh produce and deli is. Also remembering that most food vendors are closed after one but re-open until 7.30pm means you can pick up somethings on the way home.

              Were it me traveling with kids in Rome , I'd be figuring that tracking down affordable lunches while near the sightseeing attractions was the biggest priority, and that for dinner, easy-to-make feasts of local cheese, local sliced meats, egg frittata, lots of fruit, sliced tomatoes with herbs and olive oil, prepared tuna in Italy is great -- you are going to be pretty tired from sightseeing and it is going to be HOT, so slaving over a stove is the pits. Nicer to just open up packages and plate it. You can head out after your meal for gelati and to see how beautiful Rome is at night. Get some kind of discount family metro pass so you can zip around all day.

              Bring Ziploc bags from home to keep in your tote as you move around town so you can buy delicious cheese, pizza bianco and other oil-oozing things and carry them with you.

              Most of us who have had the opportunity to have a kitchen in Rome have felt that meals we shopped for from the markets comprised some of the best food we ate in Rome. I enjoy the trattorie and pizzerie just fine, but fresh food from markets is really very good.

              1. PS newstarr,

                I also recommend that you specifically ask your landlord in advance where the nearest-best rosticciera and salumeria is, so you can pick up prepared meats for dinner, which will be much cheaper than eating out.

                Oh -- and I just realized I misspelled pizza bianca above.

                1. In Rome, I would definitely go to Pizzarium. It is take out only but it is absolutely fantastic. I only wish I could transport that place to where I live - I'd go there every day and get very fat!

                  It's near the Vatican. I'd go there early in the trip - it's so good you might want to go back there a couple more times.

                  It's pizza al taglio so not like the super thin crust pizzas you'll find in Venice.

                  Gabriele Bonci is the pizza dough maker -- he's very well known as one of the best (maybe the best?) pizza maker in Rome.

                  Also, in addition to Chowhound, I'd look at Parla Food (www.parlafood.com) for Rome recs. It is written by a blogger -- she has a GPS-enabled iPhone app which will give you great recommendations on where to go no matter where you are in the city. It was really invaluable because sometimes going by just addresses in Rome can be very difficult.

                  5 Replies
                  1. re: calumin

                    I agree about Katie's app - it has an especially good mapping feature - along with her good recommendations which tend to be on the budget end of the spectrum. Its on android too...note, if you have a phone that will hold a sim card, buying a local sim is pretty cheap - it gets you a local phone line, internet access and access to these apps and navigation and transit apps which can be very helpful getting around.

                    elizabeth minchilli's app has good selections too

                    1. re: calumin

                      I want to use this app but how did you not rack up huge roaming charges?

                      1. re: newstarr

                        i used both Karla's and Minchilli's iPhone apps while in Rome.

                        You can use them off-line as a "normal guide" (in conjunction with a real paper map); just turn off your network on your phone (just keep the wifi).

                        1. re: Maximilien

                          if your phone has a SIM like the new 4Gs do, just buy an Italian sim for $20 or so when you arrive and you can use the apps and internet - not to mention make phone reservations etc - generally for your whole visit. or just use it as a guide offline or WIFI

                        2. re: newstarr

                          Katie's app works offline, with the map, no need for a paper map.no roaming, gps works.

                      2. I can't give specific advice for Italy, but when we were in Ireland (3 adults), some of our most memorable meals were had on the trunk lid of our car after shopping amongst the markets. We'd buy some cheese, some olives, a loaf of bread, bakeds goods, smoked fish etc. etc. and everything was just fantastic. The restaurants there were very pricey and our trunk lid picnics were actually very enjoyable in addition to very cheap as compared to a sit down meal.

                        1. As long as your apartment is in the center, I would suggest to adapt to the South European way. You can head to the museums early on - they will be less crowded anyway, then buy some deli stuff for a light lunch, as you won't be too hungry because od the heat and the gelato consumed to cool from the heat. You can have a lie down - a siesta - and go out again when everything opens out again after 3pm. This way you can eat dinner out (if a little earlier than the local 9pm) and still enjoy a bit of nightlife. I remember babies in strollers in Italy at midnight happily blabbing away with their friends in other strollers while their parents enjoyed a glass of wine. This is practiced everywhere in South Europe, including France, and it's the only way to combat the heat withoutgetting toothache from excessive A/C.