Raising a family in Chicago: An inspirational Chilean woman's take on food, parenting and making the most of our city

I always think it's interesting to hear from other mothers about the ins and outs of raising children.  I'm relatively new to all this, so I'll take any tips and ideas I can get!  Getting to know Antonella, a Chilean woman living and raising a family in Chicago has opened my eyes to many fresh and inspiring ideas.  I think you'll agree....

Antonella came to Chicago only a few years ago by way of Chile and Europe and we've had the pleasure of becoming close with her family over the last few years.  She's easily one of the most beautiful and intriguing women I know.  I love her style, easy and interesting conversation, quick wit, curiosity, adventurous spirit and positive energy.  She always brings something new and delicious to the table (literally and figuratively) and leaves you thinking about food, family and the city and cultures around you in a different way.

The boys and I recently spent an afternoon with Anto and her 2 children where we chatted, chased kids and she prepared an amazing lunch for us...recipes and convo details below.  Enjoy!

How did you end up in Chicago:
From Chile, where we met, we moved to Barcelona for two years where Chris, my husband was studying full time for an MBA program and I had a chance to work there.  My oldest child, Tesa was born in Barcelona.  When the program was finished, we decided we will try the States, where my husband is from, instead of going back to Chile right away.  We lived 2 months in my in-laws house in Lawrence , KS and the best work opportunity came up here in Chicago.  I always liked the idea of Chicago as I had been here before visiting Chris’ family and friends and I really liked it!

You always serve the best food!  What are some of the main differences you notice between our typical diet and what you grew up eating/what people eat in Chile? 
For breakfast we'll have a glass of milk, toast with mashed avocado and slices of ham or salami and cheese.  We never eat sweets like doughnuts etc. for breakfast.  And this is what I still eat and serve my children.  

For lunch Chileans typically eat the same thing that they're having for dinner that day.  The food is prepared fresh from scratch and enjoyed twice in one day.  Chilean staple vegetables are green beans, spinach and fresh salads, celery and avocado as the country is an avocado exporter (see what I learned from Anto re cutting an avocado here).  In Chile, meat and fish is used more as the side dish than the main.  When I was growing up we never ate mac and cheese or foods out of boxes/packaged foods and rarely take out.  But that is getting more common because the economy in Chile is improving and now more women work outside of the home and/or the women who were helping in homes are now getting other jobs (it is more common in Chile for families to have full time help with the house/kids/cooking etc).   

What are the differences in what kids specifically eat here vs in Chile?
I would say kids eat more homemade meals in Chile and more vegetables, but it's also not uncommon to see a 2 year old drinking a diet coke because it's just not known to be harmful.  Juice in Chile is almost always fresh squeezed, never out of a carton.  We woke up to a fresh glass of carrot, beet and orange juice every morning growing up.  Now my husband knows to expect the same when we go back.  

So what do you feed your kids now that you're living here?
My mother taught me that it's important to have variety.  In a week I prepare each of the following: lentils or beans, fish, chicken, red meat and pasta.  These are all served with some kind of steamed vegetable.  This way I know they're getting nutrients from a variety of sources.  And I repeat the same recipes because I know my kids will eat it.  This delicious recipe for Anto's Chilean Style Lentils is one that she makes every few weeks in large batches and serves weekly.  

How do you find shopping/cooking/dining out different here?  What's the main difference in food culture?
There is way more variety of fruits and vegetables here and they look beautiful, but don't necessarily taste any better.  And they're expensive.  Also, the size of the plate and the servings here in the US are huge compared to Chile and in my experiences in Europe.  My husband and I always share an entree here.  I would say that's part of the reason why people are heavier here, but that is changing as Chileans start to eat more packaged and convenience foods.  In my opinion the worst thing about those foods is the preservatives because it’s either adding so much salt or sugar.   For example, we would never buy salad dressing, just add simple lemon juice or vinegar and oil with a little salt.  And no mac and cheese from a box, it seems to me that it's just as easy to make it using fresh ingredients...

Above, a Chilean style lunch we enjoyed on a rainy Chicago Monday.  Find Anto's seriously simple and amazing recipe for this Salmon Carpaccio here.  It's quite the crowd pleaser and is now in my weekly rotation!

How is parenting different in Chile?  Would you say "helicopter parenting" that's so popular in the US is also popular there?  
Here kids are more involved in the day to day routine of the mothers (grocery, doctor, errands etc.) where as in Chile, children stay with grandmother or someone else in the home and are thus used to being with a variety of adults, not just mom all the time.  They play outside with fewer toys and fewer safety precautions.  My mom always says that creativity comes from boredom so it's okay that kids don't have structure all the time.   However, In Chile/ South America parents are more overprotective in terms of responsibilities, which can lead to kids that want to stay in their parent’s house until they are adults (it's very common to be over 30 and still live with you parents, and some parents love it).  But this can stop you from moving on, out of fear to face the world on your own. It's not uncommon for ittle kids to be spoon fed and use the bottle till 3 or maybe 4 years old. 

It seems that here moms ask their children more for their input and opinion where as in Chile it's a more authoritative relationship.  But I like that here we give our kids the input as it helps them learn to make decisions and think for themselves.  

In the States parents encourage kids to leave and be independent, which can be misinterpreted in some other cultures as cold feelings. But I would think becoming an adult is easier this way as you feel ready to assume responsibilities, fail and get up again on your own. However, I think little kids are overprotected in terms of safety-we cover corners of tables, plug holes, extremely attached to the car seat , etc…. I am not saying in the city, but who doesn’t enjoy the freedom of riding on the back of a pick up truck when in the country side… It might be a good skill to learn to watch for yourself against the corner of the table and hold on tight sometimes!  But who knows, maybe the law system here has brought us to this.

What about all the classes for kids and extracurricular activities kids are engaged in here.  Is this common in Chile?  
I would say there are definitely differences in exposure:

In Chile/ South America, kids are exposed to lots of family time. Grandparents, uncles, cousins are more often seen and tend to live closer. This helps the child develop a sense of family, and know the roots of their lives. This also helps the child get used to being around other adults who also help educate them as they normally share the same values. I believe roots are very important as they help you establish and ground love. This is becoming more challenging as families spread out searching for opportunities and in families like ours where parents belong to different countries. Thus, I think it is important to explain to kids where they are from and belong to a certain community, and hopefully that community shows them love too. 

In the States, kids are exposed to arts, classes and sports from an earlier age than in many other cultures, mostly because the country has a lot to offer in this matter. I consider this very important because it helps children develop skills and grow as an individual with personal interests. This helps you develop social skills with kids of the same age, it helps you learn to be more independent and it helps you grow and provides more opportunity to learn and opportunity to do something important.
Finding a nice balance between both would be ideal!

Speaking of balance, what about work/life balance.  Do your mom friends in Chile have any secrets we should know about? 

Here moms are way more multitasking than in my experience in other countries.  While only one of my Chilean friends who is also a mother works, that's very different in Santiago where more moms work at least part-time.  But all of my friends wonder how I'm able to do it all here without any help.  My mom gets upset and says I need someone to help with the kids and clean.  She says I never sit down.  I would say that mothers in Chile spend more time on themselves, but they also have more time for that.  I think it's a good thing to put yourself before everyone else sometimes and we can all benefit from that.  

Are the male/female roles any different in the home?  
No, it's pretty much the same.  The women generally do the cooking, but the men might be in charge of the BBQ.  And while my mom would cook, my dad would be in charge of making the Pisco Sours.

Authentic Pisco Sour Recipe
- 1 cup key lime juice
- 3 cups Pisco.
- 6 to 8 table spoons powder sugar (some people use simple syrup instead)
- 2 or 3 cups of ice
- 1 egg white
- angostura bitters (could be sub by cinnamon powder)

Mix lemon juice, pisco and sugar in the blender. Add the ice and after the ice is crushed add the egg white. Poor in a glass (most used is a flute glass) and decorate on top with 3 drops of angostura bitters (or 1/8 teaspoon of cinnamon powder)
My secret: To make it a little bit more exotic,  I add a tiny piece of fresh ginger in the blender

You're so adventurous with your kids and international guests.  What are some of your favorite things to do in Chicago?  Any hidden gems even we the locals are missing?

  • The University of Chicago campus is amazing and has a great park.  When you're there, also tour Hyde Park and eat at Medici!
  • The architectural boat tour or alternatively if budget is low, take the water taxi from Michigan Ave or Maddison to China Town (and I do the talk ;)
  • One of my favorite walks is the Chicago River Walk, right next to the river along Wacker from State all the way to the lake!! Gorgeous!!
  • The rooftop of Gene's Sausage in Lincoln Square and the German Market on the first floor is great.
  • Downtown Evanston, a drive through Northwestern and the Light House on the beach.
Thanks for sharing your amazing lunch, expertise and time with me, Anto!  I know mothers are always looking for tips and tricks from other women and you have plenty of fresh, new inspiration to share.  And thanks for being such a great new friend and for treating my kids like your own nephews...all the kisses included.  Our whole family is better for having you and yours in our lives!

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