Milan is an expensive city, and when you are visiting on travel it’s probably even more difficult to have dinner without spending a fortune. During the day the ubiquitous bakeries allow you to eat on a budget easily but at night it’s easy to have to shell out a small fortune for a dinner, however nice it may be. If you take into account that children’s menus and small portions are hard to find, then the bill will be even higher for families with small children.
A nice solution might be to make the best of the Milanese aperitivo or “happy hour”. The hour is happy not because you get two drinks for the price of one, but because by paying for a drink you get unlimited access to a free buffet.
Most bars now, after 6 pm, will offer way more than a few crisps and a bowl of olives. The quality of the food will obviously depend on the venue, but most of them will offer some pasta or rice, focaccia and fritata, cold cuts, raw vegetables and many styles of bruschetta-style nibbles. More than enough for a light dinner and definitely food that appeals to children.
I have already written about an aperitivo option in Milan but the peculiarity of what has become a habit here has attracted the attention of Matt Gross, the NYT Frugal Traveller, who has spent a whole week in Milan without ever paying for food at dinner! (You can find all his suggestions and comments here.)
One of the few good things of Milan: this made me less sad when I moved back from London!