Though eating and taste are central to social and moral order, we know little about the mundane practices that socialize children into the world of food. This study pioneers direct observation of the practices involved in socializing taste. Utilizing Bourdieu's distinction between ‘the taste of necessity’ and ‘the taste of luxury/freedom ‘, it examines the discourse of taste that prevails at the dinner tables of middle-class Caucasian American and Italian families. Across these families, food is depicted as nutrition, a material good, a reward, and pleasure. American families gave high priority to food as nutrition, a material good, and reward and low priority to food as pleasure; whereas Italian families gave priority to food as pleasure over all other qualities. American families devoted their dinner conversation to what children must eat for physiological and moral reasons, while the Italian families concentrated on what children and adults want to eat. Overwhelmingly, American children could obtain what they wanted to eat only after they finished what they must eat (dessert as reward). In addition, Italian adults encouraged children to express individual tastes as part of what it means to have a personality (child qua person); while at the American dinner table, adults typically treated the tastes of children as generically distinct (child qua child) from those of adults.