The Importance Of Family Meals

My favorite time of the day is undoubtedly dinner time. That’s when I sit down, together with my family, to share a meal, a laugh, a cry, and at times a squabble.
Family meals are precious, indispensable and untouchable. They are about good food, nourishment, but also about helpful bonding.

Family meals are used to discuss daily events, school, work, ideas.
A sense of humor is required, good manners are requested, some culinary experimentation is necessary.  Incidentally, I’m ferocious about no technology at the table.
No phones. No Ipads. No TV.

Family meals are chaos, they can turn in to a circus if not a zoo, but most of the times they are pure joy. Selected family members are more adventurous eater than others, but generally, as long as I don’t sneak in mushrooms, I get happy costumers, clean plates, and useful information about every ones life endeavors.
In the spirit of full disclosure, good manners are not always a guarantee, i.e. my son’s ability to burp the whole alphabet in one go and my daughter Houdini’s talent for making all her vegetables disappear and re-appear in the garbage; however, while Downton Abbey we are not, I do hope for resolution of the above malfunctions in the not so distant future.

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Sharing meals has always been party of my upbringing and I’m holding to this tradition for dear life, because, I truly believe, connecting with my children and my husband, even if only for 20 minutes a day, it’s the key to a healthy family. To be clear, I’m not the only to believe in this.

The Family Dinner Project, a non profit organization dedicated to support families to come together and share their experiences and insights to help each other realize the benefits of family dinners has a phenomenal website loaded with evidence and studies supporting what parents have know for a long time:

“Sharing a fun family meal is good for the spirit, brain and health of all family members. Recent studies link regular family meals with the kinds of behaviors that parents want for their children: higher grade-point averages, resilience and self-esteem. Additionally, family meals are linked to lower rates of substance abuse, teen pregnancy, eating disorders and depression. We also believe in the power of family dinners to nourish ethical thinking.”

Harvard Medical School professor and family therapist Dr. Anne Fishel, co-founder of the Family dinner Project, says research shows how children benefit from eating dinner together as a family at home: healthier eating habits, reduced obesity and stronger vocabulary skills as a result of dinnertime conversations.

I encourage you to visit The Family Dinner Project for some invaluable insights and I urge you to try adding some family dinners to your schedule, or breakfasts or suppers.

To make your life easier enlist family members to participate, cook together, set the table, and clean up. Kids love to peel, cut, mash, pick herbs, wash, rinse and squeeze. My husband is terrific at rearranging the dishwasher; you can read about power struggle and dishwashers in this recent WSJ article.

No need to over-complicate. The meals can be very simple. It takes 3 minutes to boil a 3 minute egg and 1 minute to wrap some prosciutto on bread sticks. 6 minutes to steam vegetables in the microwave. 30 seconds to scoop some ice cream in a bowl.

Big PBJ & Jelly Jar – 2011 by Mary Hellen Johnson

If you have 30 minutes check this fab recipes from the genius at Leite’s Culinaria, if you have 15 minutes follow this fun recipe for one pot pasta by Martha Stewart, if you have 45 minutes on a weekend make my  lemon, sage fontina  meat loaf, it’s divine. You can prep it, freeze it and pop it in the oven when you feel like having a treat. It makes great sandwiches the day after. If it’s cold outside,  make my coconut, ginger squash soup.  PBJ sandwiches are a cupboard away. In the end,  if you panic email me, I’ll gladly share some ideas with you, together with my mother in law’s mom words of wisdom: Chi canta a tavola o a letto e’ un matto perfetto.

Lemon, Sage and Fontina Meat Loaf
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
8 people 20 minutes
Cook Time
45 minutes
Servings Prep Time
8 people 20 minutes
Cook Time
45 minutes
Lemon, Sage and Fontina Meat Loaf
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
8 people 20 minutes
Cook Time
45 minutes
Servings Prep Time
8 people 20 minutes
Cook Time
45 minutes
Ingredients
  • 1 pound double ground beef
  • 1 pound double ground pork
  • 1 pound double ground veal
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 1/2 large chopped yellow onions
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons grated parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 cup fresh ricotta drained
  • 4 tablespoons grated bread crumbs
  • 1 shot glass cognac
  • 10 leaves fresh sage no stem
  • 1 lemon peel julienned thin
  • 1/2 cup fontina cheese cubes small
  • 10 slices pancetta or bacon or speck
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
Servings: people
Units:
Instructions
  1. Sweat the onions with the parsley until soft but not colored. Meanwhile in a mixer bowl add the beef, pork, veal, egg, grated parmesan,cumin powder, nutmeg, ricotta, bread crumbs, salt and pepper. Mix well until all is combined. Add the onions and parsley mixture, cognac and mix again.
  2. Cover a cutting board with a rectangular piece of saran wrap. Scoop the meatloaf mixture in the middle of the board and with wet hands form an even rectangle about 10x15 inches. Layer the sage, fontina and lemon peel, forming a strip in the center.
  3. Using the saran wrap to help you, roll the meatloaf and seal all the edges forming a cylinder. Discard the saran wrap. Place the meatloaf in lined oven dish and cover with the pancetta slices overlapping them slightly. Cook in a preheated oven for about 45 minutes.
Recipe Notes

You can make the meatloaf and freeze it before cooking it.

Serve warm or room temperature.

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Coconut, Squash and Ginger Soup
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
6-8 people 25 minutes
Cook Time
35 minutes
Servings Prep Time
6-8 people 25 minutes
Cook Time
35 minutes
Coconut, Squash and Ginger Soup
Print Recipe
Servings Prep Time
6-8 people 25 minutes
Cook Time
35 minutes
Servings Prep Time
6-8 people 25 minutes
Cook Time
35 minutes
Ingredients
Soup
  • 1 large butternut squash peeled and cubed
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion chopped
  • 3 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 2 tsp toasted powder cumin
  • 1 tsp grounded curry
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger more for extra kick
  • 14 ounces light coconut milk 1 can
Macadamia Nuts and Basil Pesto
  • 1/2 cup macadamia nuts
  • 2 cups basil leaves
  • 1 tsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Servings: people
Units:
Instructions
Soup
  1. Heat about half the oil in a soup pot. Add the onion and sauté over medium-low heat until golden, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add the squash, broth and spices. Bring to a steady simmer, then cover and simmer gently until the apples are tender, about 25 minutes.
  3. Transfer the solids to a food processor with a slotted spoon, in batches if need be, and process until smoothly pureed, then transfer back to the soup pot. Or better yet, simply insert an immersion blender into the pot and process until smoothly pureed.
  4. Stir in the coconut milk and return the soup to a gentle simmer. Cook over low heat for 5 to 10 minutes, until well heated through. Season with salt and pepper. If time allows, let the soup stand off the heat for an hour or two, then heat through as needed before serving.
  5. To serve, ladle soup into each bowl, then place a small mound macadamia basil pesto in the center.
Macadamia, basil pesto
  1. Toast the macadamia nuts in the oven. Put in a mortar with the basil, salt pepper and lemon juice. Work in to a paste. You can also use small blender. Add the olive oil and mix well.
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