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The Power of Family Dinners

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In recognition of National Nutrition Month, we’re focusing on kids and eating. Catch our post from last week on establishing good eating behaviors for kids and read on for more details on the importance of family dinners!

When our kids, Solomon and Celia, were toddlers, getting them to come to the table, sit through the meal and eat what I made was a massive challenge. But even more daunting was trying to decide what to make each night with what I had in the kitchen, something everyone would eat and that wouldn’t take too much time to prepare.

Eating dinner together was something that had been incredibly meaningful for me when I was growing up, and I was determined to make family dinner a priority in our family, too. Ultimately, I came up with a system to make family dinners easier for my family and tens of thousands of others. The simple solution was based on menu planning skills I learned from my mom, like choosing a few simple recipes on the weekend, making a grocery list and shopping just once a week. I took my mom’s system into the digital age 10 years ago with an online family dinner planning system called The Six O’Clock Scramble.

Chances are if you’re reading this, you already work hard to make dinner a priority in your home. You know how important it is to connect with your family each day around a nurturing meal. Now, research is proving what you already knew:

Recent studies have shown that when families eat dinner together more often:

  • Kids maintain a healthier weight
  • Families have healthier eating habits, including consuming more vegetables
  • Kids and teens have closer relationships with their parents
  • Teens are less likely to engage in risky behaviors (like drinking, drugs and sexual activity)

All this from something as simple as eating dinners together, even a few times each week! Getting family dinners on the table can be easier than you think. Below is one of my favorite recipes that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare. I hope you enjoy it, and it helps you savor the family time even more.

Ravioli with Parsley Pesto

Prep + Cook = 25 minutes

6 servings, about 1 ½ cups each

I was a little skeptical when Six O’Clock Scramble member Robyn Muncy suggested I make her pesto recipe using more parsley than basil, and walnuts instead of pine nuts. But, suspecting that she has excellent taste, I plunged ahead and the results were wonderful. Serve it with Italian-style roasted cauliflower.

  • 20 oz. reduced-fat cheese ravioli
  • 1 3/4 cups flat-leaf Italian parsley, tightly packed
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, tightly packed + a handful of sliced basil for serving
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. minced garlic (about 2 cloves)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped

(Start the cauliflower first, if you are serving it.) Cook the ravioli according to package directions and drain it.

Meanwhile, in a food processor or blender, coarsely chop the parsley, 1/4 cup basil, walnuts, Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt and pepper. Then, slowly add the oil and continue to process the pesto until it is well combined.

In a serving bowl, gently toss the warm ravioli with one cup of the pesto, reserving the remaining pesto for future use. Top the ravioli with the tomatoes and a handful of fresh basil. Serve it immediately or refrigerate it for up to 3 days.

Do Ahead or Delegate: Cook the ravioli (and refrigerate it tossed with a little oil to prevent sticking), prepare (and refrigerate) the pesto, chop the tomatoes.

Scramble Flavor Booster: Add 1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes to the blender with the pesto ingredients.

Tip: If you have overripe tomatoes, don’t throw them away! You can use them to create tomato soup, tomato juice and more. Look here for more suggestions and details.

Side Dish suggestion: To make the cauliflower, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut 1 head cauliflower into florets, dry them, and in a roasting pan or on a baking sheet, toss them with 1 Tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. dried oregano, 1/2 tsp. dried basil, and 1/4 tsp. kosher salt. Roast them for 25 – 35 minutes, tossing once or twice, until they are tender and browned on the edges.

Nutritional Information per serving (% based upon daily values):

Calories 254, Total Fat 11g, 16%, Saturated Fat 4.5g, 24%, Cholesterol 47mg, 16%, Sodium 325mg, 13.5%, Total Carbohydrate 28g, 9.5% Dietary Fiber 1.5g, 5.5% Sugar 2.5g, Protein 13.5g

Johnson & Johnson wants to know how YOU manage family dinner time! Tell us your tips, tricks, and recipes for a sitdown family meal.

Aviva Goldfarb is founder of The Six O’Clock Scramble, an online dinner planning solution for busy parents, and author of the acclaimed “Six O’Clock Scramble” cookbooks. Aviva is a TODAY Show contributor and is frequently featured in national parenting, lifestyle and health magazines and TV and radio shows.

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