Eat, Play, Sleep

By Susan Maushart

In a recent Australian study, four in ten mothers describe dinner as an “unpleasant experience,” with the meal usually ending in an argument. At the same time, 76 percent agree that sit-down meals strengthen the family’s communication (and possibly its vocal chords), according to a recent survey of more than 16,000 mothers nationwide. Contradiction? Not necessarily.

Maybe the experience of being together as a family is a bit like eating your spinach. As Popeye might have observed, that which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. Like it or not—and clearly four out of ten of us don’t—family meals are consistently correlated with positive outcomes for children. And not just slightly positive outcomes. Ridiculously positive ones. Kids who eat family meals five to seven times a week get better grades, have a sunnier outlook on life, have significantly fewer problems with drugs, alcohol, or nicotine, and seem almost magically protected from developing eating disorders. They also—surprise!—have healthier diets. Recent research from the Department for Children, Schools and Family found a direct link between frequency of family meals and high school leaving scores, while a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2008 uncovered a clear, inverse relationship between “eating together as a family” and risky sexual behavior. Weirdly enough, simply having supper together was as protective against unsafe sex as “doing something religious together.” Then again, maybe it’s not that weird.

It’s not the “postcode effect” either (where socioeconomic class is the underlying determiner of advantage). Researchers in study after study have controlled for demographics and the findings remain. Rich or poor, middle class or underclass, highly educated or barely educated, families that eat meals together are dishing up a smorgasbord of advantages for their kids.

These facts are hardly news—although the media love nothing better than to give parents a serve on the topic. Or mothers, more accurately. In most accounts, the demise of the family meal is attributed to the usual suspect: feminism—or, as it is more decorously described, “Women’s participation in the workforce” or the “dual-earner family.” The implication is that when mothers work, families, like chickens, go free-range and slightly feral. Yet in Australia, where the full-time workforce participation of women with children is much lower than it is in the United States and the UK—a mere 11.42 percent of mothers report that their children usually eat at the family table. Remember, too, that we are talking about where and how the family members eat, not about who (or what) is doing the cooking. The effect is exactly the same, whether it’s a roast with all the trimmings, a stir-fry with fourteen intricately diced and unpronounceable vegetables, or burgers and fries eaten straight from the wrapper…

Among the things the family-meals literature doesn’t tell us is whether the benefits increase arithmetically with time—if twenty minutes around the dinner table is beneficial, are forty minutes verging on miraculous?—but heading into The Experiment, it seemed safe to assume that more of a goof thing was probably going to be…well, a good thing. Because we had always been a family that ate meals together…I was looking to The Experiment as a way of extending the experience in both quantity (time spent) and quality.

Admittedly, we were coming off a pretty low base. I would definitely have put up my hand along with the 40 percent of Australian mothers who find mealtimes unpleasant AND the 67 percent who believe they are good for us anyhow. Most nights, I’d put a fair amount of effort into preparing a meal. Nothing lavish—like most teenagers, mine are allergic to lavish—but in the main nutritious, balanced, and quasi-palatable…My kids were demon speed-eaters…With no more attractive prospect to lure them from the dinner table, [they’ did not exactly learn to linger over cigars and brandy. But at least they stopped inhaling their food and bolting for the nearest digital foxhole. We did slow down, all of us, and, over time, we did engage in more meaningful dinnertime dialog….

There were unexpected gains elsewhere on the bill of fare. Deprived of his early- morning downloads, Bill started spending more time at the breakfast table. He didn’t initiate a lot of conversation. But he did eat a lot more eggs, and spent an impressive amount of time reading the sports pages. I’m not sure it improved family communication, but it made me smile to see him tented behind the pages of The Australian…Sussy, too eventually started to make unscheduled appearances at the breakfast table…I’d serve her whatever it was I was making for Bill, anyway, and she’d eat every bite. It was sort of the opposite of demand feeding—more supply feeding, really—and I wished I’d started it fourteen years earlier.

Excerpted from The Winter of Our Disconnect by Susan Marchaut. (c) 2011 Susan Marchaut. Jeremy P. Tarcher, Penguin Group USA, Penguin Random House.

Photograph by Anna Demianenko via Unsplash.

New Grill Classics the Whole Family will Devour

By David Guas

Just in time for summer come these grilled treats from David Guas, host of Travel Channel’s “American Grilled.” Whether your lighting the coals to feed a whole crowd, or keeping it a low-key family affair, these two mouthwatering recipes will have everyone clamoring for seconds—and thirds!

Grilled Smoked Bologna with Yellow Mustard Slaw
Serves 8

I grew up just a few blocks from the Bunny Bread factory in New Orleans. The irresistible smells of freshly baked bread filled the neighborhood, taunting me because white bread was strictly forbidden in my house. My bologna sandwiches—which I frequently traded at school lunch—were stacked on slices of fiber-rich whole wheat. Now, I get to make my own rules, and sometimes I just want grilled bologna on extra-thick white bread.

1 head green cabbage, quartered
3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Table salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup mayonnaise
3 Tbsp. yellow mustard
½ tsp. celery seeds
¼ tsp. ground red pepper
½ cup grated Vidalia onion
8 (½-inch-thick) slices bologna
Wood chips
16 slices Texas toast
¾ cup unsalted butter, melted

1. Light 1 side of charcoal grill or preheat gas grill to 350° to 400° (medium-high); leave other side unlit. Drizzle cabbage with oil, and season with salt and pepper. Place cabbage, cut sides down, on cooking grate; grill, turning occasionally, 7 minutes or until grill marks appear on all cut edges. Using a serrated knife, thinly slice the cabbage.

2. Combine mayonnaise, mustard, celery seeds, and red pepper in a large bowl, and mix until smooth. Add onion, and blend well; add sliced cabbage, and blend until thoroughly coated with dressing. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper; refrigerate until ready to use.

3. Place bologna slices on cooking grate on lit side of grill, and grill 2 to 3 minutes on each side or until grill marks appear. Sprinkle wood chips over lit charcoal. Move bologna slices to unlit side of grill; cover with grill lid, and smoke for 10 minutes.

4. Brush 1 side of each slice of bread with melted butter, and place on cooking grate on lit side of grill; grill 45 seconds to 1 minute or until grill marks appear. Remove from grill (do not toast other side). Place 1 bologna slice on untoasted side of each of 8 bread slices; top each with ½ cup slaw and another bread slice, toasted side up.

South-of-the-Border Barbecue Chicken

It’s a Mexican fiesta in your mouth! This easy grilled chicken recipe is a crowd-pleaser you’ll turn to again and again. Serve zesty Southwestern-flavored chicken over a bed of Mexican rice, or slice it to use in soft tacos.
Serves 4

1½ cups fresh lime juice
1 cup olive oil
½ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 tsp. seasoned salt
2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp. ancho chile powder (optional)
8 garlic cloves, minced
4 skinned and boned chicken breasts (about 2 lb.)

1. Whisk together first 7 ingredients in a small bowl; reserve 1 cup marinade for basting, and chill. Place remaining marinade in a large shallow dish or zip-top plastic freezer bag; add chicken, turning to coat. Cover or seal, and chill 24 hours, turning once.

2. Light charcoal grill or preheat gas grill to 300° to 350° (medium). Remove chicken from marinade; discard marinade. Grill chicken, covered with grill lid, 12 to 13 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest portion registers 165°, basting frequently with reserved 1 cup marinade.

Excerpted from Grill Nation: 200 Surefire Recipes, Tips, and Techniques to Grill Like a Pro. Copyright © 2015 Time Inc. Books. Reprinted with permission from Oxmoor House, an imprint of Time Inc. Books. All Rights Reserved.

5 Easy, Hearty Dinners for Halloween Night

Halloween is no time to be fussing over dinner. You have costumes to assemble, kids to dress up, parties to attend and trick-or-treating to spearhead at home and on the street. Take the stress of “what’s for dinner?” off your plate. You can ensure that your kids have a warm, healthy meal to fuel them before the big night by planning and preparing a make-ahead meal. These five meals are just right for making in advance and heating and serving before the Halloween festivities begin.

image via Blue Apron

Stuffed Shells with Spinach RicottaNo jarred pasta sauce or processed cheese required, this recipe is just as simple without the shortcuts. The surprising combination of ricotta, lemon, cinnamon and basil makes it extra special, while keeping it kid-friendly. (via Blue Apron)

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Spooky Ghost PizzaKeep the kids busy before it’s time to get ready for trick-or-treating by having them help assemble this ghostly pizza. Keep it simple by asking the deli to slice thick slices of mozzarella and use a cookie cutter to turn the cheese into ghosts. Keep the pizza in the refrigerator until you’re ready to bake it. (via Chef Mom)

image via The Stir

Easy Pumpkin Mac and CheeseJust right for a chilly night and spot on for Halloween. Thanks to the creamy, nutritious pumpkin, this is no ordinary mac and cheese. (via The Stir)

image via Mom's Kitchen Handbook

Slow Cooker Braised Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Apple Cabbage SlawNeed a little meat to fuel your fire? Throw a pork tenderloin in the crock pot for a deliciously simple pulled pork sandwich filling and add a fresh apple cabbage slaw for a balanced meal. (via Mom’s Kitchen Handbook)

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Pasta e Fagioli Soup: This hearty soup is just right to have at the ready. Make a batch to keep in the refrigerator and reheat when it’s time to eat. (via Food52)

Pick one of these delicious, make-ahead meals for Halloween night, and you’ll feel good knowing your kids’ bellies are filled with warm, nutritious food before the onslaught of candy begins!