Sept. 22 -- A Day To Enjoy A Family Dinner

IN THE KITCHEN

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Times have really changed. We have come to a place in life where it was deemed necessary to set aside a special day to encourage families to have dinner together. This year it is Monday, Sept. 22.

According to a press release from Sherri Martindale of the Gila County Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program, the first Family Day was proclaimed by the president in 2002 following the release of a 2001 Columbia University study that showed families eating dinner together is a simple measure to prevent tobacco, alcohol and drug use among teens.

According to the study, "teens who eat dinner with their parents twice a week or less are four times more likely to smoke cigarette, three times more likely to smoke marijuana and nearly twice as likely to drink as those who eat dinner with their parents six or seven times a week ... teens who frequently eat family dinners are at less risk for teen sex, fights and suicide, and are more likely to do better in school."

Martindale and Christine Rocha, also of the CASA program, were at the Sept. 9 meeting of the board of supervisors in Payson, where the commissioners adopted a proclamation declaring Sept. 22 as National Family Day -- A Day to Eat Dinner With Your Children.

Martindale included a variety of tips for celebrating Family Day in her release:

  • Look at everyone's schedules for the week and pick the nights that will work for a family dinner, set a time, put it on the schedule and make your best attempt to keep the appointment -- these are the most important people in your life.
  • If you can't eat dinner together, try having breakfast together or a "midnight supper" or engaging in another family activity.
  • Before going shopping, ask the children to pick a menu for a night or two for the week, and if they would like to try to prepare all or part of it, encourage them to do so and let them be creative, other times involve the entire family in planning and cooking the meal.
  • When eating dinner together, turn off the television and phones, clear the table of clutter and focus on one another, talk and listen to each other.
  • Talk about what happened in everyone's day, at school, on the job, with friends or in current events.
  • Establish a routine way to start and end the meal. To begin, some families light a candle, say grace or pour the dinner drinks. To end the meal, parents can excuse the children, the candle can be blown out or whatever works for the family.
  • Determine a reasonable length of time for dinner -- 45 minutes may be a goal, but 20 minutes might be more realistic for families unaccustomed to eating together.
  • Keep conversation positive, if children think of the table as a place for conflict and discipline, they won't want to be there.
  • Ensure everyone gets their say in dinner conversation, so one person doesn't dominate and a quieter person has a chance to talk.
  • Encourage lingering around the table for relaxed conversation, serve dessert or coffee, so children will see by example that the dinner table is an enjoyable place to be.
  • Share the clean-up chores. Some parents find that good communication occurs on a full stomach while washing the dishes one-on-one with a teenager.
  • Start the pattern of family dinner when children are young, it's much easier to develop this pattern when they are pre-schoolers than to start when they are teens.
  • You don't have to fix a fancy meal. Good tasting food doesn't necessarily take a long time or a lot of skill to prepare. Rather than focusing on the cook's ability, focus instead on the enjoyment of shared time together.

Now, about that meal. To make it simple, you could get one of the dinners they make at the grocery stores, provided you did not have the opportunity to do any special planning with your family. Crock pot dinners are easy on the time crunch, add pre-cut salad and frozen or ready-made rolls and a bakery dessert or ice cream with fruit and you have a full meal without a lot of fuss.

But to add that old-fashioned, home-cooked touch to this new family tradition, here is a menu and accompanying shopping list and recipes for a quick autumn dinner at home.

Walnut Cheese Chicken Breasts; Zucchini Gratin, Stove Top Pilaf; and Pear and Walnut Crisp

Shopping list:

4 chicken breast halves, with bones and skin

1 pound zucchini

onions

about 3 1/2 pounds of pears (4 medium)

1 lemon

basil or parsley

dried thyme

chopped walnuts

chicken or beef broth

vegetable oil

olive oil

butter or margarine

bread crumbs

long-grain rice

all-purpose flour

sugar

part-skim ricotta cheese

Parmesan cheese

dry white wine or vermouth

Walnut-Cheese Chicken Breasts

3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or parsley

salt and pepper

4 chicken breast halves with bones and skin

olive oil

1/4 cup dry white wine or vermouth

Position a rack in top of the oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly oil a medium baking dish.

In a bowl combine the cheeses with the walnuts, bread crumbs and salt and pepper. Using your fingers, gently lift the skin from the chicken meat, but do not remove. Stuff about a quarter of the cheese filling under the skin of each breast, being careful not to over-stuff, as excess filling will seep out during cooking.

Arrange breasts in baking dish, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with wine and again season with salt and pepper.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, basting occasionally. Chicken is done when the juice runs clear.

This dish takes about 15 minutes to prepare and at most, 40 minutes to cook, it serves four.

Zucchini Gratin

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound of zucchini, thinly sliced

salt and pepper

3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Use a tablespoon of the olive oil to coat a 8x11-inch baking dish. Fill with zucchini, overlapping slices, season and cover with remaining olive oil and cheese.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes until vegetable is tender and cheese is golden brown.

This dish takes about 10 minutes to prepare and up to 20 minutes to cook, it serves four.

Stove Top Pilaf

1 tablespoon unsalted butter or margarine

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1/4 cup onions

1 cup long grain rice

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

2 cups chicken or beef broth

salt and pepper

Heat butter and oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, add the onions and cook for two minutes until softened, stir often. Add the rice and thyme and cook for 1 minute, stirring often, until the rice turns opaque. Add the broth and seasonings, bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes until rice has absorbed liquid and is tender. Fluff and serve.

This dish makes four to six servings, takes 10 minutes to prepare and 20 minutes to cook.

Pear and Walnut Crisp

1/3 cup walnuts

4 medium pears, about 3 1/2 pounds, peeled, cored and sliced

1/2 cup, plus 3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter or margarine

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toast the nuts in a baking dish until they become fragrant, then coarsely chop after nuts have cooled enough to be handled. Reduce heat to 375 degrees.

Put pear slices in a 9-inch pie pan and toss with 3 tablespoons of sugar and lemon juice.

In a bowl, combine flour, remaining sugar and nuts, then work in the butter until the mixture has the appearance of coarse crumbs. Squeeze hand-fulls of the mixture together, then crumble over pears in fairly large pieces. Bake for 30 minutes until fruit bubbles and topping is golden brown.

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