Quick Fixes For Family Time At Dinner

IN THE KITCHEN

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Families are busy. Between work, school and extracurricular activities, parents and kids are usually running in two different directions.

But setting aside family time is important. A Tufts University study found that more than 80 percent of parents feel eating dinner with their children is valuable. However, of that 80 percent, only 50 percent actually sit down daily as a family to eat together.

Parents agree that the dinner table is a great place for both parents and children to relax, bond and communicate. Studies show that kids actually eat healthier and have improved vocabulary skills when they eat with their family.

But with busy schedules, where do families find the time to come back to the table?

Maggie Gilbert, a mother and culinary expert from Betty Crocker Kitchens, believes food can strengthen the bonds between loved ones.

"It is important to have a sense of family and family time," said Gilbert.

The dinner table is the perfect place to listen, share and catch up with family and friends. Here are a few tips from Gilbert to get food on the table fast and down to the business of bonding:

  • Include the kids.

Ask kids to plan meals with you and then have them help with preparation.

  • Think simple.

Use recipes that can be easily prepared with seven ingredients or less.

  • Your freezer is your friend.

Don't forget you can make a meal on Sunday, such as a casserole, freeze it, and reheat to enjoy on a busy weeknight.

  • Slow down.

Eat slowly and enjoy dinner. Besides teaching table manners, it is a great time to interact with your children.

  • Make meals a family moment.

If you can't eat dinner together, try eating lunch or breakfast as a family. It doesn't matter which meal it is, but use food to gather your family around the table at least once a day.

"Making a meal can be something the whole family can help with and share," Gilbert said. "It does not have to be anything difficult. You can make great family favorites out of ingredients you have on hand."

Gilbert recommends these quick and tasty dinner recipes that can be ready in less than 45 minutes.

Salsa Chicken Fiesta

2/3 cup baking mix

2 tablespoons water

1 egg

1-1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese, divided

3 boneless, skinless, chicken breast halves, cut into 1/2-inch pieces

2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1-1/4 cups thick, chunky salsa

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 8- or 9-inch-square baking pan with cooking spray.

Stir together baking mix, water and egg. Spread batter in prepared pan; sprinkle with 1-1/4 cups cheese.

Cook and stir chicken in oil over medium-high heat until outsides turn white; drain. Stir in salsa; heat until hot. Spoon over batter in pan to within 1/2-inch of edges.

Bake 22 to 25 minutes or until edges are dark golden brown. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 1 to 3 minutes or until cheese melts; loosen from sides of pan.

Makes 6 servings

Preparation takes 15 minutes. Total baking time is 28 minutes.

High Altitude: Increase first bake time to 25 to 30 minutes.

Ultimate Chicken Fingers

3 to 4 boneless, skinless, chicken breast halves (about 1 pound), cut crosswise into 1/2-inch strips

2/3 cup baking mix

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon salt or garlic salt

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1 egg, slightly beaten

3 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Line cookie sheet with foil; spray with cooking spray. In 1-gallon plastic resealable bag, mix baking mix, cheese, salt and paprika.

Dip half the chicken strips into egg; place in bag of coating mixture. Seal bag; shake to coat. Place chicken on cookie sheet. Repeat to use up remaining chicken. Drizzle butter over chicken.

Bake 12 to 14 minutes, turning halfway through bake time with pancake turner, until no longer pink in center.

Makes 4 servings

Preparation time is 15 minutes. Total baking time is 14 minutes.

High Altitude: No changes.

Deluxe Cheeseburger Melt

1-1/3 cups baking mix

1/4 cup water

2 eggs

1-1/2 cups shredded Cheddar cheese, divided

1 pound ground beef

1 (10-3/4-ounce) can condensed cream of mushroom soup

1 cup frozen mixed vegetables

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray 13- x 9-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Stir together baking mix, water, eggs and 1 cup cheese. Spread in prepared pan.

Brown beef; drain. Stir in soup and vegetables; heat until hot. Spread over batter in pan.

Bake 23 to 25 minutes or until edges are light golden brown. Sprinkle with remaining cheese. Bake 1 to 3 minutes or until cheese melts.

Makes 8 servings.

Preparation takes 15 minutes. Total baking time is 28 minutes.

High Altitude: No changes.

Recipes courtesy of Family Features Editorial Syndicate

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