Eating together will help your kids

Girl with number
Girl with number

Along with schoolchildren, it's likely the family kitchen has been on vacation, too.

Cooking duties relax some in the summer because schedules are not as hectic. But now that school is starting again, it's time to make sure family meals are planned in addition to extracurricular activities.

Studies continue to show the benefits, for children of all ages, of having a family mealtime. Better grades, more healthful eating habits, closer relationships to parents and siblings, ability to resist negative peer pressure, resilience in the face of life's problems — all these are outcomes of simply sharing dinner on a regular basis, according to Miriam Weinstein, author of The Surprising Power of Family Meals.

The National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion reports that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years, and research shows that eating more meals at home results in less obesity.

Turning off the TV also helps. People who watch television while eating tend to tune out their natural hunger and satiety cues, and that encourages overeating. Health tips

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends these actions, which it says can positively affect weight in children and adolescents.

■ Regularly eat family meals together.

■ Prepare foods at home as a family.

■ Eat five fruits and vegetables a day.

■ Get one hour of physical activity a day (it does not need to be all at once).

■ Limit screen time to less than two hours a day.

■ Limit consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

■ Eat breakfast daily.

■ Switch to low-fat dairy products.

■ Limit fast food, take-out and eating out.

■ Eat a diet rich in calcium.

■ Eat a high-fiber diet.

Weekday menu

Here are suggestions for a week's worth of back-to-school dinners that can be made in 30 minutes or less. The recipes are on Page B4.

Monday: Seashell salad with buttermilk-chive dressing

Tuesday: Grilled pork chops with cabbage and sesame slaw

Wednesday: Southwest salsa burgers

Thursday: Grilled chicken-and-veggie tortellini

Friday: Mexican-style baked red snapperSeashell salad with buttermilk-chive dressing

8 ounces uncooked seashell pasta

1 cup frozen green peas

1/4 cup organic canola mayonnaise

1/4 cup fat-free buttermilk

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups loosely packed baby arugula

1 teaspoon olive oil

2 ounces finely chopped prosciutto (about 1/2 cup)

Cook pasta according to package directions. Add peas to pasta during last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain and rinse with cold water; drain well.

While pasta cooks, combine mayonnaise and next 6 ingredients in a large bowl. Add pasta mixture and arugula; toss to coat.

Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat. Add prosciutto; sauté 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Sprinkle prosciutto over salad.

Makes 4 servings — about 11/4 cups salad and 1 tablespoon prosciutto.

Nutrition information per serving: 373 calories, 14.9 g. fat, 18 mg. cholesterol, 50 mg. calcium, 45.7 g. carbohydrates, 677 mg. sodium, 13.6 g. protein, 3.6 g. fiber, 2.8 mg. iron.

from Cooking Light

Grilled pork chops with cabbage and sesame slaw

4 8-ounce bone-in pork chops (about 1 inch thick)

Kosher salt and pepper

1/4 cup orange juice

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

2 teaspoons sesame seeds

1 tablespoon honey

1 small head Napa or green cabbage, thinly sliced (about 6 cups)

1 cup fresh cilantro leaves

Heat grill to medium-high. Season pork with 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Grill pork until cooked through, 6 to 7 minutes a side.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine orange juice, oil, vinegar, sesame seeds, honey and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Add cabbage and cilantro, and toss to combine. Serve with pork chops.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 265 calories, 13 g. fat, 9 g. carbohydrate, 61 mg. cholesterol, 785 mg. sodium, 24 g. protein.

from Real Simple

Southwest salsa burgers

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots

3⁄8 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon ground chipotle chile pepper

1⁄8 teaspoon black pepper

1 pound lean ground round

1/4 cup refrigerated fresh salsa, divided

Cooking spray

4 1-ounce slices Monterey Jack cheese

4 Boston lettuce leaves

4 11/2-ounce hamburger buns, toasted

8 1⁄8-inch-thick tomato slices

Combine first 5 ingredients and 2 tablespoons salsa. Divide mixture into 4 equal portions, shaping each into a 1/2-inch-thick patty.

Heat a large skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add patties to pan; cook 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Top each patty with 1 cheese slice; cook 1 minute or until cheese melts.

Place 1 lettuce leaf on bottom half of each bun; top with 2 tomato slices, 1 patty, 11/2 teaspoons salsa and 1 bun top.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 385 calories, 15.7 g. fat, 86 mg. cholesterol, 282 mg. calcium, 24.3 g. carbohydrate, 720 mg. sodium, 36.7 g. protein, 1.3 g. fiber, 4 mg. iron.

from Cooking Light

Grilled chicken-and-veggie tortellini

2 skinned and boned chicken breasts (13 ounces)

4 small zucchini, cut in half lengthwise (about 11/4 pound)

1 tablespoon freshly ground Italian herb seasoning

19-ounce package frozen cheese-filled tortellini

7-ounce container refrigerated reduced-fat pesto

2 large tomatoes, seeded and chopped

Garnish: grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat grill to 300 to 350 degrees (medium) heat. Sprinkle chicken and zucchini with seasoning. Grill both at the same time, covered with grill lid. Grill chicken 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until done. Grill zucchini 6 to 8 minutes on each side, or until tender. Remove from grill; let stand 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare tortellini according to package directions. Coarsely chop chicken and zucchini. Toss tortellini with pesto, tomatoes, chicken and zucchini. Serve immediately. Garnish if desired.

Makes 4 servings.

Source: Southern Living

Mexican style baked red snapper

14-ounce can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes, with their liquid (or use regular stewed tomatoes and add 1/4 cup salsa)

1/4 cup capers, or use 1/2 cup pitted green olives

11/2 pounds red snapper, flounder, tilapia or other white fish fillets

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. In a large glass or ceramic baking dish, combine tomatoes and capers or olives. Top with fish fillets, and drizzle oil over fish. Bake, uncovered, 15 minutes. Spoon some tomato mixture over fish, and bake 10-15 minutes more, until fish flakes easily with a fork.

Makes 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 230 calories, 6 g. fat, 65 mg. cholesterol, 580 mg. sodium, 6 g. carbohydrate, 2 g. fiber, 4 g. sugar, 36 g. protein.

from SOS! The Six O'Clock Scramble to the Rescue by Aviva Goldfarb