It’s a New Year; time to make those New Year’s resolutions, right? Instead of making a list just for yourself, try making this easy resolution that will benefit your whole household: Cook a meal together with your family at least once a week.
I’m not going to tell you exactly what to cook, or even that the meal should always be what some diet guru would consider “healthy.” The important thing is, to take some real foods – fruits, vegetables, grains, meat or fish, dairy products – and working together, turn them into something resembling a meal.
Take turns choosing what to fix, deciding a couple of days in advance so someone will have time to shop for any necessary ingredients. One week maybe you’ll end up with macaroni and cheese or French toast, another, barbecued ribs, and another, turkey sandwiches, or taco salad. If everyone is too worn out to rally for a weeknight dinner, try making breakfast or lunch on a weekend instead.
It doesn’t matter if you have a cookbook with recipes for your choices or not – you can find dozens of recipes for anything online. If the family makes something new that everyone adores, keep the printout in a folder of favorites.
Why aren’t I worried about the cholesterol content of the meals your family cooks together? Because while the scientific debate is still raging over whether or not a high-fat diet is actually bad for you, everyone agrees that making the time to cook and eat together as a family is relaxing and healthy. Why spoil the fun by nitpicking?
I also believe that helping children really learn their way around a kitchen (not just learning to microwave a prefab frozen meal) at a young age and having fun doing it is one of the most important things we can do for their long-term health.
I asked my 7-year-old what his top three choices would be for cooking and then eating together. His answers? Apple pie, bread and pizza.
So, here is a pizza crust and tomato sauce recipe. It’s enough to make two pizzas with plenty of space for all your favorite toppings. For a change, try just using plain olive oil with lots of chopped garlic and herbs instead of tomato sauce.
(enough for 2 pizzas)
1 cup lukewarm water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
3 tablespoons olive oil plus a little more for bowl and pizza pan
1 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Put water in a large mixing bowl and sprinkle yeast on top. Let sit for a moment, then stir together until dissolved. Add the olive oil and the salt. Stir in the flour, making sure there are no lumps of flour left in the dough. Try to incorporate the bits of dough clinging to the side of the mixing bowl. Using your hands is an excellent way to make sure it’s completely mixed – the children will be happy to do this part. Form dough into a ball and set aside for a moment.
Pour 2 tablespoons of oil into the bottom of the mixing bowl – it doesn’t matter if there is a little flour or tiny bits of dough still in it. Drop the dough ball in, and turn it around to completely cover the dough with the olive oil. Cover bowl with a clean dishtowel and let the dough rise for about 45 minutes, while you prepare the sauce and your favorite pizza toppings.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Divide the dough into two halves. Gently stretch and pat dough into lightly oiled pan or on to a pizza stone using your fingers. If desired sprinkle basil, thyme, oregano, or other seasonings on crust. Top with sauce and your favorite pizza toppings and bake for 15 to 20 minutes.
Simple Pizza Sauce
(enough for 2 pizzas)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups plain tomato puree
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (optional)
Salt to taste
Dried or fresh basil, oregano, and thyme
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat; add the chopped onion and cook until onions are transparent. Add garlic and cook for another minute, being careful not to overbrown the garlic. Add the tomato puree and balsamic vinegar and heat through. Season with salt and herbs to taste.