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Dr. Zorba Paster: Family meals set stage for a healthier life

Research published out of the College of Human Ecology at Cornell shows that family meals make a huge difference when it comes to children’s eating habits.

There is something about this family ritual of shared meal times that makes us all healthier. In families that share meals together, a child is about a third less likely to suffer from an eating disorder such as anorexia, 25 percent more likely to eat healthy foods, and less likely to be overweight.

The problem is that with children going to all sorts of events such as basketball or soccer, we have become a family of frozen pizza and bagged salad – not a healthy thing at all.

A recent study from the American Journal of Preventive Medicine highlighted this when it showed that the more time you spend preparing food, the heathier the food is.

1. “Ruhlman’s Twenty: 20 Techniques, 100 Recipes, A cook’s manifesto”: This delightful book by Michael Ruhlman is like a cooking class in print. The first chapter is titled “Think: Where Cooking Begins.” It advises the would-be chef to consider such things as what you’ll need for cooking, who you’re cooking for, and what to expect.

This book is more like a Zen recipe than a cook-as-you go treatise. Ruhlman’s recipe on making lox is worth the price of the book. His shrimp and grits recipe taught me why the shrimp I make at home is never like the shrimp I’ve tasted at high-end restaurants in Chicago, New York and Paris. It’s filled with photos and easy recipes, and it’s worthy of its $25 hardcover price.

2. Mark Bittman books: Bittman writes for the New York Times, and has lots of recipes on the Web, complete with videos. His books “How to Cook Everything” and “How to Cook Everything Fast” have fabulous recipes especially designed for a cook like me – an improviser. For anyone from beginner to advanced cook, it’s a great pick.

3. These cooking magazines: Either Cooks Illustrated or special magazine issues of America’s Test Kitchen, which is publisher of Cooks Illustrated. The nice thing about these magazines is that they contain no advertising. If you’re looking for a less expensive magazine that does contain advertising, try a Cooking Light subscription.

4. Can I suggest some spices?: Americans consume way too much salt. The average American gets 3,500 milligrams of salt daily – a teaspoon of salt is 2,500 milligrams – and the general view is that 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams per day is sufficient for most people.

I suggest sampling spices that don’t have salt – Mrs. Dash, Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Magic Seasoning Blends, and (my favorite) Sunny Paris Seasoning from Penzeys Spices. Why not make up a package of these for your favorite cook? It would be a great way to promote a move to better, tasty, lower-salt cooking.

5. Chocolate: The cardiac benefits of dark chocolate – cocoa content of 65 percent or higher – consumed in moderation are irrefutable. Good commercial brands are abundant, but why not visit your local chocolatier? Supporting a neighborhood store always makes me feel good.

Dr. Zorba Paster is a physician, professor, author and broadcast journalist. He hosts a radio program at 3 p.m. Saturdays on WBFO-FM 88.7; email him at