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The Importance Of The Family Dinner

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At St. Philips Academy in Newark, NJ, they're making some really outstanding strides in children's education with regards to urban farming, cooking classes, physical education and family activities. But the one particular thing they're doing that most impresses me doesn't cost a cent, involves no roof space, and no new technology.

In their lunchroom nestled on the ground floor, they have about a dozen round tables, each surrounded by 8 chairs, each chair with a responsibility painted on the back of it. As the kids tumble in, they fall into place at their assigned tables, mixed in age, shape and size, from 5th graders to 8th graders -- and then an amazing thing happens: one child sets the table, one child gathers their lunch, one child even serves the others their food. And when the meal is over, one clears the plates -- you get the point. But the sense of family and community that comes together around that table, for their 45-minute lunch break, impresses me more than their 6-foot-long salad bar full of vegetables from their rooftop garden.

My new book, Molto Batali, derives from a similar spirit. Mix and match, cut and multiply, the entire family can be fed with one or more of these recipes and you all come to the table to enjoy them. And let's remember, cooking family dinner should start long before brown bags full of groceries and reusable sacks of farmers' market goodies are on the counter. Start from scratch: create menus together, write the corresponding shopping lists, and hit the pavement to procure the necessities. Conversation and democracy are two essential tenets to dining as a family. We want to create consensus around the table.

In this latest book, one might notice some other healthy shifts in my work: smaller portion sizes, and getting away from the idea of the protein being at the center of each plate. Main course proteins vary from 5 to 7 ounces to make lots of room for a cornucopia of vegetables, raw and cooked, salads and side dishes. It's no secret that I am a fan of Meatless Monday, the pinnacle of moderation, and I think Molto Batali walks the walk I talk.

The spirit of community and family embodied in Molto Batali also informs another one of my projects: The Mario Batali Foundation. The mission of my foundation is to feed, protect, educate, and empower children -- encouraging them to dream big while providing them with the necessary tools to become an active force for change in today's world. In conjunction with the launch of Molto Batali, I will match the first $100,000 in paid donations made to the Foundation after November 1, 2011 and Aperol Spritz will match up to $50,000 between October 25, 2011 and February 1, 2012.

Matching your generous support is an additional way I am able to feed the stomachs and souls of our children, but we can all do our part. Remember, it costs nothing to all come to the table at the same time, whether you paint responsibilities on the backs of each of your chairs or not!