Take the time for family meals

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 September, 2011, 12:00am


Studies have shown that eating together as a family has many health benefits, such as increasing the consumption of healthier foods. Such benefits go beyond nutrition, though; there is evidence to show that it helps children and teens develop positive emotional health as well as providing a forum for socialisation, building family cohesion and communication.

It's not always easy to find the time for family dinners. But here are some quick and easy recipes for a meal, which should leave you with plenty of time to catch up.

Gnocchi (Serves 4)

These Italian potato dumplings are really easy to make and take very little time to cook. They need to be cooked as soon as they're made to prevent them getting gooey. 750g potatoes, peeled and chopped

125g plain flour

1/2 small egg

pinch of salt


1 Place the potatoes in a saucepan. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until just soft. Drain well, place in a bowl, then mash using a fork or potato masher. Cool slightly.

2 Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to the boil, then lower the heat until the water just simmers.

3 Add the flour, egg and salt to the mashed potatoes, then use your hands to combine the mixture together to form a soft dough. If the mixture is sticky, add more flour.

4 Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into four evenly-sized pieces. Roll each piece into a sausage shape about 2cm wide. Using a lightly floured knife, cut each sausage into 2cm-long pieces.

5 Shape the gnocchi by pressing the back of a fork onto each piece to create ridges. This uneven surface will help sauces cling onto the cooked gnocchi.

6 To cook, gently place the gnocchi into the pan of simmering water. As they cook, the gnocchi will rise to the surface of the water (this should take about 1-2 minutes). Continue cooking for a further 20 seconds, then remove with a large slotted spoon and drain well.

7 Serve immediately, tossed together with pesto (see recipe below) or a tomato-based pasta sauce.

Nutrition information per serving: 261kcal 1113kJ, 8.2g protein, 1.8g fat. 57g carbohydrates, 3.4g fibre

Pesto (serves 4-6)

Pesto is traditionally made with olive oil. This lower-fat alternative replaces some of the oil with stock; trust me, you won't notice the difference.

50g pine nuts

large bunch of basil

50g Parmesan cheese

75ml olive oil

75ml vegetable stock

2 cloves garlic, crushed


1 Heat a small pan over a low heat. Cook the pine nuts until slightly brown, stirring occasionally.

2 Put the pine nuts into a blender, add the remaining ingredients and blitz until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Nutrition information per serving: 206kcal, 850kJ, 4.3g protein, 20.7g fat, 0.7g carbohydrates, 0.2g fibre

Strawberry fool (Serves 4)

Finish up your family time with this quick and easy dessert.

300g frozen strawberries, thawed

juice 1/2 lemon

75g icing sugar, sifted

300g low-fat Greek yoghurt


1 Blitz the strawberries to a puree in a food processor.

2 Place in a large mixing bowl, then add the lemon juice and icing sugar. Fold in the yoghurt.

3 Spoon the strawberry fool into four individual glasses. Chill in the refrigerator for a couple of hours before serving.

Nutrition information per serving: 194kcal, 814kJ, 4.9g protein, 7.7g fat. 27.8g carbohydrates, 0.8g fibre