#ShareTheTable With Barilla

*Barilla is compensating me for this post. All opinions expressed below are honest and unbiased, as always. Read on.

Even when the Mrs. and I both worked full-time jobs out of the home, and the girls would both spend 10 hours each and every day in a day care-cum-early learning *school*, and we wouldn’t get home together until close to 6pm, and the Mouse – who was then just 1 year old – would be ready for bed in less than 90 minutes time…EVEN THEN, I would make it a point to put something fresh-esque and homemade-ish on the table so that we might sit down together as a family and share some critical time together after a too-long day away from each other – even if it was only a few moments before Mouse spit-up all over herself and needed an emergency bath or before the cat started intensely scratching the sofa like she was trying to escape from a maximum security prison. Yep, long before smartphones were a thing that could disrupt family mealtimes and long before Barilla coined the hashtag, my gang would #ShareTheTable nightly. It was, and still is, an absolutely wonderful time of day.

Being together over plates and bowls of daddy-made meals got easier once I made the decision to be a full time dad and homemaker 6+ years ago. Now we partake in family mealtimes together with more time to let conversations marinate in the same way the pork tenderloin did earlier in the day. And the meals, they’ve improved, too as I’ve been given the time to shop daily and dream up new combinations of foods for my two girls who are, thankfully, willing to indulge my culinary whims. Sometimes, they even pop into my kitchen in the evening to lend a hand with the prepping, chopping, and sautéing, giving us bonus family time amidst the cacophony of sounds and smells that I’ve long since associated with home. I’m a happier dude because of this, and I’m pretty sure my girls are experiencing a high quality of life thanks to seeing me in the kitchen, happily making them food, and then sitting down together to tell stories, laugh, and generally talk with our mouths full.

While in Orlando for the #FamilyForward event last weekend, my girls and I, with the help of Barilla, put together a super tasty cold pasta dish that, and I cannot believe I am going to admit this now, is something I NEVER considered doing for their school lunches (catch up on my school lunch saga here).  I mean, cold pasta? Really? As a meal unto itself? Yes, yes, and holy heck, yes. We also got the chance to talk with our mouths full with others at the table, which was probably equal parts charming and disgusting. Okay, maybe not “equal” in the 50/50 sense. 😉 So, here’s the thing I learned chatting with the Barilla nutritionist and crew on hand for this family cooking demo at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel (more on that place here): pasta can be cooked ahead of time and stored in the fridge for easy use later on. I legitimately didn’t know this. Sure, leftovers, I get it, but I hadn’t figured out the trick to keeping it from getting clumpy. But here’s the trick I picked up to store cooked pasta properly for delicious meals made quickly: undercook the pasta by 1 minute, drain well but do not rinse, toss with touch of good olive oil and then spread out on a cookie sheet and let cool in the fridge. Bam. The job is over, well, you’ll want to consolidate the pasta into a bowl at some point because who has the space for cookie sheets of pasta in their fridge, right?

Now you can use those noodles to quickly make meals and school lunches, and you can easily empower your kids to choose what they want mixed in from day-to-day — I’m envisioning a little bowtie, some penne, maybe a bit of the flowery masterpiece that is campanelle served in a myriad of ways: with fresh mozz. and sundried tomatoes, as we did at the Barilla #ShareTheTable workshop, with black beans, avocado, halved grape tomatoes and a splash of orange-mango juice for a fun Latin American-inspired lunchtime salad. Another alternative is addingchopped aspargus, roasted red peppers, fontina cheese and prosciutto (oh my, I was just riffing there and THAT one sounds amazing!) for something befitting a Tuscan getaway.

After cooking for decades, I never thought I’d learn anything from mixing together a bowl of cold pasta, but life is full of lessons and you really never stop learning so long as your mind is open…and your belly is rumbling. Here’s something else I discovered at Family Forward: Barilla makes a Protein PLUS pasta that’s made with legumes and contains 17g of protein per serving (in the PLUS Rotini, as an example). This will allow me to ensure my vegetarian daughter gets the protein she needs to grow up healthy while not playing short-order chef in the kitchen, so we can get to the table together quicker, and talk longer, about their day at school, my wife’s day at work, and what matinee movie I saw instead of working on freelance writing assignments due tomorrow. 😉

Visit for tips and resources on making family mealtime more meaningful, and consider avoiding closed-ended questions when trying to get your kiddos to open up about their day. So, for example, DO avoid “How was school today?” if you want to avoid the banal “fine” answer sure to follow. Try instead, “What’s the craziest/most interesting/most boring/funniest thing that happened at school today?” and see the difference in how your children respond. Even if you cannot draw out of them much more than “fine,” know that regardless of their inability to articulate the quality of their school day, your kids are growing up in an environment that is fostering discussion, sharing, and togetherness, one that is building a foundation for Home as the safest and warmest place in the world. Your efforts to #ShareTheTable as a family will NOT go unrewarded. I promise.


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