VIDEO: Family meals beyond Easter good for the body and soul

RELATED: Recipe: Catholic priest cooks up yummy Penne Alla Vodka

By Michilea Patterson, The Mercury

Easter is often celebrated with hopping bunnies, colorful eggs and candy but it’s also a day that’s usually spent with family around a home-cooked meal.

Holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter give families an opportunity to cook together then enjoy the food surrounded by loved ones. But homemade meals don’t have to be reserved only for holidays and special occasions. In fact, sharing meals at home has many benefits.

“Eating family dinner was associated with healthful dietary intake patterns, including more fruits and vegetables, less fried food and soda, less saturated and trans fat … more fiber and micronutrients from food,” stated astudy published on the U.S. National Library of Medicine website.

Recently, Catholic priest Father Leo Patalinghug visited St. Columbkill Church in Boyertown to do a cooking demonstration. Patalinghug is a winner of the Food Network show “Throwdown! With Bobby Flay” where he made superior steak fajitas over the show’s star host. While in Boyertown, Patalinghug talked about his “Grace Before Meals” movement which encourages families to share more home-cooked dishes around the dinner table.

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Patalinghug was born in the Philippines and grew up in the Baltimore area. He took culinary classes in Italy but started learning how to cook at a young age from his mother. He said his favorite part of the family meal is eating with others.

“To have a peaceful meal with family, that’s what makes Thanksgiving powerful,” Patalinghug said adding that cooking at home also helps promote healthy eating.

He said when families start to eat meals together on a regular basis then they start questioning the food they’re giving their children more. He said children should be included in the cooking process so they learn “every bite matters.” Dietary discipline is important which is about paying attention to what you’re eating, where you’re eating it and why you’re eating, Patalinghug said.

“The best form of health is not avoiding foods; it’s moderating foods,” he said.

Patalinghug demonstrated how to make a penne alla vodka pasta recipe for the hundreds of people that attended his presentation in Boyertown. He said some people may assume that a cooking demo with a priest will be boring. Actually, it was quite the opposite and Patalinghug had the audience laughing at his jokes the whole time. In between jokes and stories of his past, he gave cooking advice such as using fresh garlic whenever possible.

“It’s great for some antibiotics. It is also bad for breath. From what I remember, it keeps vampires away so it’s a good thing,” Patalinghug joked.

Later in the presentation, Patalinghug explained how Grace Before Meals got started. The idea came right after 9/11 when he saw people turning toward the church after the tragedy. After finishing the weekend masses, he got comfort out of cooking shows.

“There is something powerful about the art of cooking and the power of food,” he said.

Soon after 9/11 Patalinghug went on a retreat with other priests and noticed there were no shows playing on the Food Network.

“They had a little sign that said in light of the nation’s tragedy, we just encourage families to cook together and eat together,” he said adding that it showed that food can help families heal in times of devastation.

After that time, Grace Before Meals evolved. Patalinghug has written a book, is the host of the TV show “Savoring our Faith” and a co-host for the radio show Entertaining Truth on Sirius XM Radio. During his cooking demo, he mentioned that a Columbia University study about substance abuse mentioned several ways family meals help children stay healthy.

“If you want to reduce the tendency for teen pregnancy, teen suicide, reduce the tendency for teen drug and alcohol abuse; the number one factor to all that are regular family meals,” Patalinghug said.

Art Roman, owner of The Kitchen Workshop in Paoli, said spending time with family and friends is one of the many benefits of cooking at home. He said when children are involved in preparing the meals they eat then they’re more willing to try new foods. Roman said another benefit is knowing what’s in the food which usually results in lower sodium and lower fat intake.

“You can certainly pronounce all the ingredients that you use as opposed to on the side of the label,” he said.

He said it’s common for people not to cook at home because of time but there’s ways around time constraints. Roman recommended using a store brought rotisserie chicken to make a chicken salad, quesadillas, or a casserole. He also said grocery stores now have chopped vegetables to help save time.

He suggest people new to cooking keep a few items on hand in the kitchen such as a good olive oil, pasta which can be a gluten-free or quinoa version, low-sodium canned beans, herbs, cheese and tomatoes. Roman said a great way to save money when cooking healthier meals at home is to eat seasonally and locally.

“You spend a lot less for your produce and you’re getting a better product,” he said.

This March is not only a time to celebrate Easter but it’s also National Nutrition Month. The annual campaign focuses on the importance of making healthy food choices and the 2016 theme is “Savor the Flavor of Eating Right.” For more about healthy eating, visit the To learn more about the Grace Before Meals Movement, visit and to find out more about the cooking classes at The Kitchen Workshop, visit

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