NEW YORK (CBS) Home-cooked family dinners aren't necessarily what I grew up with. I had my fair share of ready-made fare. With the American obesity epidemic in mind, advocates for healthy eating, such as first lady Michelle Obama, have been pressing families to take time to eat well together. This initiative has really got me thinking back to what I grew up eating and how we ate. I know now it was the best my parents could do - and it was great.
When I was growing up my mother made a mighty effort to cook family dinners as often as she could. She worked the night shift into my teens. She had an ingenious way of mixing fresh ingredients with ready-made foods. A fresh salad with boxed pierogies. Homemade vegetable soup paired with the biscuits from the can. Homemade pizza with a hefty share of greens laced with tomatoes, carrots and cucumber. Hamburgers and fresh corn on the cob. She made sure we got our greens - even if she was tired.
My dad was more of a takeout, fast food kind of guy. However, even he made an effort with his "special spaghetti." At least once a week, he would pull out our big cooking pot and start boiling water. Seeing him pour his almost al dente pasta into our enormous colander is something I'll always cherish.
But more than all of what we ate, I remember the time we spent around the dinner table best. Eating together, and talking together, taking that half an hour or so to reconnect as a family. Not always the picture of perfection - we often debated at the table, fought at the table and sometimes cried there. I can recollect quite vividly sitting at the kitchen table for over 45 minutes once with my father. I wasn't permitted to leave without at least trying Brussels sprouts. In an epic battle of wills, we sat there staring at each other. I still hate Brussels sprouts.
But I love those memories.
As I got more involved in sports and student activities in my teens, I found our full family dinner tradition falling away. Everyone would eat when they had time. Things were just too fast-paced, too busy for us to come together. A cold plate - the congealed memory of dinner - would often greet me in the refrigerator.
So I have to say, keep the tradition of family dinners together alive. The bonds you create with your kids will last a lifetime. Even if everyone is busy, try to come together as often as you can. Things do change.
When my family comes together for holidays - and that's difficult to do these days - we still sit in the same arrangement. I look across the table at my sister and can almost see her spilling her Kool-Aid at age 3. And my mother - always to my left - I can almost hear her telling me I can't go out any later than 11 p.m. - and to finish my chicken. And my dad to my right, I see his now-graying head bowing once more to the same prayer he said when I was a little girl.
Dinner with your family isn't always the most pleasant thing in the world, but it really is worth all your effort.
And let me assure you: It's OK to cheat every now and then with a boxed meal. They won't know the difference. In fact, your kid may call you up and ask for the recipe for Hamburger Helper. I know I did.