By Karen Schulz

I have a confession. There are times when my well-intentioned family dinners are not so wonderful.

The food may be delicious, or not, but more importantly, the dining experience can degrade quickly with bad manners, bickering, or when one lovely child is late to join the table despite a series of increasingly vociferous calls to the bedroom. Not exactly the Norman Rockwell moment of my dreams.

I think this is important to mention because despite having high hopes of laughing, bonding and sharing (which happens a lot of the time), the realities of life are always clear and present. People have bad days, manners come and go, and of course siblings can grate on each other’s nerves, all of which could lead to a reaction my husband had one night. “Why do we even do this? Family dinner is completely overrated.”

While throwing in the towel sometimes seems like the best idea, the science is clear, and I still adamantly believe in the benefits of family dinners —emotional well being, lower instances of risky behaviors in adolescents, and nutritional advantages. It’s important to recognize that even when there is trouble in paradise and food starts flying, it is indeed, still paradise. Sitting at a table together and working through disagreements is an important life skill, one of which I am actually still working on. In fact, without sitting down to dinner, I’m not sure if certain issues would ever surface. And on those nights when someone eats out, on some level, they know they are being missed at the table, which is something special.

So, please do not become discouraged if after making a family meal it turns into a food fight. Continue to try new, easy, nutritious recipes in hopes of making it easier to have family dinners as often as possible. Start with these delicious, sausage and pepper heroes, and be sure to use all three colors of bell peppers. Green is high in vitamin A, red is high in vitamin C, and yellow and orange are rich in carotenoids and antioxidants. At least you know the food will be good, even if the kids (and spouses) are not!

(with 3 pix, numbered in order of use)

<<Sausage and Pepper Heroes>>

Serves 4.

<Ingredients>

2T. extra virgin olive oil

1 pound Italian sausage (a mix of sweet and hot)

1 large Spanish onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise

4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 large bell peppers, 1 green, 1 red, 1 yellow or orange, cut into ¼ inch strips

½ t. dried oregano

1/8 t. crushed red pepper flakes

Kosher salt

1 8-ounce can tomato sauce

4 Italian hero rolls, 7-8 inches long

8-10 thin slices provolone cheese

<Directions>

Line a plate with paper towels. In a large heavy skillet, heat one tablespoon oil over medium-high heat. Add the sausages and cook, turning with tongs, until they are browned on all sides and no longer pink in the middle, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to the paper towel-lined plate to drain. When cool, slice in half lengthwise, then crosswise in thirds.

Wipe the pan clean with paper towels. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and golden, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes. Stir in bell peppers, oregano, red pepper flakes, and ½ t. salt and mix well. Continue to sauté until the peppers are lightly charred and tender, about 8 minutes.

Return sausage to pan and add tomato sauce. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until heated through, about 8 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat broiler. Split rolls in half lengthwise and hollow out some of the bread on each of the bottom halves, forming a cavity. Put rolls cut side up on a rimmed baking sheet and place an equal portion of the sausages and peppers on each roll. Top with provolone cheese. Broil until the bread crisps and the cheese melts, approximately 2 minutes.

Close the heroes and serve hot.