In fact, the surprising benefits of this simple ritual are so astounding that even experts on the family are stunned by the findings of recent research. Why? Because the evidence is on the table: if you want a healthy home, a family that gives your children every advantage, and a place where lasting memories are made and feelings of comfort are a given, you can’t afford to neglect the hour that matters most.

From Stephanie

Macaroni and cheese is true comfort food. My son Mitchel loved it (from the blue box). When he was six, I taught him how to make it himself. It was the first really independent thing he could do, and he had a real sense of accomplishment when he made it by himself and ate it for lunch. Sometimes he would ask to make it for friends who were playing at our house. One of my treasured memories is secretly watching him show his friends how to “make” mac and cheese and then serve it with such pride. One year for his birthday dinner he asked if I would make mac and cheese for his party. I got out my cookbooks and created a wonderful, homemade macaroni and cheese in honor of the occasion. What a mistake! When I served it, he cried, “That’s not real mac and cheese!” We still laugh about that every time we make “not real macaroni and cheese.”

Not Real Macaroni and Cheese (serves 6)

5 cups cooked elbow macaroni (about 1 pound dry)

3 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

2 cups 2% milk

1 cup cubed American cheese

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1 cup seasoned bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 325◦. Spray 9 x 13 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Boil pasta as directed on package. Drain. Melt butter in heavy sauté pan, and whisk in flour and salt, just until golden brown. Add pepper to taste. Add cubed American cheese, blending until melted. Add shredded cheddar, and blend until melted. Add cooked macaroni and toss to coat. Spread mixture into prepared baking dish and sprinkle top with bread crumbs. Freeze if desired. Before baking, thaw completely. Bake uncovered for 1 hour or until knife comes out clean when inserted.

Excerpted from The Hour That Matters Most by Drs. Les and Leslie Parrot with Stephanie Allen and Tina Kuna. Copyright 2011 by Les and Leslie Parrott. Used with Permission from Tyndale House Publishers. All rights reserved.

Les and Leslie Parrott, PhD's, are codirector of the Center for Relationship Development on the campus of Seattle Pacific University and the best-selling authors of the award-winning book Save Your Marriage before It Starts and many others. The Parrotts are sought-after speakers and hold an average of forty relationship seminars across North America annually. They have been featured in USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and the New York Times and on The View, The O'Reilly Factor, CNN, Good Morning America, and Oprah. Les and Leslie live in Seattle with their two sons.

Stephanie Allen is a recognized pioneer in the meal-assembly industry. She first began making fix-and-freeze meals for her own family in 1986 and gradually began developing a collection of specialized "dream dinner" recipes. When the demand to share her time-saving meal assembly solutions became overwhelming, she and longtime friend Tina Kuna hosted the first series of large-scale meal assembly sessions, which became the catalyst for opening the first Dream Dinners store. A popular speakerr and educator, Stephanie spreads her vision to make people's lives easier and restore the tradition of family dinners.

Tina Kuna, a recognized leader in the meal-assembly industry, was instrumental in creating the innovative Dream Dinners business model. A working mother of three, Kuna adopted the assemble-and-freeze method for her family in 1996. A strong advocate of families eating together, she plays a key role in bringing the Dream Dinners solution to communities across the nation. In 2006, Tina and Stephanie were awarded Ernst and Young's Entrepreneurs of the Year in the Pacific Northwest.