South Charlotte

Priest advocates family meals

With the holiday break coming to an end and schedules filling up yet again, Father Leo Patalinghug reminds us to take time for the family meal.

Father Leo, also known as "The Cooking Priest," recently visited St. Philip Neri Catholic church in Fort Mill to discuss his Grace Before Meals movement. His main mission is to build stronger families by eating together. The website details specific tools and goals to help you recharge and reconnect.

Suggestions for mealtime include turning the TV off while eating, engaging the family in conversation while cooking, saying grace before each meal, introducing interesting topics to discuss, telling friends about the movement and trying to eat meals with family five days per week.

Father Leo, a priest in the Archdiocese of Maryland, knows his way around the kitchen. Appearing on the Food Network's hit show, "Throw Down" with Bobby Flay, he defeated world-renowned chef, Bobby Flay, in a steak fajita cooking competition. His web-based cooking show is also featured on his website.

Born in the Philippines and raised in the Baltimore area, Father Leo's love for cooking began while he attended a seminary in Italy. He cooked penne with vodka sauce for the St. Philip Neri parishioners at a special seminar.

Not your typical priest, Father Leo is a third-degree black belt in tae kwon do and arnis, a form of full-contact stick fighting. He is also an award-winning break dancer.

These talents delighted the St. Philip Neri youth group as he broke wooden boards with his hands and feet while delivering inspirational messages. His humor and relatable presentation is perfectly suited to youth groups and college campuses, which he frequently visits. Teens and adults alike can keep up with him via Facebook and Twitter.

The Grace Before Meals movement offers many rewards for families. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University found that kids who eat dinner with their families regularly are less depressed, less likely to take drugs and alcohol and get better grades in school.

Looking for a way to kick start your mealtime? Check out Father Leo's book, "Grace Before Meals: Recipes & Inspiration for Family Meals & Family Life."