What's So Great About an Intergenerational Family Dinner

By Melissa D’Arabian

Food Network star and mother of four Melissa D’Arabian has been on the road promoting the vast and lasting benefits of the family dinner. We caught up with her recently in Brooklyn to find out why intergenerational meals are so important to her—enough for her to team up with Home Instead Senior Care, to offer a Sunday Dinner Pledge—and to twist her (rubber) arm for a recipe!

There are emotional benefits to sitting down to a meal as a family that are well documented—it’s when people come together and feel connected and part of each other’s lives. It’s important for kids, and it’s even more important for our senior loved ones, who are so often isolated. When my grandma was alive, she would have dinner with us and I could see she was more connected and engaged. She was never more alive than when she had my four little girls crawling all over her. And my children were more alive from being connected to their roots.

Now, even when I’m not in town, my kids sit down and have a meal with my husband. He’s French, from a little village in the south of France, so the fact that we sit down for 45 minutes or an hour to dinner every night to him seems short. It’s the fast food version of what we do when we go to France for a month every summer—then, we’re at the table for a couple of hours, drinking espresso and chatting. But even when it’s just the six of us at home, sitting at the big table feels festive.

As women, we feel the pressure to do things perfectly or not at all—and that can mean when it comes to making dinner, too. But we can carve out once a week to do it! If I give myself permission to do something just a little bit, it becomes a habit and before you know it, family dinner becomes something your whole family looks forward to. I started doing weekly extended-family dinners because my sister lives a few blocks from us. She has five kids and I do all the cooking—it’s like a catering job. But I wouldn’t be able to do it if it were complicated, because I work on Tuesdays; I don’t take the day off to cook. Interestingly, I’ve started noticing that on Tuesday mornings, my children are screaming, “It’s cousin dinner tonight!” It’s become part of the fiber of our family culture.

What makes a Tuesday night dinner possible are ingredients I can find at any grocery store; if I have go to a specialty store, that’s not an everyday family meal. I also want to use ingredients I can use again. One of my favorite meals is pot roast [see recipe below]; it’s got potatoes—I can use potatoes again; it’s got carrots—I can put raw carrots in my kids’ lunches; it’s a roast—I can use it as leftovers for sandwiches. There’s no ingredient that’s going to go to waste in my kitchen.

It’s also easy to prepare. Pot roast is a slow cooker meal. I can throw it all together on my way to work or soccer practice. And it appeals to a variety of generations. I believe in one meal for everybody so if you won’t eat it, I hope you won’t be hungry before breakfast! But everybody in my family loves pot roast, which is saying something.

My kids love to cook. They love throwing things into the slow cooker. Kids being able to have input into the menu, I absolutely believe in that. I sometimes have to guide them when it’s their turn to come up with the menu; they’ll say, “Can we have breakfast for dinner? Can we have cinnamon rolls and donuts?” Well, why don’t we start with some protein, maybe an omelet, and for dessert we can make some popovers. But I also tell people, if you have one of those days where you’re craving pizza then fine, just sit down and eat pizza at the table with your family. Don’t get into a guilt zone because you didn’t make a whole meal. Even if it’s not the most nutritionally sound meal, you can still get the benefits of sitting down at the table together. That’s where the magic is.

Slow Cooker Pot Roast with Potatoes and Carrots
Serves 4-6

3 lb. beef bottom round of rump roast
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoon tomato puree
½ cup ketchup
2 cup low sodium beef broth
2 tablespoon cider vinegar
¼ lb. carrots, peeled and cut in 2” pieces
2 lbs. red potatoes, quartered if large
chopped parsley for garnish
salt & pepper

1. Rub roast with half the oil and salt & pepper to taste. Brown on all side in a large dutch oven over medium-high heat. Remove from pan and set aside.

2. Add remaining oil to dutch oven and cook onion till soft, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and tomato paste and stir till fragrant, about 1 minute.

3. Add meat back to the pot and pour over ketchup, broth, and vinegar; bring to a boil. Remove all to slow cooker.

4. Place carrots and potatoes on top of the meat. Cook 5-6 hours on low.

To find out more about Melissa D’Arabian’s partnership with Home Instead Senior Care, visit Sunday Dinner Pledge. For every pledge received, a donation will be made to Meals on Wheels, an organization that delivers nutritious food to isolated seniors across the country.

Photographs by Anders Krusberg for Home Instead Se