These days, Kelly Ripa’s three kids have grown up and moved out, but she still remembers the years she spent doing the family juggle. “At one time, I had three jobs and three kids, and I knew it was good for them to see me hustle,” Ripa said. “On the flip side, it’s easy to feel like a terrible parent.”
In her upcoming book, livewire, Ripa shares stories about those hectic days. “It’s my own take on life with what I like to think of as a perfectly imperfect family,” Ripa says. One constant for Ripa and her husband de ella, actor Mark Consuelo was a family meal. Some days dinner was a from-scratch Italian masterpiece. Other days, it was boxed mac and cheese. But the important thing was spending time together at the table, even on the days when the meal itself wasn’t picture-perfect.
Ripa chatted with Romper about her family dinner philosophy and how it evolved from her own childhood of TV dinners.
What role did the dinner table play in your home growing up, and how did that translate into your routines as a parent?
In our house, the dinner table was used on Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving. Occasionally, if a relative came to town, we might have had a family dinner around it. We were busy: I had ballet lessons, my sister had dance, we had piano, my mom taught at church, and my dad was a bus driver who drove double shifts. Dinner was often a TV dinner on the floor, watching the jeffersons.
I didn’t really key into that being a thing until I married Mark. He was very much about the continuity that family dinners offer. His mother de el is Italian, his father is Mexican, and that’s how he grew up: sitting down, reconnecting, and talking about your day.
That’s what we did with our own kids. It wasn’t always easy, especially as your kids get older. If they’re on a travel soccer team, you’re sometimes eating dinner behind the wheel of a car or at 9 pm while everyone is doing their homework. But the effort was always there.
The nice thing is now that they’re adults, they’ll call us and make dates to come home for a Sunday dinner.
What do your kids want you to make when they come home?
My son Joaquin likes when I make filet mignon. (I Googled the recipe.) I made it for him when he was away at college in Michigan, and later, I taught him how to do it over FaceTime.
Michael is big into veal Parmesan, which I really don’t like making. I’ll make chicken and tell him it’s veal. Basically, he loves anything dripping in cheese that’s lightly fried.
Lola is the most difficult. She’s so connected to her de ella Nona — my mother-in-law — and really only enjoys the food she makes. I could make her de ella Bolognese sauce de ella exactly the same way, but Lola tastes subtle differences. I always say Nona cries tears into the sauce, and that’s why it’s so much better.
Did you have any picky eaters?
Growing up with my in-laws was always a culinary adventure. My children went from breast to calamari fra diavolo. My mother-in-law would say, “This child has two teeth, and that’s enough to chew.” So all three of my children have very developed palates.
My youngest had a thing for a long time where he didn’t like different foods touching each other. When he was 4, we went to a chuckwagon cowboy dinner in Sedona, Arizona. I thought, “What is Joaquin going to eat?” I packed snacks just in case, because he seemed to be fussy. I realized at the chuckwagon dinner, though, when he had that metal tray with the food separators — it was about the foods touching each other. He wolfed down his food and asked for seconds.
I think as long as your kids know that they’re loved and that you are providing the best you can for them in the time you can, they get it. They understand.
Now that your kids are out of the house, what are your meal routines like?
When we dropped Joaquin off at college, Michael and Lola had already been living on their own, so we came home and we had no idea what we were doing. Suddenly, Mark said, “Should we eat?” I’m not kidding, I ended up cooking enough dinner for 35 people. Without the kids, I had to learn how to portion our foods, and so did Mark. He’s really good on the grill — he makes gorgeous grilled fish — but he was purchasing enough for 12 people, and I said, “We have to stop. They’re gone.”
When your kids were little and you were really tired, what did you do for dinner?
My mother-in-law would make vats of sauces the children loved, and she’d freeze them for me. I would make them a home-cooked Italian meal, courtesy of my mother-in-law, until the sauce ran out. Then I would do the basics: I’d get a frozen bagel and put tomato sauce and cheese on it and have pizza bagels. I was good at making sure there were vegetables, but I wasn’t precious about frozen versus fresh veggies.
I grew up eating TV dinners and chicken pot pies, and I feel like I turned out OK. That was the food people my age grew up with. I think as long as your kids know that they’re loved and that you are providing the best you can for them in the time you can, they get it. They understand.
In Family Dinner, Romper chats with remarkable people we like, to find out how their family does dinner. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.