Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?

Baked Caprese Salad-1

03 Sep Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?

Baked Caprese Salad Stacks – TheMessyBaker.com

When you write about food for a living it’s easy to forget that it’s not always just about ingredients or recipes. Creating a new twist on the chocolate chip cookie isn’t as important as baking a batch with a friend. Bland chicken needs nothing more than a spicy conversation. And if your butternut squash soup doesn’t rank on Google’s first page, if you slurp it with loved ones, you’re still a hit.

Whatever Happened to Sunday Dinner?: A year of Italian menus with 250 recipes that celebrate family by Lisa Caponigri is a delicious reminder that sharing a meal is more important than the meal itself.  While Caponigri’s menus are balanced and reasonably healthy, it’s not about nutrition, clean eating or sustainable food choices. Her multi-generational approach encourages all family members — even children — to be involved in preparing dinner, but it’s not a how-to-cook book. It’s not about pushing culinary boundaries. It’s about family — and friends –  coming together over food. “Sunday dinner is a ritual, a tradition, a bonding experience,” Caponigri says.

And that’s something you can’t buy at the deli counter.

Baked Caprese Salad Stacks - TheMessyBaker.com

I had the pleasure of meeting Lisa Caponigri. She talked passionately about family and it made me both hopeful and sad. “Sunday isn’t special anymore,” Caponigri says. Guilty! I often use Sunday to catch up on niggly tasks that add little value to my life but suck large amounts of time. And why? So, I’m ready for the busy week ahead.

Recapturing the dying custom of spending time together seems harder and harder, but Caponigri believes it’s crucial to set an example. “Make Sunday a priority,” she says. “Clear the day. Then other family members will see you’ve prioritized and begin to do it themselves.” And when you do? “Everything opens up. People talk more, stay longer.” Okay, but just how do you clear Sunday? “Slow down. Prioritize. Pay attention.”

As Caponigri talked, I found myself agreeing with her fiercely, yet silently filing away excuses as to why I was the exception. I don’t have kids, so it’s not as important for me. I’m writing a book. My family lives close so I can see them any time.

But I don’t. We go busy. We let things slide. We have lost a ritual. But we can get it back. If we want.

Excuse: I’ll end up doing all the work.
Caponigri: Sunday dinner is a shared activity. Making the meal is part of the bonding. Divvy up the jobs. Young members can do the salad or make the dessert.

Excuse: I have young kids underfoot.
Caponigri: Children as young as 3 can help stir a cake or pour ingredients into a pot.

Excuse: I work early on Monday / the kids have homework.
Caponigri:  Start in the morning and be done by 5 PM.  Having a big meal during the day allows you to have your evening free.

Excuse: I don’t have family near by.
Caponigri: Invite friends, neighbours, colleagues. It’s about bonding.

Excuse: I’m not /my family members aren’t cooks.
Caponigri: Italian is “user-friendly.” The recipes are not difficult or time-consuming.

Excuse: Italian?! I’ll never get the ingredients.
Caponigri: I live in Indiana. If you can find it in Indiana you and find it anywhere.

Excuses: Planning is too much work.
Caponigri: The book provides a year’s worth of complete menus. Get the kids to pick next week’s menu. It’s something they’ll look forward to.

Okay. I’m out of excuses. What about you? Do you have regular communal meals? If not, what stops you? If so, what makes them special? What rituals do you have? I’d love to hear your stories.

In the meantime, here’s an example of just how easy yet flavourful one of Caponigri’s recipes can be. Baked Caprese Salad stacks are fun to make and as delicious as they are tippy.

Baked Caprese Salad with Tomatoes and Mozzarella
Recipe type: Appetizer
Cuisine: Italian
Prep / inactive time: 
Cook / active time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8-10 as an appetizer
This easy side is a warm, deliciously melty twist on the classic Caprese salad. They take little time to assemble and less than 10 minutes in the oven.
  • 6 large ripe tomatoes
  • 8oz fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
  • 1 large bunch fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.
  2. Cut the tomatoes across into ¼-inch thick rounds, discarding the top and bottom rounds. Top a slice of tomato with a slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf. Repeat with a slice of tomato, a slice of mozzarella, and a basil leaf. Top with a third slice of tomato. Repeat so you have 8 to 10 individual stacks. Transfer the stack to the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle the stacks with the olive oil, and season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
  3. Bake for 5 minutes. Turn the broiler on and broil until the mozzarella begins to melt, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.
This recipe is part of Menu 36, which includes: Marinated Vegetables, Nana's Linguine with Clam Sauce, Sicilian Marinated Shrimp, Baked Caprese Salad, and Chestnut Cake.


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  • Kathleen Richardson
    Posted at 13:53h, 03 September Reply

    I have tomatoes and basil in my garden and love to combine them as you directed, but not yet baked. Intriguing question about communal dinners. Our family has huge Thanksgiving gatherings. Birthdays are a gathering excuse. This past week my son was in town and he and my daughter cooked pulled pork, corn fritters, sugar cookies and other goodies from scratch for two family dinners. SIL and I got to sit back and relax while they did the cooking (and had lots of fun). BTW, found you on FoodBlogs.com.

    Keep writing…

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:34h, 03 September Reply

      Oh, that dinner sounds good. We are lucky enough to see family at big occasions like Thanksgiving and birthdays. I know not everyone is.

      Glad to hear you put your feet up and enjoyed the fruits of the other family member’s cooking!

      Thanks so much for dropping by!!

  • Annie
    Posted at 14:52h, 03 September Reply

    We have started having dinner in the dining room pretty nearly every night, even if we all just scrounge up some different leftovers and heat them in the microwave. We light candles and put down placemats and use the silver. Even though we are home together all day (we’re retired and our son is homeschooled), it’s a nice ritual. Particularly since we are all readers at the table at other meals. But there is NO reading at dinner! Even my grouchy husband seems to be getting into it after a few months. My 9 year old sets the table and lights the candles.

    Now if I could just get them to help out in the kitchen…

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:40h, 03 September Reply

      Oh, I love this. Candles and silverware makes an occasion special. We have an eat-in kitchen (no dining room) and use placemats, too. Like you, we have no reading — and no TV.

      What a great idea to get your nine-year-old to set the table and light the candles. Everyone who eats should help.

      Getting help in the kitchen is a challenge but my husband is very good at unloading the dishwasher (not so hot at loading it, mind you. But aren’t we all a work in progress?)

      Thanks so much for sharing your story!!

  • Amanda
    Posted at 17:38h, 03 September Reply

    definitely trying this out! I’ve only tried the non-warm one before!

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:42h, 03 September Reply

      I quite enjoyed it. I eat the cold version often during the summer, but as the nights get cooler here in the autumn, I like the baked version as a change of pace. And it’s very easy to make. It’s a great recipe for getting kids involved. Hope you like the baked version.

  • Jacque
    Posted at 13:53h, 04 September Reply

    Excuse: I don’t have any money!
    Caponigri: Oh… okay then ramen noodles for you

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 14:45h, 04 September Reply

      You raise a good point. Food costs money. Lisa never addressed this issue with me, but as a former very, very broke student, my friends and I did a lot of potlucks on a shoe string. I believe we did KD mac & cheese in lieu of ramen noodles. I was also fortunate enough to have parents who would pay for the communal meal I occasionally (okay, often) mooched.

      It’s not fair to expect one person foot the bill each week. Rotating hosts or contributing toward the grocery bill are a couple of solutions. Anyone got other ideas for easing the financial side of this?

      • Annie
        Posted at 23:23h, 04 September Reply

        “Ethnic” food tends to be cheaper…You could make things like rice bowls/stir fry, pizza, tacos/burritos…Also eggs and beans are typically cheap sources of protein.

        It’s a lot cheaper to cook at home than it is to eat out, even with subsidized giant agribusiness feeding junk food to Americans via fast food restaurants. It does require some planning because it’s typically cheaper to cook food in bulk.

        Also, maybe people need to rethink how much of their budget goes to food. I’m not saying some people are not really hard pressed to feed themselves. Been there… But overall we spend much less of our income on food than other industrialized nations, and eat worse.

        But as far as eating dinner as a family or group…even if you only have ramen noodles or a bowl of steamed rice, you can still sit down together at a clean table, with no TV or books.

        • Charmian Christie
          Posted at 10:14h, 06 September Reply

          More good points. I especially like your last one — the point is sharing a meal together without distractions. I hate when the TV is on during a meal. I find it so distracting — especially at restaurants.

          Thanks again for your excellent comments. I really appreciate hearing from you.

  • Carolyn
    Posted at 20:40h, 04 September Reply

    I make a concerted effort to sit down as a family for dinner 5-6 nights a week. This past Sunday, while trying to find a parking spot at a very busy shopping mall, I was longing for the days of my childhood when stores were closed on Sunday and they were family days, with afternoon naps, family games, and Sunday night dinner.
    One of my biggest motivators for making a big dinner on at least one of the weekend nights is the planned-overs that will help out with meals through the coming week.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 10:06h, 06 September Reply

      So many families no longer eat together. There are just two of us and we barely manage 4 nights a week with our busy schedules. Kudos to you!

      I remember when the stores were closed on Sundays. Part of me likes the convenience and part of me wishes there was a day when we could all just stay home. I respect small businesses that decide to close one or two days a week.

      You raise a good point about leftovers or “planned-overs” as you call them. Love that phrase. I think I’ll steal it:-) Thanks for your thoughtful comments.

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