In the nearly 25 years since we first fell in love with James Van Der Beek as the starry-eyed title teen character of Dawson’s Creek, he’s taken many forms. He was a reluctant quarterback in Varsity Blues. An “angel of death” in Criminal Minds. A smarmy douche-bag version of himself in Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23. Even the voice of Boris in Disney’s animated series Vamperina. But of all the versions of Van Der Beek over the years, he seems to have landed comfortably in his favorite: a husband and father doing his best to bounce some of the gratitude he feels back into the world.
For Van Der Beek, now 45, that starts at home. This holiday season, he’s getting his whole family involved in giving back through a charitable initiative with Libby’s Vegetables. For his part, Van Der Beek got his kids in the kitchen with friend and chef Marisa Franco to whip up some gluten-free green bean casserole.
He then shared the family’s experience making — and devouring — the classic holiday dish. And for every like, share, or comment on his post, Libby’s Vegetables will donate a coupon redeemable for a free can of vegetables to Meals on Wheels. The partnership runs through Dec. 31, with Libby’s vowing to give as many as 500,000 coupons.
For Van Der Beek, it’s especially significant to have his kids involved. In fact, it’s a bit of a family tradition. As a child, Van Der Beek watched his granddad volunteer with Meals on Wheels, recalling “how much purpose” it gave the family patriarch.
It’s funny how life circles around like that.
Scary Mommy hopped on Zoom with Van Der Beek from the Texas homestead he and his wife, Kimberly, along with their six kids, moved to after leaving Los Angeles in 2020. Up for discussion? Holiday plans, full moon ceremonies, and at the heart of it all, the legacy we create for (and with) our kids.
Your grandfather volunteered with Meals on Wheels — how special to carry that on. Have you noticed any little shifts in your kids from teaching them to do good like this?
Absolutely. They really remember it. Our strategy is to see what they’re curious about and what they ask us questions about, because they’re very thoughtful kids. If we can create the space for them to ask those questions or bring up things that are bothering them, whether it’s about homelessness or people not having enough food, we’ll do the legwork that we can to try to figure out how to get them involved, get them to volunteer, or allow them to contribute in some way.
What’s cool about this [partnership] is I was able to get on Instagram and say, ‘Guys, we’re at 40,000 coupons right now,’ which for a kid is just a ginormous number.
Your family seems adorably extra when it comes to celebrating the holidays. What traditions are you looking forward to most this year?
Well, we’ve almost gotten the Halloween decorations cleared away. They were much more enthusiastic about pulling them out than putting them back. (laughs) But I think our favorite tradition that we do is we’ll pick a present, a really special one, and let them open it before Christmas morning. Because Christmas is always so crazy: There’s wrapping paper, lots of presents, just a lot going on. So, anything that we think might be more impactful to open on its own, we give it its little solo spotlight and let them open that.
Kids can be… fickle. How do you balance doing the family traditions you love and pivoting as personalities grow and change?
Oh my god, yeah. You’ve got to listen and ask — and just try to avoid that moment where you’re more excited about the tradition than your kids are. (laughs) I keep my expectations low ... I think it’s about asking, reading the room, and not being too attached.
The holidays probably look a little different for y’all in Texas. What has that move meant for your family?
It’s been everything for us. It feels like home here. We’re on a lot of land, so we’re more in touch with the natural cycles of the seasons. We made a fire last night and sat out because it was a full moon — we talked about what things we were going to leave behind, kind of this full moon ceremony. We just do a lot more of that than we ever did before.
It’s about being more in touch with the natural roots of things. That’s what it’s meant for us.
How has that changed the way your family views food?
Before, we just thought the magical grocery store would bring exactly what we wanted exactly when we wanted it. But now we’re recognizing, yeah, there is a season when these things grow, and there is a season when you plant these things.
You’re living this wild, beautiful, rooted-but-still-untethered existence. Does it ever strike you that this is the stuff core memories are made of?
Every time I walk outside, especially late at night or sunset, I take a deep breath of gratitude that we found this place, that we were able to move, that we had the means to move, and that my kids get to experience this. It’s been life-changing and really, really healing for us. It just fits us better.
I’ve got a lot of great friends in LA — LA is a crazy place, and I love it for that — but it feels like I’m grounded here in who I am more deeply than I could be anywhere else.
Your bookend babies both had birthdays recently, the oldest turning 12 and the youngest turning one. That juxtaposition feels like such a reminder that time is a thief. As a dad, what’s your greatest hope for your kids as they grow into the people they’ll ultimately become?
I really hope that they’re able to look to the future with optimism and compassion, and to recognize the present for the gift that it is. I try to instill in them that balance between planning ahead and having some impulse control and some discipline. And to appreciate where you’re at and recognize that life will throw you challenges, but it’s how you respond to it that’ll determine whether it happens to you or happens for you.
Ultimately, if I can teach them that, and to look for joy and curiosity… that’s a lot of things, and you asked for one. (laughs) I guess it’s more of a mission statement.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.