We recently got a sneak peek into the diet of the sexiest Top Chef judge, author, actress and mom, Padma Lakshmi. Our interest was piqued, so we sat down to chat more with Padma on all things wellness — from her morning routine to how becoming a mom has changed the way she eats and more, including her Veg of Allegiance project. Check it out.
MBG: You recently told us that, although you pretty much eat (and have tried) every type of food and cuisine, you actually prefer a plant-based diet. Why is this?
Padma Lakshmi: I just personally feel better and healthier and have more energy when I maintain a plant-based diet. I’m by no means a vegetarian. On Top Chef, I’m required to eat everything. I grew up a vegetarian for religious reasons in a traditional Hindi home. I also grew up in the U.S. and was around other American teenagers and started eating meat.
But over the years, I’ve found that my system and chemistry work better on a plant-based diet. I think everyone can benefit from eating more vegetables and fruits and less meat.
I’m by no means saying to give up meat. Balance is important. It’s important to eat a little bit of everything. But substituting a few meat meals per week for plant meals is a really easy way to make your own diet healthier, and to do something that’s good for the earth. Plant-based protein needs fewer resources to produce than meat protein.
Are you seeing a shift towards wellness in the culinary world and with chefs at all? How?
Padma: I am. When I started on Top Chef, I noticed my co-judges poo-pooing dishes that only had vegetables; they viewed them as just a side dish. But I have seen a gradual shift in their opinions about how they look at vegetable dishes.
It’s not about what you do, but how you do it. A beautifully roasted mushroom or a bowl of mushroom soup done with exquisite care and perfect seasoning is just as luxurious and valuable of a feat in the kitchen as is cooking a perfect steak. It’s actually easier to cook a perfect steak than it is to make a beautiful, velvet mushroom soup. Now, people are going more plant-based, or using meat as just one component of a dish.
In my own home, we are mostly plant-based. For many Americans, they are forced to feed their families on a very limited budget. Learning how to cook delicious plant-based proteins not only benefits the earth, but it can also be financially prudent. We don’t talk about that. You can feed more people with a bag of beans than you can with a package of steak. And those beans cost a fraction of the steak.
Has becoming a mom changed the way you eat at all?
Padma: Yes. Being a mother has made me eat less healthy. What’s appropriate for me as a 44-year-old woman is not appropriate for my 4 or 5-year-old daughter. She does need more carbs and fat because she needs to feed her developing body and brain. I purposefully cook my child’s eggs with a pad of butter. I’ve been known to give her a slice of cold butter while she waits for me to cook her meal. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But I cook for her and as a single mom, we eat the same things. I wind up eating a lot of the foods that I wouldn’t even keep in the house. But rather than reach for something fried, I might give her a baked product. I try to vary the snacks I give her; something with goldfish, raisins, nuts, etc. I want her to eat a lot of different foods. As a parent, it’s my job to equip her with a respect and love for food. Your child’s eating patterns are pretty much set by the time they’re 5 or 6 years old. You can’t eat one way and expect your child to eat another way. If you’re not eating the broccoli on your plate, she’s not going to eat the broccoli on hers.
Can you walk us through your morning routine?
Padma: My morning routine during weekdays is getting up at 7am and get out of bed at 7:20. We go downstairs and have milk and tea. We eat breakfast, which might be eggs with toast or a tortilla, oatmeal, cereal, or French toast. I prefer French toast to pancakes or waffles because it has more eggs, which is good for protein. Then, we go upstairs and get dressed and get out the door by 8:20.
What’s the last thing you ate and or the last thing you cooked?
Padma: The last thing I ate was the last thing I cooked. Blacked-eyed peas and Chinese long beans in a tomato sauce. There’s a great example for plant-based protein.