As the first female Iron Chef on Food Network's "Iron Chef America" and a mother of four children, Cat Cora knows a thing or two about healthy eating.
Along with multiple Food Network TV shows, the Santa Barbara, Calif. resident is a successful restaurateur with five restaurants, including one in Singapore, and author of three cookbooks and one children's book. She also has a signature shoe brand and two food lines, including Cat Cora's Kitchen by Gaea, which features all natural products like olives and olive oil from Greece. In addition, she is founder of Chefs for Humanity, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing hunger worldwide.
I was able to catch up with Cora recently about her four boys, healthy eating tricks and what's up next for her. Here's what she had to say:
As a busy working mother, how do you balance your work and family life?
"Well, it helps having a wife! She stays home with the kids and works really hard while I work outside the home. We have a good balance together after years of working on that and seeking it out. We stay active with them and spend a lot of quality time nurturing each aspect of our lives. We still have work to do, but we strive to stay even."
What's your family's favorite dish that you make?
"I would say my pastitsio, it’s like a Greek lasagna."
Do you get help in the kitchen or do you do all of the cooking?
"I do a lot of the cooking, but my wife is a great cook; even though on our first date, she burned three bags of microwave popcorn in a row! She has turned out to be a very good cook and is more patient than I am when cooking. I cook like an Iron Chef!"
Do your kids enjoy cooking?
"They love to get in there and cook and talk about taking the company over one day. They are already figuring out how to overthrow me and take over the family company! We have a lot of laughs and enjoy bonding in the kitchen."
Advice for parents if their kids are picky eaters?
"Involve your kids in the menu, give them two options on protein, veggies especially. That way they are invested in the meal. And create a little garden space, even in large pots, so they can pick herbs and small veggies for you. I find if they help grow it, they will eat it."
How do you incorporate healthy foods into your family's meals?
"We just have always eaten healthfully. I think it's about choosing fresh, local, seasonal, all-natural proteins when possible. Being Greek-American, we do follow the Mediterranean Diet, which focuses on proper protein balance and consuming high-nutrient vegetables/legumes and the 'good fats' your body needs. It also allows for the occasional glass of wine (much appreciated by my wife and I). I partnered with Gaea, the leading Greek manufacturer of award-winning olive oils, because it’s such a staple in my family’s diet. Not only do I use it when I cook, but I drizzle it on top of most dishes before serving to make sure my family gets as many nutrients as possible. We do have our pizza and movie nights on Fridays and dessert after dinner, but we try to keep balanced, healthy meals throughout the week. Again, invest your kids in the decisions and menu and they are more likely to eat the meal."
What have you learned about being a mom and what have your kids taught you about life?
"That my greatest accomplishment in all the goals and milestones I have achieved is being a mom. It's my most important job and the most rewarding I will ever have. It's my true happy place. I now know I have the capacity to love unconditionally. And they have taught me to have fun again, to laugh, not to take life so seriously and to continually forgive myself for mistakes or missteps. Because if I am loved by these beautiful souls, I must be OK."
What's up next for you?
"Taking more time off for myself to be with my wife and kids, but also new restaurants and a second food line I just launched. I'm also writing my memoirs to be published in 2015 with Simon & Schuster, some new TV shows and more. Stay tuned!"