Getting Toddlers to Eat: An Interview with Padma Lakshmi

If you’re a fan of Top Chef, you already know Padma Lakshmi as the host of the cooking competition show, alongside head judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons.  The adventurous eater and former model also because a mom last year when she gave birth to a daughter, Krishna Thea.  Recently, Lakshmi partnered with Huggies and Baby Loves Disco to launch the new Huggies Little Movers slip-on diapers, disposable diapers designed to help parents reduce changing time.  We chatted with Lakshimi over the phone to get tips on how to encourage picky toddlers to eat and what parenting advice she would give other moms and dads.

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As an actress, a Top Chef judge, a cookbook writer, and a jewelry designer, you are a very busy mom!  How do you balance your work schedule with mommy time?
It’s very, very hard. No two days are alike. Each day I just try to figure out what is the most important thing on my list and I prioritize that way.

Besides Huggies slip-on diapers, are there any other products that have made your life easier as a parent?  Any tried-and-true mommy time-savers?
The Huggies Little Movers slip-ons are a real time-saver because now that my baby is getting more active and squirmy, it’s really hard to keep her still. You can change the diaper while the baby is standing up. They’re just as absorbent, they have Velcro, and they come sealed so you can slip them up like underwear. I live in New York City and most of the restaurants don’t have changing tables, and you’re always doing some kind of balancing act.  If you have an on-the-go lifestyle, this is a great diaper because it shaves a couple of minutes off each diaper change.

You’re an adventurous eater.  Now that Krishna is a toddler, has she become a picky eater? 
I’m very lucky that she’s not a picky eater. There are things that she doesn’t like, but she’ll try things once.  I give her two or three healthy choices. You have to teach children about good nutrition and eating habits, about adaptability and being able to get along in any situation. Trying to get them to eat healthy regular food is the best way to go so it’s not such a shock when they transfer their diet from baby food to normal food.

What are your tips for introducing new or more adventurous foods to your toddler? 
The biggest tip any pediatrician will teach you, is to try out one new food at a time for two to three days and then introduce a new food after that. This also helps you makes sure your child isn’t allergic to things. At first I was abandoning a particular fruit or vegetable after one time because I thought, ‘Okay, she doesn’t like it.’ But babies don’t know whether they really like something or not; it depends on their mood and on what stage they are in. You want to try again a couple weeks later or try two, three days in a row. Because of the unfamiliarity of a certain food, children will reject it, but they will often try something by the third or fourth time.

What are your strategies for preparing nutritious, well-balanced meals for your toddler? Do you have any easy, go-to recipes?
You make a little stew or a lentil soup and you put in a protein, a few vegetables, and a starch, like a little broken pasta or rice or noodles or potatoes, and then you finish off with fruit of some kind. The hardest job is washing and chopping all the vegetables, but you can do that ahead of time. I do a version of this in my own home a lot. It’s a balanced meal.

What was the best and worst parenting advice you have received?
The best parenting advice I received was to do what was best for my family and my child because no two families are the same and no two children are the same. And to do what is appropriate at that given moment, based on the circumstances. The worst advice I’ve been given is to just let your baby cry.

What parenting advice would you give to other parents?
I would give the advice to make the decisions that are right for your family. And seek the counsel of people in your family that you trust because there is a common value system or a shared set of ideals.

Follow Padma Lakshmi on Twitter (@padmalakshmi).

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  1. by Jill Cordes

    On November 10, 2011 at 4:44 pm

    I think I’ll try the introducing certain foods several nights in a row. I tend to give up too quickly. Thanks for the tip!

  2. by Ted

    On November 11, 2011 at 3:08 pm

    Actually, I’m surprised her answer to getting toddlers to eat isn’t, “Uhhh…well, I blow pot smoke in their faces.” Most episodes of Top Chef, she behaves like she’s stoned out of her gourd.