Celebrity chef stresses food variety: Don't eat the same foods all the time

Eat a little of a lot of different foods.

That was some of the advice offered by celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis during a recent appearance in Shelton on behalf of the Bridgeport Hospital Foundation.

De Laurentiis suggested “constantly changing your routine — don’t eat the same thing all the time. Change it up and give lots of options.”

About 150 invited guests attended the event in the R.D. Scinto Auditorium in the Scinto corporate park. Her visit also included a smaller event at Il Palio Restaurant in Shelton.

De Laurentiis is the Emmy Award-winning star of the Food Network’s Everyday Italian, Giada at Home and Giada in Paradise. She is a contributing correspondent for NBC-TV’s Today Show and the author of six best-selling cookbooks.

She was in the area to promote her new book, Giada’s Feel Good Food: My Healthy Recipes and Secrets, which she described as being more of a lifestyle book than a cookbook.

During an interview, she stressed the importance of people taking care of themselves in ways beyond watching what they eat — by being physically and spiritually active, and finding measures to help them feel relaxed.

In her own life, she likes to meditate as well as do yoga. And cooking is “very relaxing for me,” she said.

‘Healthy cooking’

Stephen Jakab, Bridgeport Hospital Foundation president, introduced De Laurentiis as someone who has become “synonymous with healthy cooking that tastes good.”

On a more serious note, Jakab said the lack of people eating healthy “is a significant issue in our country.”

The Bridgeport Hospital Foundation has raised more than $120 million since 1988 to improve patient care and offer health programs to the community.

De Laurentiis, who was born in Italy and now lives in southern California with her husband and their young daughter, said portion sizes are a big problem in the United States.

“A lot of anything isn’t going to make you feel good,” she said.

Another key is limiting intake of sugar, dairy and packaged foods, according to De Laurentiis.

She said there is nothing wrong with pasta, although she suggested using whole grain and possibly gluten-free when possible.

“The enemy is not pasta,” she said. “The enemy is the portion size.”

She also noted there are many things that can be done with pasta besides just topping it with red sauce. Prepare roasted vegetables to combine with pasta to create a meal, she said.

Dining out

When eating out, De Laurentiis will often order two appetizers instead of an entrée. And she tries to take some of the food home to eat later rather than consuming all of it at the establishment.

Other dining out suggestions included sharing food with your meal partners and avoiding being extremely hungry when walking out the house. “You’ll eat the entire bread basket and everything they put in front of you,” she said.

De Laurentiis said she receives a lot of inquiries about dairy-free or gluten-free recipes and other special diets. “It’s skyrocketing in our children because of what we eat,” she said.

She said it’s important to get young children used to eating more healthy varieties of foods. “Start them early and they get used to it,” she said.

This can be a challenge, as she and her husband are experiencing now with their young daughter, who “hates” broccoli and other “green stuff.”

“Right now were having a really big battle on the green stuff,” De Laurentiis said.

Good planning

De Laurentiis understands that people are busy and finding the time to cook properly is difficult. Still, she said, with good planning people can eat well and healthy.

Her family will pick out recipes for the coming week in advance. She shops once a week for most items, then picks up special items needed for specific meals on the day a meal will be prepared.

“Try to write recipes that don’t take a long time,” she said, adding that she favors recipes with fewer ingredients.

De Laurentiis also said it’s a good idea to make food that can be used in other meals later in the week, so you’re not cooking complete meals every day.

She said people should try to buy organic and fresh fruits and vegetables, but she realizes this isn’t always possible because of price, access and seasonality.

Trying new ideas also can be bring pleasant surprises, De Laurentiis said. “Sometimes the best meals are mistakes,” she said. “Feel comfortable to just play.”

One of De Laurentiis’s sweet snack suggestions is to eat frozen chocolate chips. “It lasts longer when frozen, so you don’t eat as much,” she said. “It takes so long to melt you can just savor it.”