Giada De Laurentiis Dishes On Staying Fit and Making the Holiday Season Delicious

Giada De Laurentiis has plenty to celebrate this holiday season.

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(Courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis/ FOX News Magazine)

The Emmy Award-winning chef’s digital lifestyle publication, “Giada: A Digital Weekly,” launched earlier this year to rave reviews and was recently voted one of the “Best of 2013” by Apple’s App Store editorial team. She published another cook book, “Giada’s Feel Good Food” and is preparing to open her first restaurant in Las Vegas in 2014, which promises to deliver delicious cuisine inspired by Rome, her birthplace.

In spite of all she’s got going on, De Laurentiis easily manages to entertain loved ones with treats that she insists anyone can make with ease.

FOX News Magazine spoke with the Food Network star on how she’s savoring la dolce vita by enjoying mouthwatering dishes without packing on the pounds, getting creative in the kitchen for her 5-year-old daughter, and why she loves putting olive oil practically everywhere.

FOX News Magazine: The holiday season is here and with that comes loved ones visiting and larger-than-normal dinner gatherings. Do you have any advice on how we can improve our cooking skills in time for the festivities?

GDL: I would definitely say improve your cooking skills before the holiday season, not during it *laughs.* It’s stressful as is, but a couple of little touches are all you need. It’s really difficult to have people come over to your house by a certain time, even if it is your family. I always think it’s important to feed your guests something a little more substantial than just a cookie platter. It’s the holidays, let your guests know how much you appreciate them stopping by and take a little extra time and care in the foods you’re preparing. You don’t want them to be intimidated, but rather a dish you can pick up quickly without the need to sit down or even grab a plate. I like to do an Italian version of pigs in a blanket where I take a piece of mortadella (Italian bologna), wrap it around a strip of puff pastry, and bake it in a preheated oven of 375 degrees for about 25 minutes. Then I top it with a pinch of cheese. It’s very simple, only requires a few ingredients and you don’t even need to know how to cook.

I also have a 5 ½-year-old daughter, so a lot of my friends like to bring their children over. I do chicken fingers because my daughter loves them and a lot of kids do as well. I like to make mine a little fancier by adding buttermilk. I also make a breadcrumb mixture that’s panko, spinach, and parmesan cheese. I combine them in a food processor, dip the chicken fingers in there, and then either fry them in a pan with just a little bit of oil for about 3-4 minutes or put them in the oven. When I serve them, I add ketchup for the kids and piccata sauce for the adults, which is chicken broth, lemon juice, lemon zest, and a little bit of flour to thicken it up. All of these things can be made ahead of them. You can leave them in the oven at 200 degrees and pull them out as you need them. The goal is to make delicious finger foods that are satisfying, look pretty, and don’t require a lot of time to prepare.

FNM: Speaking of your daughter, how do you balance your high-profile career and being a mom?

GDL: It’s not easy to be honest. When I leave the house, I think, ‘What is everyone having for dinner?’ My husband would call me and say ‘What’s for dinner?’ My response was ‘Well, I’m in Europe right now, but I’m sure we can figure it out’ *laughs.* So I have to plan every step ahead for them. And that’s what a mom does. My number one advice is getting good help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help within your family. I have two lovely ladies who’ve helped me with Jade since she was very young. I can’t do everything and be everywhere at any moment, but I can set myself up for success by asking for help, which is exactly what I do. I’m also very lucky to have a husband who is very hands-on. He gets our daughter up for school in the morning and ready for bed at night. I also leave little notes everywhere in places where I’ll know they’ll find them. Also, before I leave I make sure I bake some cookies and leave them in the freezer. I’ll then leave a note saying ‘Hey guys, if you miss me, there’s a little treat waiting for you.’ I do little things that show them that even though I’m not physically there, I’m there. And the ability to see others on the phone has really helped me. The phone is not one of my daughter’s favorite things, but if she can see me, where I am, even where my bed is in the room, she still feels connected to me while I’m on the road.

FNM: Going back to food, you’ve always been open about your love for pasta. How do you stay fit?

GDL: Eating out and traveling is always difficult for me. But I think the secret, for me anyway, is portion sizes. You can’t eat a lot of everything. The idea is to eat an appetizer portion. At restaurants, I’ll oftentimes order two appetizer dishes, but if I can’t find anything I like in the appetizer menu, I’ll order a main course, ask them to pack half of it, and then take that half to go. So I’m really only eating half of the main course. When I’m home, I can eat the way I want to because I’m cooking my own foods and know which ingredients are going into them. Also, snacks are important. In my bag, I always have almonds. Sometimes, I’ll even make popcorn and season it the way I want. The idea is to carry a snack that’s filling and portable. Fruit is great, but it can also get bruised easily in your bag or go bad. Nuts and popcorn are much easier to carry around.

FNM: Is there any way to make hearty Italian dishes healthier without compromising on taste?

GDL: There are certain dishes that can be made healthier and then there are those you just can’t. Let’s take chicken fingers. With baking, you’ll still get that same texture (as frying) with high heat, about 400-425 degrees. I also do mac and cheese with brown pasta instead of white and go light on the cheese. Using a lot of fresh herbs in your food also adds a lot of flavor without extra fat. I love lemon zest because it brightens up your dishes and adds enough flavor that you don’t need salt. I also try not to fry by instead grilling or baking in the oven. I make my eggplant parm by grilling it in a grill pan instead of frying. It takes away a bunch of calories without compromising the flavor.

FNM: When it comes to food, children tend to be picky eaters. As a mom, how do you tackle that?

GDL: With my daughter, there are times when she’ll say ‘No, I’m not eating broccoli.’ It’s usually greens she won’t want to eat. My response? ‘Sure, not a problem.’ It disappears for a week and then I reintroduce it in a different way. The other trick is adding greens into the dish. For example, the chicken fingers have spinach in the actual breadcrumb mixture. She’s actually eating spinach without knowing it. It’s all about being creative with introducing ingredients. If prepared properly with a lot of flavor, kids will like it. There are times when my daughter won’t eat something and I don’t make a big deal out of it. I’ll just tell her, ‘This is what’s for dinner. If you don’t want it, that’s OK, but there’s nothing else to eat. You can’t open a box of cookies or chips. This is all you get.’ And if she’s tired of a certain vegetable, I’ll replace it with something else and reintroduce that same vegetable at a later time in a different way. Jade used to love raw carrots, but then she stopped eating them. So I began roasting them in the oven. I even did carrot chips so she can see them in a different way and fall in love with the ingredient again.

FNM: It also doesn’t sound as intimidating as, say a plate of greens.

GDL: Absolutely. Honestly, spinach is not one of my favorite things either. It’s slimy when cooked and has a metallic flavor when raw. I can only eat it if it’s prepared in certain ways. I don’t blame her for feeling the same, so I’ll find ways to incorporate other greens in her meals, like arugula in her omelet or scrambled eggs for breakfast with a little bit of parmesan cheese and a slice of toast. She’s learning that greens are part of her life.

FNM: Let’s talk about olive oil. You have amazing skin and I read in a previous interview that olive oil is the secret behind your youthful glow.

GDL: I do eat a lot of olive oil! I don’t know if that’s the only secret. Hydration is definitely another one. But I do eat a lot of olive oil. I actually eat olive oil with oatmeal for breakfast. For my salads, I made a vinaigrette with olive oil, a little bit of lemon juice, and apple cider vinegar. Olive oil is a big part of my life and I probably eat…I don’t know…maybe half a cup a day. I know it’s a lot of fat, but as a woman, I feel we worry too much about consuming a lot of fat that we forget there’s a difference between good fat and bad fat. It’s a fat I grew up eating and I do believe it gives my hair, skin, and nails a really nice glow. It’s part of how I’ve learned to grow old graciously. I also put it on my fingers, my hands, my nails, and sometimes on my face when it’s cold and I’m feeling very chapped. It seems like my skin really enjoys that flavor. I also put it on the ends of my hair when I’m traveling when it feels very dry from all the blow drying and curling irons. They even sell these little olive oil packets you can find at Whole Foods and I usually put some in my bag. So whenever I order a salad with no dressing, I just add my olive oil with some lemon juice. It makes it more accessible to eat healthier during the day.

FNM: Can you give us a taste of what we can expect from your new restaurant opening in 2014?

GDL: The restaurant is a very big one for me. It opens May 1st and will be on the strip in the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and The Flamingo across the street from Caesar’s Palace. It’s on the second and third floor of a new boutique hotel. It will have indoor/outdoor seating with a view of the Bellagio Fountains. This was something I just could not turn down. I’m a little bit overwhelmed just thinking about it. One part feels I hit the lottery and another part feels like I stepped into God only knows what. But I’m ready to embark on this journey and it’s become one of my many passions.

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