Finding Love on the Plate

Carla HallI think most people would think of me as being a pretty healthy person. I certainly try to maintain healthy habits by eating lots of fruits and vegetables, keeping up with yoga every day, drinking plenty of water, and getting a good night's sleep. So it was a real surprise to me that during the first three months that I was a co-host on The Chew, I actually gained 20 pounds.

Because I'd been working in the food industry for many years by then, you'd think that I'd be used to being around food. But I was not used to the routine of working on a television show where we made and tasted five dishes per episode — and we were taping two shows each day! I got into the habit, along with my co-hosts, of eating several full portions of delicious food each day without really considering the consequences. For someone who believes strongly that every plate of food should be about love, I started having more of a love-hate relationship with food.

That experience taught me that I needed to reinvent the way I approached food, especially since it is such an integral part of my work. First I learned to take just a bite of food off that plate, not eat the whole thing. In fact, if you watch The Chew these days, you'll notice that we're all pretty careful now about how much we are eating on each plate of food. Then I started paying attention to how much activity I was getting each day and what kind of food I was eating off the set. I realized that there were small things I could do to make a difference to my overall health.

Food should be about love, and staying healthy is also about love — loving yourself as well as your family and friends. In honor of National Women's Health Week, here are some of the ways that I try to create a loving relationship with food, which has had a real impact on my own health:

  • Instead of doing one big grocery shopping trip each week, try going every day, or every other day, and getting exactly the amount of food that you need for just a few meals. And, if you can, walk to the grocery store, because that will ensure that you'll only be able to buy the amount of food that you can carry back home. Since I started doing this, I find that I end up bringing home the food that I really need to eat and fewer snacks as a result!
  • I'm all about comfort food, but that doesn't mean it has to be heavy in fat and low in nutrition. Our grandparents ate much of the same foods that people still love today — think fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, and collard greens — but they also grew more of their own food and were less reliant on processed products. If you love fried chicken, go ahead and eat it in moderation, but add puréed butternut squash to that macaroni and cheese to take place of some of the cheese and milk. It also gives it a nutritional boost. Instead of cooking greens for hours in the old-fashioned way, give them a quick 30-minute sauté with olive oil and garlic so they retain their nutrients.
  • Try to have raw vegetables or fruit on the table with every meal, like sliced peaches to go with dessert or a beautiful fresh salad with dinner. Not only do they add necessary fiber to your diet, you'll also get the full benefit of the vitamins and minerals that can be lost through cooking. I know that I can't really lighten up my granny's five-flavor pound cake, so I go ahead and enjoy a slice of it anyway, balancing out that buttery richness with fresh stone fruits and berries.

Because making beautiful, flavorful, healthy food is a real priority in my life, I am always sharing new ideas and recipes on my website, carlahall.com. Please come visit me there to find out what's cooking in my kitchen, from pasta with kale pesto to blackberry-lemon hand pies. And I love to hear from people about favorite family recipes that they want to give a healthy makeover. Maybe I'll be able to reinvent a dish for you and put some love back on your plate!

The statements and opinions in this blog post are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Office on Women's Health.