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Padma Lakshmi’s meditation takes place in the kitchen

top chef host

Padma Lakshmi eats her fair share of duck confit and lemon-curd crumbles while judging and hosting Bravo’s Top Chef. But when the India-born, New York City-raised single mom is off camera, she’s all about the veggies.

“I have to make up for the bad behavior with the good behavior,” says Lakshmi.

But that doesn’t mean five-day juice cleanses or spending hours at the gym. Lakshmi’s into living a life of mindful balance—which for her is as much about unplugging every day for “meditation power naps” to whipping up something on the stove that’s just fun to make.

We asked Lakshmi to dish on more of her cool healthy habits, knowing there’s always room for a Top Chef tasting here and there.

You’re constantly in the line of culinary fire. How do you manage to maintain balance and eat well between filming Top Chef and being off set? I’m very lucky to have my job on Top Chef, but it takes a toll on me physically. I have been doing the show for 9 years. My metabolism isn’t what it was when I was younger.

When I’m not on set, I eat a mostly plant-based diet. The number one obstacle to eating well is that we all lead such busy lives, which is why I teamed up with MorningStar to focus on fast ways we can eat healthier.

So how do you burn off steam while filming and traveling for work? Sometimes we shoot 14- or 16-hour days, and my guilty pleasure is to just lie down and collect myself, even if it’s 5 or 10 minutes. That doesn’t mean lighting a candle or sitting in lotus; it’s just being awake and lying down in the dark.

I also use the stairs to workout—that’s how I lost my baby weight. I would go into the emergency staircase in my apartment building and walk up and down stairs. I went slowly, I didn’t run. I didn’t listen to books on tape. I didn’t carry a phone. It was my time to think.

That sounds therapeutic. And what about cooking? What are some of your favorite meals to make at home? I eat a lot of lentils and a lot of beans—white, black, pinto. Often I’ll make some plain steamed brown rice and wind up making a stew. I’ll stir fry some onions, ginger, and garlic, and add tomatoes. Then I put some beans and black-eyed peas in. I like a lot of greens, too. So at the last minute, right before I turn the stew off, I’ll add some baby spinach or finely shredded kale. I always add cilantro, and use a lot of chiles, too.

I love the fresh spices at the end. Do you do you yoga or meditate? My favorite form of meditation is putting on mellow music, being barefoot, and cooking for the fun of it. —Molly Gallagher

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(Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)