Here's What Ina Garten Learned from Having a Dietitian as a Mother

Even Ina had to rebel against her parents a little.

Ina Garten on a designed background
Photo: Getty Images / Manny Carabel

Part of the reason we love Ina Garten is because she has range. We can trust her for tips on just about anything, from budget bites to travel tips and lots of delicious recipes in between. And while not every Barefoot Contessa recipe is the healthiest dish in the world, we love the way Garten balances her meals with the right amount of richness and freshness. She has the kind of talent for crafting a perfect meal that you might expect from someone who's been cooking since they were a kid—but that isn't the case at all.

In a 2017 episode of Katie Couric's podcast Next Question, Garten said she actually wasn't allowed to cook growing up—instead, her mom, who was a dietitian, would prepare every meal. "She wouldn't let me cook… [My work] is the ultimate rebellion," Garten joked on the podcast.

As a dietitian in the 1950s and '60s, Garten's mother would have been all about some dietary guidelines we aren't big fans of today. After all, some mid-century diet suggestions included that "calories-in should equal calories-out," which encouraged people to severely restrict the number of calories they ate and work out solely to burn those calories. Today, we definitely wouldn't recommend eating fewer than 1,200 calories per day, and we believe that exercise should be enjoyed for the way it makes you feel (its numerous health benefits are just an added bonus). And while we now know that the Mediterranean diet, which boasts a balance of carbohydrates, fresh produce, fats and protein, is the healthiest way to eat, dietitians of yore could be more into eliminating certain foods and nutrients rather than eating them in moderation.

"My mother was obsessive about food," Garten told Couric. "So we weren't allowed any carbs, we weren't allowed any butter. We had margarine."

Now, of course, Garten is all about including all kinds of delicious ingredients in her cooking—and we're pretty thankful for that, since we love recipes like Ina's giant chocolate chip cookies and caramelized onion burgers. Plus, as EatingWell Associate Nutrition Digital Editor Jessica Ball, M.S. RD, would say, the foods you love can always play a part in a healthy diet.

"No food is inherently 'bad' or 'good,'" Ball says. "One of the cornerstones of a healthy eating pattern is a lot of variety and including all of the food groups. This means getting ample vegetables, fruits, proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. Other foods like treats, snacks or processed foods can also be part of a healthy diet, just enjoyed in moderation."

As for Ina, she loves the occasional rich dinner, especially when it comes to entertaining friends and family. But she tries to balance those meals with a simple, light vegetable side and, if there's a dessert, something light and refreshing to end the meal. "I don't think anybody wants all rich things for dinner," Garten said on the podcast.

A recent dinner Garten recounted to Couric had our mouths watering: short ribs on a bed of blue cheese grits, plus a side of roasted broccolini and a "crisp and fresh" coffee granita for dessert. Both Garten and Couric agreed that eating a little bit of the things you love—like one delicious cookie instead of a box of low-fat cookies, Garten joked—makes them feel satisfied at the end of the day. "As long as it's balanced," Garten said she can feel good about her eating pattern.

According to Ball, that's a pretty healthy way to go about adding little treats to your typical eating pattern. "With these foods, focusing on savoring each bite can make you feel more satisfied off of a smaller serving," she advises. We'll keep that in mind the next time we slice up Ina's signature French Apple Tart.

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