The #1 Healthy Habit Rachael Ray Says Has Changed Her Lifestyle—and Her Dinner Plans
Despite the fact that her first series, 30-Minute Meals, debuted more than two decades ago and that she's penned dozens of cookbooks and thousands of recipes for her shows and namesake magazine, if you try to describe Rachael Ray as a "chef," she will kindly correct you. She's "a cook, not a chef," since she learned her craft at "HoJo's" (her nickname for Howard Johnson's, the restaurant where she honed her skills at scooping ice cream) and at the hip of her mom and grandpa.
But as of this fall, she is at least a chef-by-proxy; 26 of her fan-favorite recipes are now available via the meal delivery service Home Chef. Simply order online or snag a kit at Kroger's, and you'll have a box of pre-portioned ingredients and thorough instructions to re-create some of Ray's most beloved dishes like Steakhouse Burgers with Dijon Mushrooms and Onions, Sausage, Pepper and Onion Pasta Bake with Ricotta and Tilapia Piccata with Lemon Spaghetti right in your own home. Yes, some even come together in 30 minutes or less.
"When Home Chef came to me, I thought, 'I've always thought about doing this someday,' but if someone is buying my kits, they're not watching TV that tells them how to cook," Ray tells EatingWell exclusively, referring to her daytime talk show or the archives of her how-to Food Network shows that are now available on Discovery. Then she realized, "Anything that encourages that step in life is great. This is a leg up for people who were intimidated by cooking, and helps them get them into the vibe of it."
And that's a total win in Ray's book. So how did she select the inaugural lineup?
"When I sit down to write, I doodle my ideas on blue pads of paper. Then I Google if people have done this before and what their take is on this. I often Google it, only to discover that I made that dish already 10 to 15 years ago. It's loopy!" Ray admits. "So I ask myself, 'How can I update it and make it better, cooler and faster?' I studied the pantry, listened to my team's advice and worked to make it fit for the availability around the country. I pay a lot of attention to how people react to something," she tells us, whether for kits or cooking shows or otherwise.
Ray hopes that these meal kits will help hesitant cooks dip their toes into their own culinary waters, and she gives us all full permission to break the rules.
"People often ask, 'Can I use this instead of that?' I can't see you! Change it! That's the fun of food, of writing a song, of painting a picture, of creating an essay. It becomes your adventure," she tells us.
That said, Ray readily admits that she, too, is far from perfect. She confesses that she's notorious for burning the bread that she's really aiming to get golden-brown. (Ray's "stunt toaster" Jeanette is a mainstay on her shows to monitor and char up the bread just-right.)
The celebrity chef (ahem, cook) also says: "I wish I had more patience in the kitchen. I enjoy baking very few things. I absolutely resent measuring; I think of it like a teacher hitting my knuckles. No one wanted to be around me during the holidays because I was so resentful at the cookies! I snap at my sister, who is a big baker. Watching her cook with me stresses me out! I have a very specific, sloppy and quick way to cook."
That philosophy was on full display during a recent gathering at her dream home in Italy, where she and her husband John Cusimano hosted lunch for 26 people the last day they were in town.
Related: Rachael Ray Just Gave a Tour of Her Gorgeous Italian Kitchen—Here Are 10 Things to Buy to Copy the Rustic, Chic Vibe
"For a crowd of people, I'm very bossy because I get so nervous because I'm not used to people helping me. As soon as I pour more wine for the people who are helping me, they get over it," she laughs. "If I'm alone, I'm very quiet and like to have a cocktail, music or Law & Order in the background while I'm cooking."
Since we are EatingWell, after all, we couldn't resist inquiring about Ray's best healthy habit. She confirms that she has many, from staying active to gardening to staying socially engaged. But one big transition that has benefited both herself and John, Ray says, and quite possibly the No. 1 healthy habit they're both fans of: eating more pescatarian and vegetarian meals.
"John and I only have red meat maybe once or twice a week," she explains. Instead, they've been sprinkling in plant-based recipes or ones that revolve around seafood, like Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce, Baked Fish with Lemon, Dijon and Garlic Breadcrumbs and Skillet Ratatouille. "We eat a very healthy diet and eat a ton of vegetables. I got shunned in kindergarten because I was eating a sardine sandwich. I was eating kale before kale was cool," she says, so diversifying her diet is nothing new.
As far as what the next course has in store for the prolific, ambitious Ray—she was off to hop into a car to head to film an episode immediately after our chat—she shows no sign of slowing down.
"I love the adventure of food at every level of life. You couldn't do anything in this industry without being open-minded and open-stomached. I want to try everything while I'm alive," she says. "I want to live a rich life while I'm here."
Saluti to that, Rachael!