Lauren Conrad did not exactly have an adolescence like the rest of us, with her high school dramas documented by Laguna Beach, the mid-2000s reality TV show on MTV. But before all of that, she was just a kid, helping her dad make dinner and sit down for mealtime every night with her parents and two younger siblings.
Now she has her own kids with musician William Tell, and she’s finding her own way to prioritize the family dinner. Meals tend to be heavy on the vegetables, and they’re often vegan (or vegan-ish). “I try to eat as plant-based as possible because I feel so much better when I do,” says Conrad, who recently partnered with Planet Oat to develop fun plant-based recipes (including dairy-free cosmic brownies). She chatted with Romper about her family’s approach to food, and why aiming for just one healthy meal per kid per day is good enough.
What was mealtime like in your home growing up, and what’s your routine now?
We always had dinner together, up until high school. My dad was a great cook. He usually made dinner, and then I would either help him or plate the food, which I thought was normal, but now I think is really funny. There was always a garnish on our plates because he felt strongly about presentation.
Now, I usually cook in the kitchen, and my husband grills. If we grill chicken and vegetables for dinner, then I prep and he grills. Sitting down for dinner as a family is really important to us. My kids eat at 5:30 pm some nights, which I’m not always ready for, but I still think it’s important to eat a little bit with them and talk to them. When I was growing up, no cellphones were allowed at dinner, and we try to do that as a family, too. I get called out sometimes — my husband or little ones will say, “No phones at the table.”
What’s your strategy for stocking your kitchen and meal planning?
My kids are getting bigger — they’re 2 and almost 5 — so they are starting to eat more now. One thing I always keep a lot of at home is produce because my kids love fresh fruit and veggies. We go through an absurd amount of bananas every week.
My dad usually made dinner, and I would help him plate the food … which now I think is really funny. There was always a garnish on our plates because he felt strongly about presentation.
We don’t do a lot of takeout. I cook a lot, and if I’m cooking, I want it to last. I’m big on leftovers, especially if it’s something I can cook and freeze. I make and freeze an “almost vegan” lasagna, which has eggs but everything else is vegan. I also make and freeze a lot of chicken pot pies in the winter.
Do you usually order groceries or go to the store?
I love ordering groceries because it’s so convenient, but my kids’ school is right next to our store. When I have time after drop off, I do my own shopping. I probably go to the store once a week, then probably order one other time. We also do farmers markets. Every weekend, I take my kids and we try to stock up. We have one vendor that has tons of grapes or stone fruit, and they’ll always let them try different ones. That’s a good way for us to try new things.
We also grow a lot of our own produce at home. I learned from a couple friends how to garden and just dove in. I grow almost all of our own greens. We do lettuce and a lot of berries, tomatoes, broccoli, green beans, and peas. I also do pumpkins. By the time fall hits, I have pumpkins all over the yard.
Speaking of veggies, have you ever dealt with picky eaters, and what’s your strategy?
My first son would go to restaurants with us a lot, so he has a more expansive palate. We’d never order him a separate meal. He’d eat from our plates and try different things. He loves sushi. His favorite meal is linguine and clams, and he’ll ask for vegetables. My younger son is pickier. He hasn’t really experienced restaurants the same way — he was only 6 months when Covid-19 hit, so he was barely on solids. But we’re just now starting to go to restaurants more. His favorite food is probably bread, which he must get from me.
Both my kids have always been pretty open to eating veggies. Since they were little, we have grown a lot of veggies at home, and they’re always excited to pick them. That’s a good way to get your kids into them, even if it’s just on a small scale on your balcony. Kids are really excited to find out where food comes from. We also let our kids help out in the kitchen, even if it’s just handing them something to set on the counter. When they’re helping with a meal, they’re more likely to try it.
What’s a recipe you have memorized?
I love chicken pot pie. My kids got sick of it, but I still make it because it’s one recipe I don’t have to think about. I make it with Planet Oat oat milk to cream up the broth. It’s mostly chicken broth. I add half a cup to make the base a little more creamy, and I slow cook it so all the vegetables soften up; the potatoes thicken up the broth. I make it when I notice we have a lot of produce that’s been sitting in the fridge about to go bad. You can kind of eyeball what you need. I used to hand-make my crust, but now I use a frozen one.
It’s OK to hide vegetables.
I also like making a big salad with some fresh mandolined veggies and butter lettuce from our garden. It’s really simple to make your own dressing with lemon juice, olive oil, mustard, and a little salt and pepper.
What is your absolute favorite food of all time?
A delicious bowl of pasta is such a treat. I love any kind of truffle pasta or pasta with a simple fresh tomato sauce. Right now, I have a ton of tomatoes in my garden, and I slow roast them for four hours in olive oil and herbs. I also love vegan mac and cheese. It’s not everyday food, but it’s so delicious.
What’s your best advice for parents who want their kids to eat healthier?
When I was first figuring out how to feed my kids, I took a class with some friends, and a teacher said if you can get one really healthy meal for your kids every day, you don’t have to stress about the rest. We started from a young age giving the boys a smoothie in the morning with frozen fruit, a few vegetables, peanut butter, oat milk, and pea protein. Once they’ve eaten that, the rest of the day, it’s OK with me if they have a PB&J for lunch. I’m not stressing because I know they got nutrients in them for the day.
Every meal is not going to be perfect, and that’s totally fine as long as you’re making an effort. Also, it’s OK to hide vegetables. You can hide carrots in tomato sauce, or I’ve hidden vegetables in brownies. You can also be creative about form. Make a healthy smoothie but put it into popsicle molds, and it’s a popsicle. It’s all about how you present it.