Family Dinner

Tia Mowry with a shopping list, her cookbook and a home cooked meal
Amy Sussman/Getty Images; nelea33/Shutterstock

Tia Mowry Knows Cooking As A Family Leads To A Lifelong Love Of Food

And so does serving cookies for breakfast once in a while.

When Tia Mowry was 6, her parents put her to work in the kitchen. She started with dish duty, and quickly progressed through sous chef duties and onto holiday prep. When they saw she was comfortable, they slotted into the family rotation and she was responsible for cooking an entire week’s worth of meals for her family — breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

What I’m trying to tell you is that the senior Mowrys are my heroes and I would buy their parenting book in a hot second.

Tia Mowry is no slouch herself. In addition to acting, she’s the author of two cookbooks, Whole New You: How Real Food Transforms Your Life, for a Healthier, More Gorgeous You, and The Quick Fix Kitchen: Easy Recipes and Time-Saving Tips for a Healthier, Stress-Free Life: A Cookbook. I met her at Camp Romper, our annual event for kids and families in New York, which Mowry was attending on behalf of Lactaid. (Cookie Monster was also in attendance. I was star struck by both of them.)

I asked her all about the highs and lows of cooking for her family. (Editor’s note: Mowry and I spoke before she and her husband, Cory Hardrict, announced their separation, so some of my questions — and her answers — might have been different if that were public knowledge.)

How old were you when you discovered you were lactose intolerant?

I was in high school

That cannot be a fun thing to discover when you're a teenager.

It was not fun. It was very stressful. And it was uncomfortable. But it wasn't until I got to college, when I started to do my own shopping that I remember seeing Lactaid on the shelves at the grocery store. Now have a newfound relationship with dairy.I realized that it wasn't necessarily the dairy itself or the milk itself that was causing discomfort, it was actually the lactose. Now I get to have milk and cookies with kids. Our whole family — my daughter, my son, my husband, myself — have a lactose sensitivity.

Is it hard teaching little children to be careful of things in their diet like that?

No, we started at such a young age. My son also had a peanut allergy, which is tough. But again, I think it's just all about educating them. The good thing is knowing, and letting them know, that there are options. Because when there are sensitivities, when there are allergies, I don't want my child to be sad or depressed because they can't have something. So I think it's just all about educating them, self awareness, and then letting them know it's not that you can't have, this is just another alternative.

What does a typical weeknight dinner look like for your family?

Well, first of all, I enjoy just being in the kitchen with my family. It's all about how I create memories and just wonderful experiences with them. I would say a weeknight meal would definitely have to be some sort of pasta. It's practical, it's very easy. We eat a lot of creamy pasta at home.

Who taught you to cook? Or how did you learn?

My dad and my mother, they taught me how to cook. I first started out with cleaning the kitchen. And I was 6, so I was tiny. I remember I was like, “Mom, I can't reach the sink.” And she just put a stool right up under and just, “Oh no, you're going to get on that stool and you're going to start washing dishes.” So it started off with being comfortable and familiar in the kitchen, washing the dishes. Then I became a sous-chef. During the holidays it was all about helping my mom and my dad prep, especially during Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Year’s. I was in the kitchen cutting the collard greens. I was seasoning the meat. And then once they saw that I got comfortable in the kitchen with that, my mom and my dad were like, “You could actually do this.” I would have to cook for a whole week for the entire family.

Whoa.

Yeah, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That's basically how I started. And then, of course, once I got married, then it was full blown for me. I would dream about food and what I was going to make. And I was watching all of the shows that were on Food Network, like Giada, Bobby Flay. And then I ended up getting to meet them and work with them. And so, it's been an incredible experience. I'm very grateful.

I find it’s also just this thing that slows your brain down.

Yes. It's my way of zenning out. Some people will go to yoga, but for me being in the kitchen, it's how I wind down. And I also feel like sometimes it's a way you can control your environment.

Do you have a division of labor when it comes to meals in your family? Do you split cooking duty and cleaning duty?

Yeah. We definitely do. My husband, he actually does a lot of cooking breakfast, that's his thing. He loves to make scrambled eggs, pancakes and french toast and all of that good stuff. And even my son, who's 11 years old, he's actually starting to take on some responsibilities with using the stove. He's very much into making eggs in the morning as well. When it comes to even cleaning up, my son, he takes out the trash, he has responsibilities. He has to wash his own plate or put it in the dishwasher. I am very into making sure that it's about coming together for a task, because when they learn that way, I feel like they're able to take it outside of the house and then work together with other people. It's like building that community at home.

My parents were in the army, so it was all about chores, and structure. And that's what we did as a family. And so I wanted to make sure that I do that with my family as well.

Kids are constantly evolving and growing and changing their tastes, just like we do. So you just kind of have to trust ... the process and the journey that eventually they'll come to you.

Is there anything that you swore you would never do as a parent in the kitchen or with food that you find yourself doing now?

I was like, “I am never going to have my kids have sweets for breakfast,” but sometimes there's some bribing that you have to do. Now I'm like, “Here, Cairo, have your favorite cookies and milk.” For breakfast.

Are you a meal planner?

I'm more of a, I don't know how to say it, but I prep a lot of my food. Meaning I don't plan like on Monday I'm having pasta, on Tuesday I'm having pizza, on Wednesday having Chinese. But I will get a lot of items that are already prepped for me. So the broccoli, it's already precut. Same thing with carrots. Just so it makes everything easier and practical.

Do you have a picky eater? I actually really dislike that term, for the record, but everyone knows what I mean when I say it.

I agree with you, but I have learned to embrace it. Cree was not a picky eater, and he still is not a picky eater. That kid will eat anything and everything. Cairo, my daughter, is a very picky eater, but if I give her what she likes, she'll eat lots of it. I had asked the pediatrician about it, and she said it's actually instinctual why toddlers are very picky. It's because back in the day, in cave days or whatever, kids would just pick things, anything off of a tree, and then they would be poisoned. Instinctually they've learned to just stick with what's safe. So it's not a bad thing, it's just all about trying to incorporate and work in those foods. Kids are constantly evolving and growing and changing their tastes, just like we do. So you just kind of have to trust, like you said, the process and the journey that eventually they'll come to you.

What's your favorite special occasion thing to make?

Our family, we love pizza, of course, so I like to do this kind of cast iron skillet pizza. You could put anything and everything on it — mushrooms and tomatoes on one side, and then sausage on the other side. I think pizza just makes everyone feel good.