Haylie Duff says she 'didn't even know how to make macaroni and cheese' when she started her food blog

Haylie Duff says as kids, neither she or her sister, Hilary Duff, were picky eaters. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
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Because food connects us all, Yahoo Life is serving up a heaping plateful of table talk with people who are passionate about what's on their menu in Deglazed, a series about food.

An accomplished actress, musician and food blogger, Haylie Duff has been a household name for over two decades. The multi-hyphenate rose to fame alongside her sister, Hilary Duff, in roles on the small screen, big screen and stage. Still very much active in Hollywood, the 37-year-old mother of two launched her wildly popular food blog, Real Girl's Kitchen, in 2012. The blog was a happy accident that changed the trajectory of her path.

"It's funny because I didn't get into the food world thinking I was getting into the food world," Duff tells Yahoo Life. "I actually started Real Girl's Kitchen because I didn't know how to cook."

"I bought my first home, and it had this beautiful kitchen," she adds. "I grew up in a family where my parents were both great cooks and so I never had to cook for myself. My parents made every meal. We were the family that sat down to dinner every night together."

Duff's career path included roles in 7th Heaven and Napoleon Dynamite, as well as portraying the character of Amy Sanders alongside her sister in Lizzie McGuire.

"All of sudden I was living on my own and I didn't even know how to make macaroni and cheese by myself," Duff shares. "I literally googled: How to start a food blog?"

Duff was working on the set of a production in Alaska and happened to be residing in a condo outfitted with a great kitchen. The very first blog post she ever made was a recipe for homemade meatballs. Although it first served as a way for the starlet to entertain herself, the creative outlet quickly gained momentum.

"I ended up being a pretty good cook in the process, surprisingly," Duff shares. "I love it. It's turned into the most beautiful blessing"

Duff went on to write a cookbook based on her blog and host multiple food-based television series, including The Real Girl's Kitchen and Haylie's America on The Cooking Channel. She now serves as executive chef to her two daughters, Ryan and Lulu. "Now I can feed a family," she says, "which is pretty crazy."

Duff's key to successfully finding dishes her kids will love but are also nutritious? Balance.

"You try to make them things that are healthy and nutritious and then also things they're going to eat," she says. "My kids are at that age where sometimes they're picky eaters and sometimes they will eat whatever I put in front of them. I let them have junk food, but I also make them salmon and lentils. Funny enough, my daughter Ryan, who is the pickier eater out of the two of them, loves stewed okra."

Family favorites include anything Italian, a nod to her Italian husband, like stuffed shells, lasagna and roasted chicken. "My kids really eat a big variety of food because it's presented to them," says Duff. "They're not forced to eat healthy food all the time and so I think they're more open to different varieties of food."

Duff takes the same approach in her own diet. "My philosophy with food, I think, from the beginning has always been about balance," she says. "I am a Texas girl. I love queso, but I also love kale."

Another Texas staple for Duff? Her favorite grocery store — the Central Market in Austin. "The grocery store is my free time," she says. "I love to browse those aisles. The grocery store is my happy place."

Since her childhood and profession have brought her to many places, she says it's tough to narrow in on her best meal ever. "I have favorite meals for different things," Duff shares. "In Texas, I always go Tex-Mex — funny enough, I don't go barbecue normally. I always think of my Dad's steak as a favorite meal. When I think of New York, I think of roasted chicken on a Sunday night at Barbuto. I think of sushi when I think of Los Angeles. Katsuya sushi holds a very special place in my heart."

Hilary versus Haylie: Who was the pickier eater growing up?

"It's funny, we've talked about this before, and I don't feel like either of us were picky eaters," Duff shares. "I think it was the generation we were raised in. Our kids are much pickier than we were as kids. We grew up and we ate oysters and calamari."

"My daughter actually said to me the other day, 'What is an oyster?'" she adds. "Maybe we coddle kids more now. We just ate whatever my parents made."

The Duff family has several food traditions, but it's something they call 'caviar Christmas' that remains a pleaser. "It's one of my favorite things," Duff shares. "At Christmas time, we will all bring a tin of caviar — it will run the gamut of cheap caviar to expensive caviar. Everyone writes the prices of the caviar they brought on the bottom of the tin. Everybody always thinks that they pick the fanciest one."

"Always, without fail, the mediocre or cheapest one always gets picked as the best one," she continues. "It's turned into this silly Christmas tradition in our family and we all look forward to it every year."

Duff chatted with Yahoo Life while promoting her partnership with the Global Myopia Awareness Coalition. Its Screen Staycation campaign encourages parents across the nation to take a 24-hour technology break for their family. As a parent with myopia (nearsightedness), it was a natural fit for Duff.

"It's opened my eyes to eye health in general for my kids," Duff shares. "I've definitely thought twice before handing them iPads. I have myopia myself, and I didn't know the severity of this. I also didn't know there was something we could do about it."

The campaign also encourages parents to be proactive about eye health: Early intervention can prove to be critical and Duff takes matters into her own hands with annual visits to the eye doctor for her entire family.

"For us to set screens down and cook together or get outside together, they were thrilled," she says. "I think encouraging families to spend time together and focus on each other … there's nothing better than that."

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